Baton Rouge

Baton Rouge: It’s about Hearts, not Guns

Brad Garafola. Matthew Gerald. Montrell Jackson. Three officers, three fathers, three of the latest victims in a series of shootings that have plagued this nation. Baton Rouge is no less rattling that the others, but one can’t ignore the undercurrent of exhaustion and mistrust that has developed over the last few weeks. In the midst of this tumult, it is important to remember the lives of those lost, and to remind ourselves of what leaving a legacy really means.

An Officer of Peace

Baton Rouge
Source: The Advocate

Brad Garafola loved to fix things. Whether it was tinkering with a car in the garage or building a pool deck out back, he was known as a jack of all trades.

“Besides the Sheriff’s Office, that was his passion,” said Tonja Garafola, his widow.

Brad served the police department for 24 years, and he was selected as Civil Deputy of the Month in January 2013. When he wasn’t on duty, he was with his family. His neighbor, Rhonda Smith, told The Advocate that she never saw him without one of his four children.

To Rhonda, he represented, “the epitome of a peace officer.”

WAFB, a local TV station, shared a post that Brad’s brother left on social media after learning of his death:

“Brad, I love you very much my brother. I respect and appreciate everything you did for us, this city, and your job to protect and serve.”

A Desire to Serve

Baton Rouge
Matthew Gerald, 41.

Matthew Gerald was a veteran of both the Army and the Marines before joining the Baton Rouge Police Department. The Washington Post reported that he had deployed to Iraq three times, and came home “[without] a scratch on him,” according to Nick Lambert who had served with him in the army.

“Matt was the kind of guy that you knew immediately when he entered the room,” said Ryan Cabral, who served alongside Gerald in Iraq. “Whether it was the energy he carried with him or that Cajun accent he had . . . maybe it was the Marine in him.”

Gerald had joined the police just last year.

“Instead of slowing down at 40 years old, he said ‘hell no, give me more.’ Matt was born to protect those who needed protection …you just can’t turn off that want to serve the people,” Cabral said of their experience after their service in the military.

Less than a week prior to his death, they had spoken on the phone. They discussed the uncertain climate in Baton Rouge, and “told each other to be safe,” Cabral told CNN. 

Lambert’s response to his friend’s passing is heartbreaking. “[He]Comes back home, chooses a job to serve others, and this is what our society does? It’s a coward’s way to make a statement.”

Gerald, 41, was a father to two daughters.

VA Secretary

A Cry Against Hate

Baton Rouge
Source: WSBTV

Just before he was shot and killed, Montrell Jackson posted on social media and offered hugs and prayers to anyone that needed them; protester or policeman. He lamented the prejudice that followed him as a black officer, both in and out of uniform.

“I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me,” he lamented. “Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better.”

Darnell Murdock, a friend of Jackson, told Baton Rouge’s The Advocate newspaper that the new father loved his job.

“He was on (the force) to help people, to make you have a better day,” Murdock said.

Claire Langlois told USA Today that she remembers his presence at Laser Tag of Baton Rouge as an off-duty security officer fondly, not fearfully.

“He laughed all the time, and it was one of those deep laughs,” she recalled.

“A lot of times after work, we would stand outside around his police unit and just talk about different things happening in our lives, current events or whatever new movies had just come out… He made us feel safe.”

 

When the shop closed for the night, Jackson never went home until everyone else had left safely.

The Heart of Baton Rouge

In the tumultuous wake of this shooting, reactions to Baton Rouge have so far erred on the side of caution, and of grief. The Republican National Convention spent nearly 50 million dollars beefing up their security, and several public figures have made public pleas to end the violence. Sherrif Gautreaux of East Baton Rouge said that the root of this tragedy was about people, not the weapons they use.

“To me this is not so much about gun control as it is about what’s in men’s hearts. And until we come together as a nation, as a people, to heal as a people. If we don’t do that and this madness continues, we will surely perish as a people,” he said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said, “The violence, the hatred just has to stop.”

President Obama stated that the murders are, “an attack on all of us.”

Sometimes changing an outcome means changing one’s focus. Reflecting on the lives that these three officers led, and the stories that they shared, the words of Shannon L. Alder come to mind:

 “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”

Let’s try to make sure that the stories we leave are worth sharing.

Know what we're sayin fam?

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