There’s fresh unrest raging in the St. Louis suburb of Berkeley, Missouri, less than five miles from Ferguson, after a police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Antonio Martin last night during a confrontation at a gas station.
As several hundred angry protesters created an impromptu demonstration last night at the gas station, resulting in several arrests, town officials—including Berkeley’s African-American mayor—desperately tried to draw a distinction between what happened to Martin and the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by claiming that Martin was armed.
Officials also released surveillance video of the incident, though it’s not clear from the video that the victim had a gun.
“All of us are saying the same thing: ‘It’s a white policeman killing a Black man, and when does this stop?’ I can assure you that is not what happened last night,” Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins said at a news conference this morning.
“You couldn’t even compare this with Ferguson or the [Eric] Garner case in New York,” Hoskins said. “The Garner case in New York, they had the video; Ferguson they did not. We have the video. I can assure you what is on the video, we’re going to use.”
But despite his pleas, compare the cases is exactly what observers are going to do.
The teenage victim’s mother, Toni Martin, told ABC News that he wasn’t carrying a gun. She said he was with his girlfriend and was trying to get his life back on track after getting expelled from school.
“He was a good young man,” she said.
In a statement from the St. Louis County police department and during a press conference this morning with St. Louis County Chief of Police Jon Belmar, officials tried to give the impression that the shooting was justified, prompted by the victim raising a gun toward the officer. The unidentified officer, who is white, 34, and a six-year veteran of the Berkely police force, was equipped with a new body camera—but he hadn’t turned it on. The officer’s vehicle also had a dashboard camera, but it’s not clear it was recording.
Mayor Hoskins said he was “not concerned” that the officer was not wearing the body camera, adding that the department had recently acquired a limited number of the devices and training is still underway.
“It would have been helpful,” the mayor said, “and in the future, when we get well-trained, there will be a severe penalty for any officer that does not turn it on.”
Police said that during the course of doing “a routine business check” at a Mobil gas station near the St. Louis airport at around 11:15 p.m., the officer approached two men he saw along the building’s side. Belmar said the victim pointed a gun at the officer, which sparked the deadly shooting.
“Bad choices were made,” Belmar said. “This individual could have complied, he could have ran away, he could have dropped the gun.”
In the surveillance video, the officer can be seen parking his vehicle and engaging two people in conversation. But the rest of the action is not conclusive. The video cuts off before the actual shots were fired.
The unidentified officer fired three rounds, with one round striking the victim, Belmar said.
Belmar said the victim’s criminal record includes assault and armed robbery charges.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said this morning in a statement, “The events in Berkeley are a reminder that law enforcement officers have a difficult, and often dangerous, job in protecting themselves and law-abiding citizens.”