ST. LOUIS — Protesters angered by the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by police faced off with officers in south St. Louis for a second night as accusations of racial profiling prompted calls for a federal investigation ahead of a weekend of planned rallies and civil disobedience.
State and city leaders have urged the Justice Department to investigate the death of Vonderrit D. Myers in the Shaw neighborhood Wednesday night, fearing he was targeted because he was black. Police say the white officer who killed Myers was returning fire, but Myers’ parents say he was unarmed.
“This here was racial profiling turned deadly,” state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, said at a news conference Thursday.
Myers’ death comes two months after the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a black unarmed 18-year-old, by a white police officer in nearby Ferguson. Brown’s killing sparked dozens of often violent protests in the St. Louis suburb. A state grand jury is deciding whether Officer Darren Wilson will face charges in his death.
Late Thursday night following a quiet candlelight prayer vigil for Myers, hundreds of people joined a more rowdy gathering in Shaw to protest his death.
Police in riot gear lined up on a high street, flanked by brand name stores and restaurants. Protesters yelled abuse and profanities to taunt the officers, who silently stood their ground. Police helicopters buzzed above the neighborhood. Officers used pepper spray to force the crowd back.
Some protesters burned the American flag, while others banged on drums and shouted “This is what democracy looks like!” Some slammed the sides of police vans. Broken glass littered the street.
Eventually the protesters backed off, moving a couple of blocks away. Riot police remained in the area.
Organizers say thousands of activists and protesters from around the country are expected to come to the St. Louis area for four days of rallies, marches and civil disobedience to protest the Ferguson shooting, racial profiling and police violence. The events, which start Friday and include a march Saturday in downtown St. Louis, have taken on added urgency in the wake of Myers’ death.
“This is a racial powder keg,” said Jerryl Christmas, a St. Louis attorney who was among more than 20 black leaders who joined Nasheed at a news conference Thursday outside police headquarters. “All this is going to do is escalate the situation.”
Police say Myers was both armed and aggressive, using a stolen gun to shoot at the officer.
Syreeta Myers said her son was holding a sandwich, not a gun. “Police lie. They lied about Michael Brown, too,” she told The Associated Press by phone Thursday.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said the officer spotted Myers and two other males at around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday while working a security job and patrolling near the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Dotson said the officer, who was off-duty but wearing his uniform, became suspicious when one of them started to run.
He chased them, first in his car and then on foot, Dotson said.
During the chase, he got into a physical altercation with Myers, who ran up a hill, turned and fired at the officer, the chief said. The officer, who wasn’t hurt, shot back.
Ballistic evidence shows Myers fired three shots before his gun jammed, Dotson said. Police said they recovered the 9 mm gun, which was reported stolen on Sept. 26.
The officer fired off 17 rounds. Preliminary autopsy results show a shot to the head killed Myers, according to medical examiner Dr. Michael Graham.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Graham said Myers was shot six or seven times in the lower extremities and the fatal shot entered his right cheek.
Authorities have not released the name of the 32-year-old officer, who has been with the police department for six years. He is on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of an investigation.
An attorney for the officer told the newspaper that his client served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq and was “shaken up” by the incident. He called claims that Myers was carrying a sandwich, not a gun, “ridiculous.”
Online court documents show that Myers was free on bond when he was killed. He had been charged with the unlawful use of a weapon, a felony, and misdemeanor resisting arrest in June.
Myers’ was the third fatal shooting of a black male by St. Louis-area police since Brown’s death.
“It’s imperative that we began to heal this community,” Nasheed said. “This community has been broken down. We have too many deaths at the hands of police officers.”
Associated Press writer Bill Draper in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.