Another seemingly justified police shooting near Ferguson, MO briefly followed a sadly predictable script. In nearby Berkeley, a white police officer, aged 34, fired three shots, killing black American Antonio Martin, aged 18. The officer was responding to a report of stealing at a Mobil on the Run gas station. Martin allegedly pulled a 9mm handgun on the six-year veteran, who stumbled backwards as he fired, striking Martin once. "He will carry the weight of this for the rest of his life, certainly for the rest of his career," said St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, referring to the unidentified officer. "There are no winners here.”
Unfortunately, there were plenty of losers. Despite the efforts of Mayor Theodore Hoskins, who explained the shooting had been captured on a surveillance camera and a weapon was recovered on the scene, between 200 and 300 protesters gathered there and began fighting with police officers. One of three explosive devices (possible fireworks) tossed near gas pumps sent one officer to the hospital with injuries to his leg, while another sustained facial lacerations as a result of bricks thrown at the officers by the mob. Several police cars were also damaged by rocks protesters brought to the area. Four people were arrested for assault.
Belmar said he understood why a crowd would gather, but he noted that "to come there armed with explosive devices is certainly something that is not safe for our community, is not safe for our businesses and is certainly not safe for our officers.” He also addressed questions from the crowd as to why the officer couldn’t have used pepper spray or a Taser to subdue the victim. He characterized that response as “unreasonable.” "We had somebody who was pointing a gun at a police officer,” he explained. "With not a lot of time, I would imagine that most of us would feel like we were in imminent danger of losing our lives at that point. And I think the officer responded with what he thought was commensurate force at the time.”
"I understand the emotions and I understand these young people are looking for something, but I think we have to understand the context of what happens down there with these kinds of situations,” he added.
The incident occurred at approximately 11:15 p.m. Tuesday night. The officer encountered two men at the parking lot in the 6800 block of North Hanley Road and began talking to them. Belmar said one of the men approached the drivers side of the police vehicle. According to the police officer's attorney, Brian Millikan, the other man kept wandering away despite the officer’s commands to remain close by.
One of the two men "produced a pistol with his arm straight out, pointing it straight at the officer kind of from across the hood," Belmar said, further noting the police officer had a flashlight in his left hand and was near his driver’s side door while the armed man stood near the headlights on the passenger side of the vehicle. The officer proceeded to get his handgun "and fired what we think is three shots,” Belmar said. One struck Martin, one struck a tire on the police car, and the third shot remains unaccounted for.
After the shooting the officer was placed on administrative leave. Belmar revealed the suspect’s “defaced” 9 mm gun “had five rounds in the chamber and one round in the magazine.” He further revealed Martin had a criminal record that included three assault charges, as well as charges for armed robbery, armed criminal action and multiple unlawful uses of a weapon.
Millikan recounted further details provided to him by the officer hours after the shooting "The other guy was doing the talking, and as the cop starts talking, the suspect starts walking away again," Millikan said. "At that point, the cop says, 'Hey, come back here,' and he turns around, pulls a gun from his left pant pocket. He's trying to process all of this, and the suspect raises it, points it at him. The cop pulls his weapon and starts backpedaling and fired three or four shots. It happened that quickly. He doesn't understand why the suspect's gun didn't fire. I'm not sure if he tried to pull the trigger and it jammed,” he added.
Millikan who further characterized the behavior of the two suspects as “bizarre” speculated that his client might have been set up for an ambush because the suspects remained at the scene after store employees called 911. "Their behavior is certainly bizarre, and it wouldn't surprise me at all, in the environment we are in, that's for sure,” he contended.
Belmar noted the officer dropped his flashlight when he stumbled while backpedaling, with Mayor Hoskins characterizing that as a blessing in disguise that may have saved the officer’s life. The officer had been given a body camera at the beginning of his shift, but wasn’t wearing it. Belmar said the officer was doing something else when it was handed out and simply forgot to put it on. The police car’s dashboard camera was also inoperative at the time because the car's emergency lights were not on, Belmar explained.
