BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Two weeks before he was killed on the job, Baton Rouge police officer Montrell Jackson wrote on Facebook what it was like to be black and a cop.
Jackson, 32, was killed along with police officer Matthew Gerald and sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola on Sunday morning in Baton Rouge by Gavin Long of Kansas City, Missouri. Long, who was wearing body armor and carrying a rifle, wounded three others before he was killed by police. The killings completed a circle of violence involving police across the country that began when two white Baton Rouge police officers shot and killed Alton Sterling, a black man selling CDs in a parking lot, on July 5.
Two days later, black militant Micah Johnson shot and killed five white police officers in apparent revenge for Sterling’s death and that of Philando Castile, who was also killed by police.
That was the week Jackson was reflecting on when he took to Facebook.
“I’ve experienced so much in my short life and the past 3 days have tested me to the core,” he wrote. “I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.”
Jackson remained hopeful, though.
“Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better. I’m working in these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family, or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer I got you.”
Jackson was on the force for 10 years and was the father of a 4-month-old boy, Mason, with his wife.
Father-in-law Lonnie Jordan described him to the AP as a “gentle giant” who was “always about peace.” Jackson had been working long hours with the protests over Sterling’s death but the strain did not show, Jordan said.
In 2007, Jackson ran into a burning apartment building to save a toddler. “Jackson and other officers tried to reach the toddler using fire extinguishers, but there wasn’t enough time,” The Advocate reported. “The police were driven back by flames, and when medics arrived they had to treat the officers, including Jackson, for smoke inhalation.”
Family and friends cried in Jackson’s garage in Denham Springs on Sunday as police watched over them.
“They don’t want to make a statement,” said one of the officers told The Daily Beast. “They don’t know what to say.”
A little before 8 p.m., about 100 people gathered outside one of Jackson’s neighbors’ houses for a candlelight vigil. In the overwhelmingly white suburban neighborhood of Juban Parc, Jackson was president of the homeowners’ association, and people loved him.
Jackson took charge of his neighborhood, from organizing pool security to watching out for injured neighbors.
“It’s been brought to my attention that Whitney Dougherty had an accident in her driveway not too long ago,” he wrote on his neighborhood’s page in the app Nextdoor. “Anyone that believes in prayer say one for her and her family tonight.”
He also complimented his neighbor’s Christmas lights and tried to persuade other community members to get involved.
“Didn’t matter what he was doing, he’d always stop and wave,” said one of Jackson’s friends, who asked not to be named so as to not distract attention from him.
During the vigil, people marched from a block away from Jackson’s house down to the pool, where his pastor, Watson Lamb, from the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, said a prayer.
Members of Jackson’s family weren’t ready to join the march, but a few drove by crying and stopped their car to say, “Thank you for this.”
Three middle school-aged kids said they wanted to “bring back Mr. Montrell.”
His friends all sang “Amazing Grace” for him. Then one young girl, Ava, sang “See You Again.”
Jackson’s neighbors called him a peacemaker. “He was only uneasy with anything that resorted into violence,” said Vicki Godal, the neighbor who posted his Facebook comments. “He was only uneasy with people making racial slurs towards his family, his children, his life.”
Godal described realizing what had happened when Jackson’s police unit wasn’t home at the time it was supposed to be. She said recently Jackson had “wondered why he got up and put that uniform on every day because ‘who supported him in the world?’”
“To this neighborhood, Montrell was the No. 1 person that we loved dearly,” Godal said.
Jackson lived in the same community as police officer Matthew Gerald, a retired Marine whom neighbor Kendall Stephens remembered as a good man.
“He fought for our country. He died in his own soil, protecting the people he loved,” Stephens told The Daily Beast.
Deputy Brad Garafola is survived by a wife and four children, according to a Facebook post from his brother.
“To the rest of my family and other officers please watch your 6 and God please watch over them,” he wrote.