A large number of demonstrators descended on south St. Louis Wednesday evening after word spread that a black teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer. The shooting occurred around 7:30 PM local time and involved an off-duty police officer who was moonlighting as a neighborhood security watchman. The officer claims that the young man, identified by family and friends as Vonderrit Myers, Jr., was armed with a handgun and opened fire on the officer after the officer tried to pursue him and two others. St. Louis Metro Police confirmed that Myers was killed on the scene and the officer shot at Myers 17 times.
Shortly after the shooting, which occurred at the 4100 block of Shaw Avenue, a crowd started forming around the scene. The crowd first consisted of people from the surrounding neighborhoods but eventually included protesters from Ferguson. While there was a bit of tension and turmoil early on, with reports stating that at least one police vehicle had a taillight kicked out and reports of gunshots fired, the crowd formed into an organized protest march once activists from Ferguson arrived. With dozens of police officers on the scene, the crowd started to march up Grand Blvd., a large and busy street.
The march gathered steam the further it went along Grand, as patrons of neighborhood bars joined the protesters, causing the crowd to swell to over 300. The demonstrators marched for roughly two miles when they reached the busy intersection of Grand and Gravois. After stopping there momentarily, the crowd made its way back towards the scene of the shooting. Eventually, the crowd settled at Grand and Shaw and shut down Grand for a number of hours. The St. Louis Metro Police Department cordoned off areas around the protesters and allowed them to demonstrate into the early hours of the morning.
SLMPD Chief Sam Dotson came to the area around midnight while the crowd was marching towards Gravois. I was on hand when he gave reporters a breakdown of the incident per the facts made available to him at the time. Dotson stated that the officer was driving in a car when he saw three young males walking down the street. The officer noticed one of the males start to run off, but then stop. Once the officer turned his vehicle around, all three men started to run away. Dotson said that the officer then pursued the three males on foot.
At that point, the officer claims that Myers (Dotson did not identify him by name to reporters) jumped out from behind a bush and ambushed him. Dotson told us that Myers shot at the officer at least three time and the officer returned gunfire, eventually shooting at Myers 17 times. A 9 mm Ruger was recovered from the scene. Dotson would not name the officer but said that the officer is 32-year-old male who has been on the force for six years. (Witnesses stated that the officer’s race is white.) Dotson later gave a full press conference at city headquarters and dispensed much of the same information.
Despite the early tensions of the evening and the threat of large-scale violence, police did not arrest any protesters. Also, there was no property damage or looting of any businesses. The crowd that marched and then gathered at Shaw and Grand was mixed racially, as it was a combination of Ferguson activists, independent journalists and people from surrounding neighborhoods. As I was monitoring the crowd in the early morning hours, I was approached by two individuals, a female grad student and a member of Lost Voices, an organization of mostly young men that has formed in the wake of the Michael Brown tragedy in Ferguson.
The grad student, Kate Breslin, brought over the young man, who goes by Scoolo, so he could let his voice be heard. Scoolo expressed frustration about the lengthy process and uncertainty surrounding any possible indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson involving Brown’s death. He also called for St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch to step down. All three of us discussed the upcoming Ferguson October event, race relations in the St. Louis area and the recent events at Busch Stadium. The conversation also steered towards the need for civil disobedience in order to affect change within the community. (Video of the interview will follow.)
While the police claimed that Myers was armed and shot at the police officer, relatives of Myers told reporters that he only had a sandwich and was unarmed. Obviously, there will be direct comparisons between Myer’s death and that of Brown, due to the fact that they were both black teenagers shot multiple times by white police officers. The fact that this happened days before a large-scale event in Ferguson revolving around the subject of racial disparity and police brutality will only give the weekend of resistance greater meaning.
Justin Baragona is the Managing Editor at Politicus Sports as well as Senior Editor at PoliticusUSA. He was a political writer for 411Mania.com before joining PoliticusUSA. Politically, Justin considers himself a liberal but also a realist and pragmatist. Currently, Justin lives in St. Louis, MO and is married. Besides writing, he also runs his own business after spending a number of years in the corporate world. You can follow Justin on Twitter either with his personal handle (@justinbaragona) or the Sports site’s (@PoliticusSports).