Heavily armed police deployed tear gas into a North St. Louis City residential neighborhood last night (August 19) in an attempt to quell protests that incited after city police shot and killed an 18-year-old black man, Mansur Bell-Bey.
Police made nine arrests at the protest, seven men and two women. All were charged with impeding the flow of traffic, and one woman was charged with resisting arrest.
At around 11:30 a.m., St. Louis city police were executing a search warrant at a home on Walton Road near Page Avenue in the Fountain Park neighborhood. Two black men ran out the back, and both were armed, police said. Two officers were waiting in the alley and one of the suspects pointed his gun at police, according to police. The officers then shot and killed Ball-Bey.
At the scene of the shooting, large patches of dried blood can be seen on the front lawn. The other suspect is still at large, police said, and he was described as a black male in his mid-to-late teens.
Soon after the incident, people gathered peacefully in the street, though tensions were high and the community was frustrated. A few bellowed protester chants and a couple dozen blocked the intersection. However, cars could still maneuver through or take adjacent streets to get pass.
Around 3 p.m., a militarized police vehicle arrived with police donned in riot gear, according to activist Tony Rice who posted photos on Twitter and remained at the site throughout the evening.
At that point, police were able to coral the crowd onto the sidewalks, said St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson in a press briefing Wednesday night. Police made two arrests, and “peace was restored,” he said.
However, the two arrests angered the crowd, especially because the second man arrested appeared to be a senior black man. The crowd also did not understand why the armed vehicles and men were present, some told the St. Louis American. Police left the scene at about 4:40 p.m.
However, at about 6 p.m., some individuals left to march through the Central West End and up Kingshighway Boulevard. Dotson said the individuals walking up Kingshighway not only blocked traffic but also endangered lives.
They returned to Page and Walton at about 7 p.m., and there were about 300 individuals gathered at the intersection. The police returned to the scene soon after and at that point some individuals threw rocks, bricks and water bottles at police officers, Dotson said. According to a video the police released, police formed a uniform line to protect themselves.
After the crowd refused to disperse, Dotson said, “smoke was used, like you see at the Fourth of July.”
Warnings of “chemical emission” dispersal were given, Dotson said, as officers ordered people off of the street. Then they teargassed the area. Rice tweeted that they did not give warnings before the teargas, and some individuals were sitting on their porches.
Brittany Packnett, a Ferguson Commission member and executive director of Teach For America in St. Louis, wrote on Twitter, “This is worse than any gas I’ve ever had before. My face won’t stop burning.”
Packnett, who attends church in the neighborhood, wrote that her friend’s parents had gas seeping into their house and in the church.
“The SWAT tank literally rode down a practically empty street and shot the gas into the air,” she wrote. “Where protestors weren’t. Where kids were.”
She said she knows so many children in the neighborhood.
“I grew up going to church here,” she said. “This is wild.”
Residents complained of the effects of the gas. Many were watching the scene unfold from in front of their homes.
“It’s all through my house,” one woman said from her porch. “I had to open all the windows to at least let some fresh air in.”
At around 8 p.m., the police started moving towards the crowd and started beating their batons on the ground.
The unified taps as they advanced down the street seemed to further enrage the individuals who had temporarily formed pockets on the side street.
There was an energy from the crowd afterwards that felt as if they took the batons hitting the ground as taunts.
Onlookers stood off to the side as police made their way across the blocked off street.
Individuals on site – some who had been witnessing the turn of events for the several hours since the initial shooting –simmered with rage and frustration.
And at around 9 p.m., individuals set aflame a mattress in the middle of the street on Page near Walton, a car and an abandoned building in the 1300 block of Bayard. Police patrolled the area while the firefighters put out the fire at the building.
Crowds stood watch on either side for nearly two hours after the building fire was reported as the bonfire of sorts from the mattress continued to crackle and blaze.
Families witness the standoff
Earlier in the afternoon, Jerome Harris, 28, stood beside his six-year-old son as he looked onto the busy scene at the intersection of Page and Walton. When asked why he brought his son to the chaotic situation, Harris said he wanted “show him he can have better.”
“I just wanted to let him see what goes on in these neighborhoods,” he said. “I think once he sees what goes on. It can change his belief on what he can have. He doesn’t have to be a subject and go through the things we go through.”
Harris said the shooting that occurred doesn’t surprise him. In 2013, his brother was killed by a St. Louis police officer.
“It’s close. It’s not just something that I’m witnessing, it’s something that I’ve been through,” Harris told The St. Louis American.
“I just want to let my son see a role model and me and parent him right. A lot of us subject to our environment. It’s unfortunate,” said Harris.
Harris said although police were found justified in shooting his brother, there were a lot of inconsistencies with their account. “I really don’t know what to believe. I wasn’t there. All these guys have been killed and we don’t know the story. We don’t know the truth,” he said.
As the evening continued, police reinforced their protocol. Several arrests were made, tear gas was deployed, and other “less lethal” emissions. Protesters complained of not having a moment to grieve about their community’s lost because of police intervention.
Rev. Ronald Bobo, who pastors a neighborhood church on Page was at a loss for words when he spoke to The American at during the chaos.
"I am in shock and really don't know what to tell you," said Bobo.
At around noon that day, people had gathered downtown for a march and vigil for Kajieme Powell, a 25-year-old who was fatally shot by St. Louis Police exactly one year before.
Protest organizer Kayla Reed and other attendees of the vigil, left their demonstration in front of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce's office to arrive on the scene at the intersection of Page and Walton.
At the vigil, she said, “I sincerely believe St. Louis was chosen for everything to happen here because of the racial divide in this region and because it’s in the heart of the country.”
Kenya Vaughn of The St. Louis American also contributed to this report.
This story has been published as part of a partnership between The Huffington Post and The American.
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