On Monday, Feb. 1, Deputy Clyde Kerr III left cryptic video messages on social media prior to taking his own life outside of the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office.
According to the Acadiana Advocate, Kerr, 43, was a father and military veteran who testified on camera that he struggled to live in two worlds: one where he identified himself as a Black man, and the other as a law enforcement officer serving the community, while slighting hinting to the possibility of taking his own life as a sacrifice in the future.
Kerr spoke on a range of social issues, including police brutality against Black Americans; meeting the needs of law enforcement officers; the racial divide in America; and children’s overexposure to murder, violence and other negative traumatic experiences. Kerr was a soldier who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, a lawman and a hero to the students at St. Genevieve Private School District, where he was a school resource officer. Kerr joined the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office in June 2015 and served as a patrol deputy and SWAT team member before joining the school resource officer program, according to a statement from the agency.
CNN stated that according to a preliminary coroner’s report, Kerr died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Lafayette City Marshal Reggie Thomas, the first Black person elected to a citywide position in Lafayette, watched some of Kerr’s posts and could tell that Kerr was deeply concerned about the direction police work was taking. Thomas stated that the one video in particular that really resonated with him was of Kerr relating a conversation he had with his son in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.
“Being a Black man in law enforcement can be difficult,” Thomas said. “He had to talk to his son about how you have to react with a police officer — nobody should have to have that conversation.”
Kerr discussed how the role of a police officer demands constant attention to mental health. This was personal for Thomas; he expressed in his 30-year career with the Lafayette Police Department that there was a stigma surrounding any officer who sought counseling, admitting that there was a time when any officer seeking mental health assistance was “looked upon as being weak.” That has changed in recent years.
“We realized we need to do something because, nationally, a lot of officers are committing suicide. It can be anonymous,” Thomas said.
In the video, Kenn then went on to describes the various methods of policing in dire need of change — specifically concentrating on the mental health of police officers on the job. His death serves as a reminder that mental health support for police needs to be addressed immediately.
“I understand we have a tough job, but we signed up for this,” Kerr continued. “We need help. Because when you deal with the bottom rung of society, that does not give us an excuse to just do whatever you want, and that’s what we’re doing and we’re not being held accountable.”
In a more personal dialogue, Kerr expresses, “You have no idea how hard it is to put a uniform on in this day and age with everything that’s going on, my entire life has been in the service of other people, and I did that well. I passed security clearance in the military […] but that has allowed me to see the inner workings of things.”
The Thought Project reports that in the second half of another video, just hours before Kerr would end his own life, he lists a number of solutions that he believed would resolve the issues he addressed. He begins by saying police need additional training in regards to dealing with the public, stating, “just because this job is difficult it doesn’t mean you get to be a monster.”
Kerr’s videos have garnered thousands of views since his death and are catalyzing conversations online and within the Black community about addressing the mental health needs of American citizens and the current state of policing, particularly the police brutality enacted upon the Black community. The Independent reports that Kerr referred to the criminal justice system and the killings of Black men as “demonic.”
“If this feels right to you as a person, then something is wrong with you,” said Kerr, as he recited the deaths of Black people at the hands of police: Botham Jean, shot in his own apartment in Dallas in 2018; George Floyd in Minneapolis; Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky; and Trayford Pellerin, who was killed by Lafayette Police Department officers in August 2020.
Kerr also spoke candidly on the trauma of working the night of Lafayette Police Cpl. Michael Middlebrook’s death and his own personal struggles.
Social Activist Shaun King posted one of Kerr’s videos to Instagram with the following caption:
“This is the suicide letter of Louisiana police officer, Clyde Kerr, III. It’s heartbreaking, honestly. Clyde makes it clear that he can no longer handle the constant injustice put on Black people by law enforcement in America.
He details how the police murders of Botham Jean, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Trayford Pellerin — who was murdered by police in Lafayette, Louisiana — where he was an officer — was too much for him, and too much for the country.
He details how the ‘War on Drugs,’ which we all know is really just a war on people, Black people in particular, is destroying entire communities and not helping the problem it claims to want to solve.
And he tries his best to offer solutions.
I’ve spent my entire adult life fighting back against police brutality and mass incarceration — and I’ve seen first hand how it rips families to shreds. What Clyde, who was a beloved officer, makes clear — is that it destroyed him as well.
Suicide is actually the leading cause of death for police in America. [Two] Capitol Police Officers actually took their own lives after the attack. What’s increasingly clear to me is that conservatives don’t really care about police. They are being chewed up and spit out by their own system.
The fact is that the system is so gross, and so inhumane, that the whole thing needs to be torn down and reimagined. It’s so bad that it’s even destroying police themselves.
That’s why we started @GrassrootsLaw – we are trying to fight not for small tweaks, but for tearing down the whole system. It’s corrupt and rotten to its core. It was literally built for oppression and white power and those things alone.”
In two of the videos, taken on Friday Jan. 29, Kerr sat in his cruiser outside his assigned schools where children could be heard on the playground in the background. Kerr mentioned that he was sharing a last wave with the students. Kerr repeatedly insisted that his decision to take his own life was a conscious choice made in his right mind as a “protest,” and that “dramatic and bold” action needed to be taken as part of a higher calling. He said that he would “pass this baton to the next guy” if he could, but that “this” (possibly his death) was his mission to bring awareness to these issues.
In a statement to CNN, the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office said they are “heartbroken” from the loss of Kerr, who “took his own life earlier this week and left behind so many friends and coworkers who cared for him deeply. Our thoughts and prayers are with Deputy Kerr’s family, as we all struggle to process this together.”
If you are in crisis or know someone in crisis, here are some resources:
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). It’s a free, 24/7 confidential service that provides people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with support, information and local resources.
Text “START” to 741741, the Crisis Text Line.
Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or text a message to 838255. It connects veterans and service members in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat or text 24/7.
LGBTQ+ youth can call the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386 anytime; from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Central time on Thursdays and Fridays, they can text “Trevor” to 202-304-1200 to start talking.