V.P. Biden Pays Tribute to |Fallen Baton Rouge Officers

     BATON ROUGE (CN) – Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday remembered the three Baton Rouge police officers who were shot to death July 17 as courageous men he wished he had known.
     Appearing at a memorial to the slain officers the morning after speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Biden said without knowing the slain officers personally, he was well-aware of the sort of fearless and protective citizens they were.
     “I didn’t have the privilege of knowing these brave men, but I knew them,” the vice president told the hundreds of people at a two-hour long memorial service held at the Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge.
     Each of the officers had a separate funeral earlier in the week.
     Also Thursday, for the first time since the Sunday July 17 killings, the wives of the fallen officers spoke publicly about their husbands and their loss.
     For much of Biden’s time speaking, he addressed the wives directly.
     Biden said the fallen officers were like the neighbors he had had growing up, “the guys who if you ever got in a fight always jumped in,” because they always “had your back.”
     The memorial service was officially titled the “East Baton Rouge Community Memorial for Hope and Healing,” and each of the seven speakers who visited the podium before the officers’ wives focused much attention on the need to heal the community.
     In addition to Biden, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, state Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson, Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. and Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux III spoke during the memorial service.
     Baton Rouge Police Officers Matthew Gerald, 41, Montrell Jackson, 32, and East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brad Garafola, 45, were gunned down the morning of Sunday July 17 after they responded to a call that a man with a rifle was walking along Airline Highway.
     Another three officers were injured in the gunfire; two remain hospitalized, with Sheriff Deputy Nicholas Tullier described Thursday as remaining in critical condition.
     The attack on the officers came nearly two weeks following the deaths of Alton Sterling, 37, a black man who was shot by Baton Rouge police officers while he was being restrained on the ground, and Philando Castile, 32, an unarmed black man who was shot by Minnesota police officers during a routine traffic stop.
     Police said the attack on the officers was carried out by 29-year-old Gavin Long of Kansas City, Missouri. Long was shot several times during the attack and was pronounced dead at the scene.
     Biden emphasized that Long had shot and killed both white and black officers alike.
     “The assassin didn’t make any distinction between if he was killing a black officer or a white officer. He just wanted to kill,” Biden said.
     “You know, I’ve spoken at too many of these memorials,” Biden said, addressing the wives of the fallen officers specifically.
     He said he knew the heartache the wives and loved ones feel over their losses cannot be touched now, and said he wanted the loved ones of the fallen officers to know the entire country has been touched by their loss.
     “When that assassin’s bullets targeted our heroes, he not only targeted them, he targeted the city, he targeted our country, and it touched the soul of everybody…everybody, everybody in the country is talking about it. Everybody is learning [your husbands’] stories,” Biden said.
     He said now the city and the country have to heal.
     Biden said that Alton Sterling’s aunt had met Montrell Jackson’s dad in the days after both men were shot dead and that they embraced.
     “And they embraced each other because a loss is a loss is a loss, and metaphorically they began that healing” that has to be done, he said.
     Tonja Garafolo, the wife of Brad Garafolo, took the podium after Biden. She said she and Brad have four children and recounted the terrible moments the Sunday morning her husband was killed, recalling that she knew immediately upon seeing that Airline Highway had been blocked off that something horrible had happened.
     Garafolo said her husband always texted her “Good morning love, I love you,” on the mornings he was gone to work. That Sunday morning was no exception, she said.
     When she saw that Airline Highway was blocked off she had been on her way to take their car into the shop to get it looked over because when her husband got off work they were set to head off for vacation.
     Gerafolo said her husband died after seeing his colleague Matthew Gerald go down and rushing out to see if he could help him.
     “If you knew my husband, you would know that if he had it to do again, he would do it exactly the same way,” Gerafolo said.
     Dechia Gerald, the wife of Matthew Gerald, said she and Matthew have a 3-year-old together and he was helping to raise her 9-year-old.
     Matthew Gerald served in both the Army and the Marines and he was sent three times to Iraq.
     “The love Matt had for the police department was beyond words,” Gerald said. She added that she was “able to stand” there in front of everyone only “because of the “gracious support everyone in this room has given us.”
     “I have some big shoes to fill,” Gerald said, “and, honestly, I am not sure I can ever fill those shoes.”
     As Gerald and the other wives stepped down from the podium, Biden stood and embraced them in a hug.
     Trenisha Jackson, the wife of Montrell Jackson, brought sunshine and tears to the podium when she took the mike.
     “Hello, I am the proud wife of Montrell Jackson,” she clipped upon taking the microphone.
     Jackson left behind a 4-month-old baby son.
“Trell and I met at Wal-Mart,” Jackson said, bringing quiet and much needed laughter to the congregation.
     She did it again when she said their first date was to Ruby Tuesday’s and the first movie she and Jackson saw together was “Hustle and Flow.”
     “He was a real man, a courageous man, a family man,” Jackson said. “My husband was a rare diamond. Even billionaires couldn’t have afforded him. God loved me so much that he blessed this little old country girl with a rare diamond. Just know that I have memories of the love and life we shared for years.”
     Jackson said that like Martin Luther King Jr., her husband had a dream, and that “it was for Baton Rouge, the city he loved, to get better.”
     She asked the hundreds of people in the audience to repeat after her the pledge her husband posted on his Facebook page after Alton Sterling died.
     The crowd repeated after Jackson: “I (I) will (will) not (not) let (let) hate (hate) infect (infect) my (my) heart (heart).”

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