Barbara Shelly

Latest St. Louis-area police shooting is different from Ferguson

Protesters yell at police protecting the perimeter of a scene where a teenager was fatally shot by a police officer in Berkeley, Missouri, near Ferguson. The 18-year-old appears to have pulled a gun on the officer.
Protesters yell at police protecting the perimeter of a scene where a teenager was fatally shot by a police officer in Berkeley, Missouri, near Ferguson. The 18-year-old appears to have pulled a gun on the officer. St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A police shooting Tuesday night in Berkeley, Mo., just a few miles from where Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, drew a restive crowd and understandably heightened emotions in an already tense region.

But video from a surveillance camera appears to confirm what St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters Wednesday morning — that 18-year-old Antonio Martin produced a gun and pointed it directly at a police officer across the hood of a patrol car. If that’s the case, the shooting was justified. Police can and must respond with deadly force to a direct threat to their lives.

Local officials, including the African-American mayor of Berkeley, Theodore Hoskins, and a black Missouri Senator, Maria Chappell-Nadal, played a helpful role in tamping down rumors and anger. Both quickly affirmed the officer had responded to a direct threat.

“The video shows the deceased pointed a gun that has been recovered,” Hoskins told reporters. “You can’t even compare this with Ferguson or the (Eric) Garner case in New York.”

“Different narrative, completely different narrative,“ Chappelle-Nadal told the Washington Post. “This kid had a gun and obviously it is an illegal gun. The police officer was justified.”

Martin had an arrest record as an adult that included assault and robbery, but it is unclear whether he had been convicted of a felony offense. In any case, Martin could not legally carry a firearm. The minimum age to apply for a permit was lowered by the General Assembly this year from 21 to 19. As an 18-year-old, Martin didn’t qualify.

It will be well worth the time spent for police to investigate where Martin got the gun.

Police and the public are fortunate that the shooting was captured on surveillance video in the parking lot of a gas station/convenience store. The office involved reportedly was wearing a body camera but didn’t have it turned on.

That’s frustrating and concerning. Police departments must quickly develop policies for use of body cameras and insist that officers follow them. The officer confronted Martin and another man in response to a call about a stealing incident. That’s an encounter that should be videotaped. Anything can happen and, in this case, it did.

To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to bshelly@kcstar.com. On Twitter @bshelly.

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