An off-duty St. Louis police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old African American man on Wednesday, prompting overnight protests in the streets of south St. Louis, just a few miles from Ferguson, where unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in August.
Details of the shooting remained unclear on Thursday. In a briefing early Thursday morning, Police Chief Sam Dotson said the man fired three shots at the officer first. The white officer, a six-year veteran of the department who was unharmed in the incident, fired his gun 17 times.
But relatives of the man, who identified him as Vonderrit Myers Jr., said he didn't have a weapon.
"He was unarmed," Teyonna Myers, Vonderrit's cousin, told the St. Louis Dispatch. "He had a sandwich in his hand, and they thought it was a gun. It’s like Michael Brown all over again."
Jackie Williams, his uncle, called his nephew's death "outright murder."
The Justice for Mike Brown Coalition held a mid-morning press conference on Thursday, in which State Senator Jamilah Nasheed reportedly said the shooting was "racial profiling gone bad" and that Myers was shot in the back of the head.
The Washington Post reports:
According to police, the officer was working for a private security company at the time, patrolling a specific neighborhood, but was in a St. Louis police uniform when he encountered three men he thought were acting suspiciously about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. When they saw the officer make a U-turn, they fled.
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...[The officer] drove through the streets after them and then left his car and chased them on foot. One of the men then turned toward the officer and approached him "in an aggressive manner," Dotson said. The suspect and the officer got into a physical altercation.
Dotson said the man then ran up a hill and fired three times at the officer before the officer returned fire. Investigators recovered a 9mm Ruger at the scene, which Dotson said was used by the 18-year-old, whom he described as "no stranger to law enforcement."
According to the St. Louis Dispatch: "Myers was scheduled to stand trial in November for unlawful use of a weapon and resisting arrest."
A tense crowd of about 300 gathered in the streets late on Wednesday, chanting "Hey, hey, ho, ho, these killer cops have got to go"—a popular chant from the Michael Brown protests in nearby Ferguson—and "Black lives matter." Several police vehicles were damaged during the demonstrations.
On Twitter, St. Louis Alderman Antonio French said he was "[a]t the scene of yet another young man's death. This happens too often in our city. It's a crisis that we should all be concerned about."
Last night again highlighted the broken trust between community and police in St. Louis. This is a dangerous situation for our city.
— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) October 9, 2014
A "weekend of resistance" against police violence is scheduled to begin tomorrow in Ferguson, featuring marches, meetings, and workshops.