WASHINGTON (TIP): The familiar script of a white cop on hair-trigger alert gunning down a black man surfaced again on December 23 night less than five miles from Ferguson, Missouri, where a similar case in August this year triggered African-American unrest across the country.
Police said the officer was on a routine patrol near a gas station after responding to a call of a theft when he approached two men near the building in the suburb of Berkeley, Missouri. The officer exited his vehicle to question them when one person pulled out a handgun. “Fearing for his life, the Berkeley officer fired several shots, striking the subject, fatally wounding him. The second subject fled the scene,” police said.
A surveillance tape released by the police showed the confrontation but not the shooting itself. The police maintained the officer’s life was in imminent danger and using a pepper stray or taser was not a realistic option. “You have somebody that’s pointing a gun at a police officer. There’s not a lot of time. I can imagine that most of us would feel that we’re in imminent danger of losing our lives,” St Louis county police chief Jon Belmar said.
The mother of the victim, whose name was given as Antonio Martin, later claimed that her son did not have any weapon on him and the police shot him as he attempted to run away. The second person who fled the scene has not been traced.
Police maintained that the incident could not be compared to the Ferguson case, where there was no video footage of the incident itself. “It didn’t have to end with him approaching the officer with his arm extended with a 9mm pistol in his hand,” police chief Belmar said, adding that the teenager could have put down his weapon at any time but he made “bad choices” instead.
The city’s black mayor supported the police. The officer, meanwhile, has been placed on an administrative leave pending an inquiry.
It was a Grand Jury decision not to indict a white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown in nearby Fergusson that ignited a nationwide firestorm some weeks ago. Since then, there have been at least three such incidents highlighting use of force, often in circumstances that did no warrant it.
Police broadly maintain that the blacks in question often have criminal records and cops have to act with caution and make split-second decisions, as was the case in Tuesday night’s confrontation in Berkeley.
Black activists say white police have a lower threshold for black offenses and are quick to punish them for minor infractions – such as selling loose cigarettes in the case of Eric Garner, who was choked to death in New York -often with an intent to impose fines and raise revenues.