BERKELEY, Mo. – Demonstrators took to the streets for a second night after a white police officer in Berkeley, Missouri, killed a black 18-year-old who police said pointed a gun at him.
Dozens of protesters held a vigil late Wednesday at the gas station in the St. Louis suburb where Antonio Martin was shot, and they briefly blocked traffic on Interstate 170 during a march before returning to the station. Berkeley Police Chief Frank McCall told KMOV-TV that six to eight people were arrested.
Later, about 75 people staged a peaceful protest early Christmas morning outside of a nearby church, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Police in riot gear were present.
The actions were calmer than a night before, when a crowd of about 300 people gathered at the gas station, throwing rocks and bricks in a scene reminiscent of the sometimes-violent protests that followed the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson.
Unlike in the death of Brown, who was unarmed and whose shooting was not captured on video, Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins said Wednesday that surveillance footage appeared to show Martin pulling a gun on the unidentified 34-year-old officer who questioned him and another man about a theft at a convenience store.
Hoskins urged calm, saying, “You couldn’t even compare this with Ferguson or the Garner case in New York,” a reference to the chokehold death of Eric Garner, another black man whose death was caused by a white police officer.
Hoskins, who is black, also noted that unlike in Ferguson – where a mostly white police force serves a mostly black community – more than half of the officers in his city of 9,000 are black, including top command staff.
State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat who has been critical of how police handled the Brown case, also said the Martin shooting was far different than Brown’s, noting that Martin pointed a weapon at the officer.
“That officer not only has an obligation to protect the community, but he also has a responsibility to protect himself,” said the senator, who is black. “Because of the video, it is more than apparent that his life was in jeopardy.”
But Taurean Russell, co-founder of Hands Up United, asked if police had any reason to question Martin in the first place. Mistrust of police remains high among blacks, many of whom are weary of harassment, said Russell, who is black.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar did not provide more details Wednesday about the theft Martin was being asked about. He said Martin pulled a loaded 9mm handgun and the officer fired three shots while stumbling backward. One hit Martin, who didn’t fire his own gun. He died at the scene.
“I don’t know why the guy didn’t get a shot off, whether his gun jammed or he couldn’t get the safety off,” said attorney Brian Millikan, who is representing the officer. He said that the officer was lucky to be alive and certain he had no choice but to use lethal force.
Police throughout the country have been on alert since two New York officers were gunned down in an ambush last weekend by a man who had made threatening posts online about killing police. He later killed himself.
St. Louis County police and the city of Berkeley are investigating the shooting of Martin, which Belmar called a tragedy for both Martin’s family and the officer, who has been on the force for six years.
“He will carry the weight of this for the rest of his life, certainly for the rest of his career,” Belmar said of the officer. “There are no winners here.”
The officer wasn’t wearing his body camera, and his cruiser’s dashboard camera was not activated because the car’s emergency lights were not on, Belmar said.
Police released surveillance video clips from three different angles. The men can be seen leaving the store as a patrol car drives up. The officer gets out and speaks with them.
About 90 seconds later, one appears to raise his arm, though it’s difficult to see what he’s holding because they were several feet from the camera. Belmar said it was a 9mm handgun with one round in the chamber and five more in the magazine.
Police were searching Wednesday for the other man, who ran away.
Belmar said Martin had a criminal record that included three assault charges, plus charges of armed robbery, armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon.
Phone messages left for his parents were not returned. His mother, Toni Martin-Green, told the Post-Dispatch that Antonio was the oldest of four children.
“He’s like any other kid who had dreams or hopes,” she said. “We loved being around him. He’d push a smile out of you.”
His was the third fatal shooting of a young black man by a white police officer in the St. Louis area since Brown was killed by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. Kajieme Powell, 25, was killed Aug. 19 after approaching St. Louis officers with a knife. Vonderrit Myers, 18, was fatally shot on Oct. 8 after allegedly shooting at a St. Louis officer.
Each killing has led to protests, as did a grand jury’s decision last month not to charge Wilson in Brown’s death.