(Reuters) – A white policeman shot dead a black man brandishing a gun at a suburban St. Louis gasoline station overnight, police said yesterday, igniting violence reminiscent of riots over the police killing of an unarmed black teenager in nearby Ferguson.
Black officials in Missouri were at pains to distinguish the death of a suspect they said had a gun from cases where unarmed black men were killed by police officers, incidents that led to protests across the United States and bitter debate about how American police forces treat non-white citizens.
The shooting happened late on Tuesday at a Mobil On The Run gas station in Berkeley, Missouri, within walking distance of the Ferguson street on which a white police officer shot dead 18-year-old Michael Brown in August.
“This is not a policeman in the city of Berkeley going out half-cocked,” Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins said at a news conference. “You could not even compare this with Ferguson.”
A crowd of 200 to 300 people soon gathered at the site of the shooting, and bricks and three fireworks were thrown, two of them at the roughly 50 officers at the scene, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said.
Two officers were injured and four people were arrested for assault before calm was restored, Belmar said.
The shooting occurred three days after the worst fears of police-reform activists and the direst warnings of police leaders came to pass: on Saturday afternoon, a man summarily shot dead two officers in their patrol car in New York City, targeting them only because of the uniform they were wearing.
The Berkeley encounter unfolded after the officer, a six-year veteran of the town’s police department who was responding to a report of a theft, got out of his car to talk to two men at the gasoline station.