A police officer fatally shot an armed man at a gas station in Berkeley, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb Tuesday night. The incident took place less than five miles from Ferguson – where unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot in August, prompting widespread protests – according to The New York Times. At the Berkeley incident, the officer was white and the victim was black.
St. Louis County Police say the officer was carrying out a “routine business check,” investigating a theft at a Mobil station when he spotted two men having a conversation near the building. “The Berkeley police officer exited his vehicle and approached the subjects when one of the men pulled a handgun and pointed it at the officer,” the department said in a statement. “Fearing for his life, the Berkeley officer fired several shots, striking the subject, fatally wounding him. The second subject fled the scene.”
Investigators claim the officer fired his gun three times, hitting the suspect once; they do not believe the man he was questioning shot his gun.
The shooting victim, whom The Guardian identifies as 18-year-old Antonio Martin, had a record of three armed assaults and other theft charges since age 17. “This doesn’t make any sense for them to kill my son like this,” Antonio’s mother, Toni Martin-Green, told St. Louis Post-Dispatch Wednesday. “I am trying to be calm.”
“He was not a violent person, to our knowledge,” Antonio’s father, Jerome Green, told the Post-Dispatch. “Around us there weren’t any pistols. It’s hard to believe that.”
Authorities released a video of the incident, though the camera is positioned far away from the altercation and the video ends before the shooting, and say that they have recovered the man’s gun from the scene. Police Chief Jon Belmar has said that the officer felt he was in danger and therefore did not select a non-lethal defense weapon like mace or a Taser. He also said that the officer was wearing a body cam but did not turn it on. The officer has been placed on administrative leave while the department investigates the incident.
About 300 people gathered at the station after the shooting, setting off fireworks and lobbing bricks and rocks at police. Four people were arrested and at least two police officers were injured.
Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins held a press conference highlighting the differences between his suburb and Ferguson. “In a city that is 85 percent black, we have a majority black police department, so our experience is different,” he said. “Our police officers are more sensitive, and it is because of the black and white relationship you get a better understanding.”
He also commented on the crowd that engaged police at the gas station following the shooting. “All protests are different,” Hoskins said. “Last night, you would have thought it was Ferguson again. There is a jump to conclusion that all policemen are guilty. We all know that 95 percent of our police serve our community well, so jumping to conclusions is not acceptable.”
Since the fatal shooting of Brown over the summer, tension between civilians and police in the area have been running high. Numerous protests have surrounded Ferguson over that town’s handling of the shooting and more have followed in recent months after a grand jury chose not to indict policeman Darren Wilson of Brown’s death. Similarly, protests have erupted around the country over another jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer for the death of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner, in Staten Island, New York.
Numerous musicians have written songs and released videos about the protests that followed both deaths, including Tom Morello (“Marching on Ferguson”), Michael Franti (“Same as It Ever Was (Start Today)”) and, in terms of video, Wu-Tang Clan (“A Better Tomorrow”) and Will.i.am (“The World Is Crazy”). Stevie Wonder has spoken out against the Garner verdict, and Paul McCartney says he would like to write a song about the Garner protests.