New tensions erupted in St. Louis on Wednesday evening after an off-duty police officer shot and killed Vonderrit Myers Jr, an 18-year-old African American man. The officer, who has not been named, was working at his second job as a security guard but was still wearing his police uniform when the incident occurred.
Teyonna Myers, the victim's cousin, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "He was unarmed. He had a sandwich in his hand, and they thought it was a gun. It’s like Michael Brown all over again."
St. Louis Police offered a different series of events. Chief Sam Dotson told the Associated Press the officer was spotted by three men while patrolling his designated security guard area in his car, and after one of the men ran away, the officer made a U-turn. This prompted all three to run away, with the officer tailing them in his car. The chase escalated as the officer got out of his vehicle and pursued one man on foot. Chief Dotson noted that because the teen was grabbing his waistband as he ran, the officer believed he was carrying a weapon.
"An investigation will decide if the officer's behavior was appropriate," said Chief Dotson, who did not offer an explanation for the seemingly excessive 17 shots. Police officers are generally trained to shoot to kill in situations where they feel their lives are threatened. As Jens David Ohlin, a professor of law at Cornell Law School, explained to me, there are two kinds of defensive force: "non-lethal measures and lethal measures. Once it is appropriate for the police officer to fire their weapon, you are in the territory of lethal measures and it is justified to kill the individual."
Many local residents drew parallels to the police shooting of Michael Brown, which took place in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, and the shooting of Kajieme Powell just a few days later. Protests of Myers death carried deep into the night and Thursday morning. The protests were predominantly peaceful, as no arrests were made or businesses looted, though some police car windows were broken in. (Dotson noted that police "showed great restraint" throughout the night.)