All three men were relieved the incident was captured by surveillance cameras. Only the part prior to the shooting has been released so far. "The video goes on; there’s no reason for the family of this young man to have to see the rest of the video,” Belmar said, adding the department would be distributing more video from the scene, including footage of the officer retreating, to provide transparency.
According to Belmar, the officer was involved in a similar incident in 2011 or 2012, during which he and a suspect struggled for the officer’s gun. To prevent the suspect from using it, the officer purposefully dropped the magazine out of the weapon and fired the chambered round into the floor.
Martin’s family, who couldn’t be located initially, finally emerged. And while his mother admitted he had problems, it "doesn't make any sense for them to kill my son like this," Toni Martin-Green contended.
Belmar expressed condolence for both families. "These are nothing but tragedies," he said. "This is a family right now that, regardless of the decisions that this individual made, are without a family member this Christmas season. This is also a tragedy for the police officer. He will carry the weight of this for the rest of his life, certainly for the rest of his career. This really underscores the task that our police officers across the nation have to deal with day in and day out as they answer these calls in our community," he added.
Belmar also praised Berkeley Police Chief Frank McCall for helping to calm the protests that dissipated by 3 a.m., noting he had ordered his commanders to “let this emotion vent. Let this happen.” Hoskins was also adamant, "You can't compare this to Ferguson or the Garner case in New York,” he said emphasizing the videotape showed Martin pointing a gun at the officer. Nonetheless, he promised an investigation would be conducted in addition to the one by the St. Louis County Police.
The Mayor also illuminated the racial breakdown of the department. Out of 31 officers, 17 or 18 are African-American, and approximately 75 percent of the command staff are black, along with the the mayor, police chief and other city officials. The community itself is just over 9,000 residents, 80 percent of whom are black American.
Hoskins made one stumble. "At this point, our review indicates that the police did not initiate this, like Ferguson,” he stated. Considering the Ferguson grand jury's findings, that statement is disingenuous at best, and self-serving at worst. However, the Mayor did stand strong when his press conference was interrupted by black Baptist minister Jason Keith Coleman, who characterized the shooting as another act of aggression by “trigger happy” police officers. "Everybody don't die the same," Hoskins snapped back. "Some people die because they initiate it, and at this point, our review suggests police did not initiate it.”
Earlier that evening Belmar addressed equally spurious assertions, noting that he had "already seen through social media that this officer stopped (Martin), questioned him, frisked him and then killed him in cold blood — well, that's not what you're going to see when you see the video.”
Considering what has, and continues to transpire in New York and other hotspots around the nation, one might be forgiven for wondering whether it matters. Despite the successful efforts of local officials, a leftist agenda, replete with false narratives, continues to widen the divide between police and the communities they serve. It is driven by those for whom police officers will forever be “ trigger happy,” irrespective of evidence, because a divided America, along with the eternal victimization of black Americans, is the only thing that separates the racial arsonists from the irrelevance they so richly deserve. That includes our feckless president, who chooses to remain on the golf course in Hawaii while Vice President Joe Biden has been dispatched to attend the one of the two funerals of the two minority officers slain in New York City.
President Obama could have sent a powerful message with his attendance. Instead, he sends an equally powerful message with his absence. There is no political mileage to be gained by standing with police officers, even as his ideological fellow travelers stand against them, all of their protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. Like his execrable Attorney General Eric Holder, Obama prefers the company of uber race-baiter Al Sharpton. It is this trio of men, along with New York’s equally feckless Mayor, Bill de Blasio, who have cultivated the "us against them”mentality they see as a vehicle for the "fundamental transformation" of America.
Ultimately, Berkeley, MO may prove that such a transformation is far from inevitable. We are a far better nation than the American left would have us believe, and the bet here is most Americans are finally beginning to realize it, one in their face, over the top, cop-bashing—and killing—moment after another.
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