Protesters and members of the media were hit with pepper spray and rushed by police officers armed with batons and riot shields Thursday night in south St. Louis. After a candlelight vigil was held earlier in the evening at Shaw’s Market in memory of Vonderrit Myers, Jr., protesters marched along Grand Boulevard, shutting down traffic for much of the night. Myers was shot and killed by an off-duty St. Louis police officer Wednesday evening. The police officer shot at Myers 17 times, hitting him at least six times, including a head shot, killing him at the scene. Police have stated that Myers had a gun and shot at the officer first. The officer was moonlighting as a neighborhood security watchman and pulled aside Myers and two friends to conduct a ‘pedestrian check,’ leading to the chase and shooting along Shaw Avenue.
Myers had been in Shaw’s Market minutes before the shooting, where he bought a turkey sandwich. The person who waited on him said he had no trouble with Myers and it seemed unlikely he had a gun on him at that time. However, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson has stated multiple times since the incident that a 9 mm handgun was recovered from the scene. He also said that Myers shot at the police officer at least three times after ambushing him from behind a bush. The handgun that was recovered was reported stolen about two weeks prior.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Myers had an upcoming trial on weapons charges and was supposed to be on monitored house arrest. (Myers lawyer said going to the corner store would be fine under the conditions of his monitored supervision.) Family members of Myers dispute the police account, claiming Myers only had a sandwich and was unarmed. Obvious parallels have been made between this shooting and that of Michael Brown two months earlier, leading many others to also doubt the police department’s story surrounding the shooting.
The candlelight vigil for Myers began around 6 PM local time and attracted roughly 75 people. After the vigil, a service led by clergy was held at a nearby church. As the night progressed, more demonstrators showed up and started protesting along Grand, disrupting and at times completely blocking traffic on the large street. At this point, there were perhaps 150 in the crowd. Police stayed away during this time, much as they did the previous evening when demonstrators gathered shortly after the shooting.
The situation became tense as the evening grew later. Videos started circulating on social media showing American flags being burned by protesters. The protesters also marched through an affluent neighborhood, drawing the ire of the residents. Dotson claims the line was crossed when one of his officers was hit with a brick. The officer ended up tangling with the person who apparently threw it. The protester was pepper sprayed by another officer and then taken away. After this incident, dozens of officers showed up at Grand and Arsenal decked out in riot gear and armed with pepper spray and batons.
The line of officers essentially split the group of protesters into two smaller groups. At some point, officers started demanding that people move to the sidewalk. To drive home the point, those who didn’t immediately listen were maced. At least two people who were livestreaming the event were hit with pepper spray.
Thanks St Louis police! You showed your true colors tonight..pepper spraying multiple members of the press!! pic.twitter.com/FXvPrKPbl1
— Rebelutionary Z (@Rebelutionary_Z) October 10, 2014
After police first hit protesters and media with pepper spray, there was a lull, and it appeared that protesters would call it a night. However, there was renewed energy from the demonstrators around 1 AM, when over a hundred showed back up. Police once again used pepper spray and pushed against protesters with shields and clubs. At the end of the night, Dotson said that police made eight arrests. Five of the arrests were for unlawful assembly, two for property damage and another one for marijuana possession.
There was little property damage done during the evening. One store and another private home both had windows broken. An American flag was stolen from a nearby nursing home. No other damage was reported and there was no looting or robbing. In terms of injuries, one protester was held at a nearby hospital by police. It is assumed this is the person who tangled with the officer after the alleged brick throwing. That officer was only slightly injured, per Dotson. Another officer accidentally maced himself in the face. A number of protesters and media were pepper sprayed and aggressively pushed around during the evening.
Ferguson October descends upon the St. Louis area Friday and will last until at least mid-day Monday. The weekend-long event will include marches, vigils, panel discussions and speeches revolving around the issues of police brutality and racial disparity. It was already expected that thousands would attend. However, with the shooting getting national attention, to go along with the fact that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson has yet to face any charges surrounding Brown’s death, even more people than initially expected could show up through the weekend.
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).