As a new father, 32-year-old Montrell Jackson needed only seven words to announce his feelings regarding the bubbling baby boy born in March.
“My pride and joy! Daddy loves you!” he posted on Facebook.
As an officer with the Baton Rouge Police Department, Jackson needed many more words to describe his feelings after the July 7 murder of five cops in Dallas.
Here is what he posted on Facebook at 11:32 a.m. on July 8:
“I am tired physically and emotionally. Disappointed in some family, friends and officers for some reckless comments but hey what’s in your heart is in your heart. I still love you all because hate takes too much energy but I definitely won’t be looking at you the same.”
He was writing as both a cop and as an African-American raised in the city he served. The whole world had watched the videos taken of the July 5 killing of Alton Sterling by two Baton Rouge cops. That had been followed by the harrowing video taken by the girlfriend of Philando Castile after he was shot by a cop outside Minneapolis. The gunman in Dallas had said he was killing as many white cops as he could in revenge. But to cops everywhere, cops are cops.
A series of events that had begun in Baton Rouge had led to Jackson losing five brothers in Dallas.
“Thank you to everyone that has reached out to me or my wife it was needed and much appreciated. I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. “
He lived a dual life made doubly hard by troubled times.
“In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. I’ve experienced so much in my short life and these last three days have tested me to the core. When people you know begin to question your integrity you realize they don’t really know you at all.”
Those who did know him spoke of him as humble and kind and sweet, a man who loved being a cop because he was able to help people, whose own day became better when he made your day better, who worked every day of his 10 years with the BPD to become part of the solution, to make the world a better place in which to raise his son.
“Look at my actions. They speak LOUD and CLEAR.”
One action that a local paper reported was in 2007, when he and three fellow officers charged into a burning building attempting to rescue 23-month-old Taj Derozan while his pregnant mother screamed outside. The cops were driven back by the flames and tried to fight their way back in with fire extinguishers, but were again forced to retreat. They stopped only when they were overcome with smoke.
“Finally, I personally want to send prayers out to every one directly effected by this tragedy. These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better.”
Jackson’s was a voice of faith that good would prevail.
“I’m working these streets so any protestors, officers, friends, family, or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer, I got you.”
Not many protestors seemed to be looking for hugs in the days ahead and not all cops were looking to give them. Jackson worked long hours away from his wife, Trenisha, and little Mason. The world saw an image of a woman in a sundress facing Baton Rouge cops in Robo Cop gear, backed up by an armored Bearcat deployed out of concern that Dallas could be repeated. There were no images of Trenisha home with Mason, facing more long hours of worry that would only end when he returned safe.
Jackson must have been heartened to hear the words of Alton Sterling’s 15-year-old son, Cameron, at a July 13 press conference.
“I came to talk to everyone about one: the death of my father. And, two: about how I feel about people in general,” Cameron said. “People, in general, no matter what the race, should come together as one united family.”
Cameron continued, “No more arguments, violence, crimes. Yes, you can protest, but I want everyone to protest the right way. Protest in peace—no guns, no drugs, no alcohol, no violence. Everyone needs to protest in the right way, with peace. No violence, none whatsoever.”
One person who ignored Cameron’s plea was a man with an AR-15 assault rifle reported to be behind a shopping mart in Baton Rouge on Sunday morning. The units that could be heard responding on the radio included the cop with call sign 3519.
That was the call sign of the cop who had “M. Jackson” on the chest of his uniform. He no doubt would have much rather have been spending Sunday morning with his family. He instead rushed directly into direst danger, knowing all to well what a man with a rifle can do to cops.
“We need the Bearcat!” another cop cried on the radio.
By then, Jackson had become one of three officers who were shot to death before the man with the rifle was killed. The two other murdered officers included 45-year-old Deputy Brad Garafola of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office.
Garafola had been moonlighting as overnight security at one of the stores and his wife arrived at the scene after he did not answer his cell phone. He had four children, aged 7 to 21. The local paper reports that a car sat in the garage at home that he had been fixing up for when his 15-year-old got her license.
Garafola was white, but that made him and Jackson no less brothers to the end.
And the new father who had offered hugs to anybody who wanted one—protester, cop or whoever—would never again get to give one to the baby boy who was his pride and joy.
We can still offer both father and son a prayer.