Baton Rouge Police fumble Mass Shooting

Procedures, racial attitudes must change

On Sunday July 17, his birthday, a black man, former highly-regarded U.S. Marine Gavin Long, shot and killed three Baton Rouge police officers and injured three others.

The murders, following the killing of five officers in Dallas, also by a black man, increased racial tensions and hatred in the United States beyond the crisis level of the 1960s, when black people were attacked and beaten across the South during their fight for civil rights.

Gavin Long’s attack on Baton Rouge police was calculated and brutal. Nevertheless, an analysis of Long’s actions, and the response of the Baton Rouge police, reveal the failure and poor procedures of the policing systems that almost certainly exist in many American communities.

Had police acted differently and if policing techniques were more sophisticated in Baton Rouge, fewer police might have been killed – or the deadly confrontation might not have occurred at all.

The militarization of local police forces across the U.S. made Gavin Long, and no doubt many like him, fear and mistrust police. Many police departments now behave more like a military force, sometimes abusing people rather than acting like a community service with the goal of protecting all citizens.

Long lived in Kansas City. On July 5, he heard that a black man, Alton Sterling, had been killed in Baton Rouge for no good reason. Later, police arrested more than 100 people protesting the shooting of Sterling for allegedly blocking a highway. About 50 demonstrators were crammed into one cell.

On July 11, police arrested three teenagers accused of stealing several handguns as part of what police called a ‘substantial, credible threat’ to harm police officers in the Baton Rouge area.

Gavin Long was a well-trained marksman and military strategist. He was more than well equipped with an IWI Tavor SAR 5.56 caliber rifle, a Stag Arms M4 variant 5.56 caliber rifle, a pistol, and enough bullets to wreak havoc.

Police moved in too quickly

But how much did police know about what they were walking into?

Someone reported to police they had seen a suspicious man with a weapon.  It’s unclear if police were aware of additional important information: The person was wearing a mask and black shorts. If they knew this, they should have proceeded with great caution.

After an officer in the area of the attack yelled “Man down!” over his phone system, perhaps as many as eight or nine officers raced to the scene of the shooting.

Police couldn’t tell where the shots were coming from. For several hours – just like in Dallas – they thought there were three shooters. Total chaos ensued.

Meanwhile, Long shot five more officers. He later was shot and killed.

It’s easy to understand they wanted to help a fellow officer, but it was foolish for a swarm of police to rush into an open area when they have no idea what they were up against.

Police clearly bungled the case. Hearing that a man with a rifle was prowling around not far from the police station, did it not cross their mind that the person might be planning another attack on police? If they had behaved differently, lives could have been saved.

If they followed “proper procedure”, changes are needed. At a minimum, officers need to use common sense and stay as hidden as possible until they know what’s happening around therm. Police used a robot to determine if there were explosives at the scene. Perhaps a robot could have helped identify the location of the shooter, and perhaps could have even been ordered remotely to fire on the shooter.

When the U.S. military uses sophisticated equipment such as drones to avoid casualties, why are local police departments still operating as though it’s the 1950s?

Identifying dangerous people

Baton Rouge police and other police across the country don’t do nearly enough to identify potential mass murderers – white or black.

The U.S. spends more than $16-billion a year on counter-terrorism, mainly monitoring and investigating the Muslim community.  But of the 26 major attacks since 9/11 defined as terror, Muslims carried out only seven.

The FBI has stepped up efforts to identify terrorists (i.e. radical Muslims) using social media,  but apparently there are few co-ordinated efforts to search out radicals and malcontents.

One way to spot dangerous people is obviously easy: Monitor Facebook and YouTube. Some mass murderers like to publicize their plans before they go into action.

On July 10 – one week before shooting the six officers in Baton Rouge police – Long posted videos on YouTube advocating revolution and telling people to attack their oppressors. He used the pseudonym Cosmo Setepenra.

Hinting at what was to come, Long posted he would rather die fighting instead of coming back alive.

Micha Johnson, who shot and killed five policemen in Dallas earlier this month, discussed his plans ahead of time on social media.

If security forces had been adequately monitoring social media, they might have known that both Long and Johnson were serious threats.

The crisis of police racism

Police departments across the U.S. need to be radically changed. Brutally racist officers, often working in teams, thrive in too many departments. American police killed 1,134 black people in 2015, the highest number ever.

Meanwhile, the public perception that a lot of police are shot to death is not true, says Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of Southern Carolina and former policeman.

Stoughton says, looking at the 10 years from 2006 to 2015, the annual average number of police deaths was 49.6, which he notes is “down significantly from the high.”

A massive effort is required to weed out as many racists as possible and rehabilitate those capable of changing. In addition, before people are recruited to forces, they need to be tested to make sure they do not have racist tendencies. These tasks must be taken on by local governing councils, and if they refuse to do the job – just like many jurisdictions in the 1960s – the federal government needs to step in.

Erika Hayasaki of the University of California wrote about research into what could be done to reduce racism on police forces. She says that many more women should be hired by police, and that police should regularly take part in community dialogue.

Incidentally, I scanned U.S. mainstream media to find out if any paper or TV network has concerns about whether police did their job adequately in Baton Rouge and Dallas. Not a word. When such horrendous events occur, mass media totally sympathize with the police. This too needs to change.

Nick Fillmore is a Canadian freelance journalist who has won awards for his coverage of environmental issues. Nick worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in several editorial capacities for close to 30 years, and is a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists. He likes to hear from readers: Read other articles by Nick, or visit Nick's website.