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The killing of an 18-year-old black man by St. Louis police in the city’s Fountain Park neighborhood ignited protests once again Wednesday, with an angry crowd disputing police accounts of the incident.
By nightfall, fires were set near the scene of the shooting near Page Boulevard and Walton Avenue, with at least one car and vacant dwelling consumed. Earlier, police used tear gas to attempt to clear crowds.
Police say a young black man pointed a gun at officers about 11:30 a.m. after they arrived to serve a search warrant. Two officers, both white men, fired a total of four times.
The St. Louis medical examiner’s office identified the man who was shot as Mansur Ball-Bey, 18, of the 1200 block of Redman Boulevard in the Spanish Lake area.
The shooting almost immediately attracted protesters, many of whom had gathered downtown Wednesday morning to mark the one-year anniversary of the shooting of another young black man killed by police.
Some of those who gathered to hear Police Chief Sam Dotson speak Wednesday afternoon grew angry at his account. As the crowd grew, so did the tension with officers, who arrived in large numbers. At least three people were taken into custody after police in SWAT gear and an armored vehicle told the crowd to disperse.
“This is an unlawful assembly,” police warned.
At least two officers were pelted with plastic water bottles during the tense few hours after the shooting.
“Police officers are out doing their jobs,” Dotson told reporters. “We need support in the community.”
Confrontations with police escalated in the hours that followed.
During a news conference at police headquarters shortly before 10 p.m., Dotson said protesters gathered on Page early in the evening, moved toward the Central West End, briefly blocked Kingshighway and then returned to Walton and Page, where officers declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and ordered people to disperse. After dark, large numbers of officers held control of a two-block area of Page.
He said the officers left the area but returned when a car was set on fire on Walton just south of Page. In another instance, he said, someone kicked down the door of a small store.
A car, and later a vacant house, were set aflame after 9 p.m.
‘PLAGUED BY VIOLENCE’
Along with Ball-Bey, a second suspect described as black and in his late teens, fled the house in the 1200 block of Walton Avenue and also was armed. He remained at large. At the house, near Page Boulevard, police confiscated crack cocaine and four guns, including the one police say Ball-Bay had in his possession. It was described by police as a handgun with an extended magazine stolen from Rolla, Mo.
The search warrant that police came to serve was for guns and narcotics involved in a felony.
Dotson said one officer shot three times, the other once. One is 33, the other 29, and both have been on the force for about seven years. In an interview later in the day, Dotson said he did not know where Ball-Bey had been shot.
“What I know right now is that somebody pointed a gun at police officers,” Dotson said at a news conference about 90 minutes after the shooting.
Police said officers were in the neighborhood “as it has been plagued by violence.” As officers were about to enter the house, two armed men ran out the back door. Police say Ball-Bey was armed with one gun, the other teen with two. Officers in an alley ordered the suspects to stop and drop their guns. At that point, Ball-Bey turned and pointed his gun at officers, police said.
“Fearing for their safety, two officers fired their weapons,” the police account of the shooting says. Police said there were other people in the house that were taken into custody, but did not specify how many.
As is routine, the two officers involved in the fatal shooting have been placed on administrative leave as the investigation continues.
A TOUGH BLOCK
Dotson said police had been at the same address to serve a search warrant about 18 months ago, and found several illegal guns.
He said police have been in the area in recent days because of several shootings and the carjacking of a 93-year-old Tuskegee Airman on Sunday. It’s the same block where a toddler in July shot himself in the head after an uncle allegedly left him in a room with loaded weapons. The boy survived.
“This was an area we needed to be focusing in,” Dotson said. “Certainly the good people in this neighborhood should not be plagued by the violence.”
Wednesday’s shooting came on the one-year anniversary of the police shooting of Kajieme Powell, 25, in St. Louis. Some activists who were at a march Wednesday to remember Powell and protest his shooting left to go to the scene of the Walton Avenue shooting.
Also at the scene was Jerryl Christmas, attorney for the family of VonDerrit Myers Jr., an 18-year-old shot by police on Oct. 8 in the Shaw neighborhood. He said the city needs to center its attention on rebuilding neighborhoods instead of building a new stadium for the Rams.
“We need to focus on these areas that are deprived. I mean, look around,” Christmas said, pointing to vacant lots and abandoned buildings.
Some at the scene confronted police and questioned statements by Dotson. Robert Phillips, 30, was angry after hearing the police account that the dead man pointed a gun at officers.
“They always say that,” Phillips said.
Bedoe Harvey, 40, of nearby Bedoe’s Barbershop, said this section of town is not all bad.
“It’s not the neighborhood as a whole, it’s certain individuals,” Harvey said in defending the neighborhood. “There’s lots of poverty and everything.”
There were four homicides within a half-mile of Fountain Park this year before Wednesday’s officer-involved shooting.
On Monday, a man was fatally shot and a woman was injured in the 700 block of Aubert Avenue. Isaac Johnson, 30, was found on a sidewalk. He had been shot in the side, torso and legs. The woman told police she had gone to the area to buy drugs.
Joe Robinson, 37, who works with Better Family Life community outreach, was one of about a dozen people holding signs that read: “We must stop killing each other.”
“The sign says it all,” Robinson said.
Cahsem Liner, 37, said there was a reason guns were common in the neighborhood.
“You need to protect yourself from the senseless shootings, the gang violence,” Liner said. “That’s why people are armed down here.”
Lilly Fowler, Jack Witthaus, Joe Holleman, Tim O’Neil and Christine Byers of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.