What’s known for sure about last night’s deadly shooting in south St. Louis is that an off-duty white police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old black man, discharging his weapon 17 times. Nearly every other major detail is unknown or in dispute. They include: why the young man, identified by the Post-Dispatch as VonDerrit Myers Jr. provoked the officer’s suspicion in the first place and whether as police say, Myers was armed with a gun—or a sandwich from the corner store, as some residents say. The wall between police and St. Louis’ black communities appears to be hardening.
Separately, out on the streets with the region’s young people until about 3 o’clock in the morning were two of St. Louis’ community leaders, Derek Laney of Missourians Organizing for Reform & Empowerment (MORE) and Rev. Starsky Wilson, pastor of Saint John’s Church. Both men shared their immediate impressions with Colorlines this morning. They were understandably weary. It’s been two long months of respectively organizing and pastoring to youth who are hurt, angry and mobilized in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder this August.
“No, this is not another Mike Brown,” Rev. Wilson tells me on the phone. “There’s not another John Crawford. There’s not another Kajieme Powell. These are all individual lives that matter, with unique lives and circumstance. So I want to push back on that [notion] a bit.”
“What I will say,” Wilson continues, “is that these lives add up. These young black lives are adding up in ways that’re stirring consternation and remarkable anger in the hearts of young people who see their own lives in jeopardy.
“What I saw last night, I think there’s more pain and more passion now than there was on Aug 10, the day after Mike Brown. And I think there is more fear and willingness to fight now than there was then, even for people who were [in Shaw] last night who also saw Mike Brown laying on ground [in Ferguson].”
Laney, one of the principal organizers behind this coming weekend’s Ferguson October, is admittedly tired, sad and angry this morning. He begins by acknowledging that not all the facts are in and notes in particular the deep conflict between official police accounts and what residents told him last night. What worries him after last night is that some people may become violent.
“People are already on edge, angry and fed up with this absolute disrespect and disregard for black life. Some of those people, I fear, may consider using violent means to express [themselves]. And as a result of that choice, it’s just going to be more black lives lost—because they’re not going to outgun the police.”
“My prayer and hope is that cooler heads will prevail and justice will prevail in the case of Brown, Powell and this young man. The police must take responsibility for the use of lethal force and not just close ranks when they’re having such disproportionate impact on one community. They’re killing our children.
Both Wilson and Laney say that St. Louis police showed remarkable restraint with last night’s crowd. “They didn’t take that militaristic, antagonizing stance that they did in Ferguson,” Laney says. “That can be called progress. When you start to treat people who’re protesting like human beings, that’s not kudos. That’s the very basic thing that we should expect from them.”
Read the Post-Dispatch for the latest developments in this quickly moving story.