A little more than one year after the fateful killing of Michel Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., another teen has been fatally shot by police–in the back, according to the autopsy report– in nearby St. Louis. This latest shooting comes as police fired smoke and teargas without warning to disperse a group of protesters, highlighting the continuing tensions between the police and the community, and public criticism over aggressive police tactics.
On Wednesday, August 19, St. Louis police responded with heavy-handed tactics against protesters who were commemorating the first anniversary of the police shooting of a Black man named Kajieme Powell. Powell, 25, was fatally shot by police, reportedly in response to reports of shoplifting. According to witness accounts, Powell was acting erratically, and those who knew him said he suffered from a mental illness. Police claimed he came at them with a knife, although this account is disputed. Powell yelled at the police officers, “Shoot me now. Kill me now.” And the officers obliged in less than 30 seconds, with the two officers each shooting at Powell six times.
While protesters were present on Wednesday for the anniversary of the Powell killing, police shot and killed another Black man, Mansur Ball-Bey, 18, after he allegedly pointed a gun at police. Officers were reportedly serving a search warrant when Bey and at least one other man reportedly ran out of the house. However, Reuters reports that according to the autopsy performed on Ball-Bey by the medical examiner, the teen died from a single bullet that entered his back and struck his heart and an artery next to the heart, apparently contradicting the police account of the incident. “There are so many variables,” said St. Louis Chief Medical Examiner Michael Graham. “But he certainly wasn’t facing, his chest wasn’t facing the officers.”
Jermaine Wooten, an attorney representing Ball-Bey’s family, told CNN on Friday that no witnesses had seen Ball-Bey,–who was visiting relatives and did not live in the area– with a gun. “He never had a gun. He did not point back toward the officers,” Wooten added.
— Hands Up United (@handsupunited_) August 20, 2015
A young man was killed by STL Police today and now the cops are responding to community turnout w/ gas and arrests. #staywoke
— Ferguson Action (@fergusonaction) August 20, 2015
“Detectives were looking for guns, looking for violent felons, looking for people that have been committing crimes in the neighborhood,” said St. Louis Police chief Sam Dotson.
Dotson said people hurled bricks, water bottles and other objects at police, while at least one car was reportedly set on fire, and piles of furniture and other objects were burned in the street. The Rev. Renita Lamkin of St. Charles said the police were too aggressive.
“There has to be a better way, but the better way is not to terrorize an already terrorized community,” Lamkin told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “How they deal with the situation is classist and dehumanizing. The people here don’t matter as much to them.”
“The SWAT tank literally rode down a practically empty street and shot the gas into the air,” Brittany Packnett, executive director of Teach For America in St. Louis and a Ferguson Commission member, said on Twitter. “Where protestors weren’t. Where kids were.”
— oregon_girl (@oregon_girl3) August 21, 2015
— AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) August 20, 2015
— Markus (@classysportsfan) August 21, 2015
Meanwhile, In nearby Ferguson, a group of 80 protesters reportedly burned an American flag as they chanted an anti-police slogan, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Further, a 9-year old girl, Jamyla Bolden, was shot to death late Tuesday night after someone had fired shots into her home in Ferguson. Jamyla’s mother was shot in the leg.
This most recent conflict in St. Louis and Ferguson comes as police are beginning to pushback and speak out against the increasing scrutiny they face for the use of deadly force. As Nick Wing wrote in the Huffington Post, using the case of a police detective in Birmingham, Ala., many cops these days feel they must choose between shooting a criminal or being shot and killed themselves. The detective in Birmingham reportedly chose not to shoot a suspect, which spared the suspect’s life, but the officer was beaten unconscious in the process. Police claim their fellow officer could have been killed. According to such members of law enforcement, the great deal of media attention and scrutiny is making police worry about facing consequences for their actions, and causing them to think twice before pulling the trigger.
As police respond to the attention placed on police killings by setting up the argument that they must kill or be killed, they risk engaging in a overly-simplistic and false argument, as the Huffington Post piece suggests. To engage in that line of reasoning is to suggest that everyone the police encounter is a criminal, and to downplay the real dangers of the job of policing. Further, although police face a challenging job, the public must expect high standards from them, which has started to happen in light of the killing of so many unarmed Black people.