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Holiday protests in St. Louis region continue calls for racial justice

Holiday protests in St. Louis region continue calls for racial justice

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ST. LOUIS — Calls for racial justice and racial equality continued in St. Louis on the Fourth of July with protesters at one rally commemorating a Black teenager fatally shot six years ago by an off-duty police officer.

Some 40 people marched from Compton Hill Reservoir Park to the intersection of Shaw Boulevard and Klemm Street where there’s a plaque in memory of VonDerrit Myers Jr., who was 18 at the time of his death in October 2014.

“Let us be open-hearted and work together to appreciate each other and live in our own good nature,” the plaque reads.

Protest leaders said through megaphones Saturday that they were driven to speak out because “justice delayed is not justice denied.” Some in the group said the message is as relevant now as ever, given repeated instances across the country of police officers killing African Americans.

“It’s still happening, so it’s kind of like reopening a wound,” said Tessa Reber, a 29-year-old St. Louis resident who joined the demonstration.

Following an extensive investigation into Myers’ death, no charges were brought against Officer Jason Flanery, who shot the teen eight times. Police reports said that Myers had first fired a gun at Flanery, although Myers’ family has long challenged those findings.

“People are tired,” said Reber, a mother of three. “We’re just tired of it and don’t want our kids to go through it.”

She said it felt fitting to protest on the Fourth of July, since the American people weren’t free from British rule when independence was declared in 1776, and a similar push for basic freedoms and rights continues today.

“If you don’t do anything, there won’t be a change,” Reber said.

Elsewhere in the city, about 30 protesters supporting racial justice marched along Market Street in downtown St. Louis earlier in the afternoon.

Protests also continued in Florissant on Saturday evening. Demonstrations have been held in the north St. Louis County community following a June 2 incident when prosecutors say an officer drove a police SUV into a man fleeing on foot, causing a severe leg injury.

Joshua Smith, the officer driving the vehicle, was fired by the department on June 10. About a week later, he was charged with first-degree assault, fourth-degree assault and armed criminal action.

Bishop Derrick Robinson, a local pastor, said demonstrators want to see charges brought against two other officers who were in the SUV with Smith.

“We’re outside until that happens,” Robinson said. “We will continue to apply pressure until we see that.”

By about 7 p.m., a few dozen people had gathered for the demonstration, including some from other communities who joined the cause.

“We want to change the way we do policing,” said Marquis Govan, a 17-year-old from University City. Like others in attendance, Govan wants to see communities rethink police budgets and push greater investment toward things like education.

“We’ve been here for three weeks already, and an American holiday won’t stop that,” said Rachel Lambing, a 23-year-old Maplewood resident, adding that a celebratory atmosphere didn’t feel appropriate. “I feel like this is the most important thing we could be doing today.”

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