A candlelight vigil for an 18-year-old shooting victim turned into a protest march through the Shaw neighborhood in south St. Louis late Thursday.
The protesters were mostly peaceful as they marched up and down residential streets in the neighborhood. But things turned uneasy as the evening wore on. A group of about 40 people blocked traffic at major intersections along South Grand Blvd. Later, some of the protesters broke windows of police cars.
The action was in response to Wednesday's shooting death of 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers at the hand of an off-duty St. Louis city police officer. Police said Myers fired a pistol at the officer following a struggle, but some protesters said they’re convinced Myers was unarmed.
During the course of Thursday evening's marches, protesters burned a pair of American flags. Elizabeth Vega, who has been involved in organizing protests following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, spoke to the crowd through a megaphone.
“Our children are getting shot in the streets. Dissent is the greatest form of patriotism, but this flag doesn’t cover people of color,” Vega said.
Across the street from the protests, 21-year-old Marco Pitts observed the evening's activities. He said racial profiling by police in St. Louis is a common practice, and he supports the protest's message. But Pitts said he didn’t agree with the vandalism that occurred Thursday night.
“I don’t have a problem with people marching, but when you’re throwing things into people’s homes and breaking things off of people’s cars, I don’t feel that’s right and I don’t agree with it. I don’t want to be a part of something when things like that happen,” Pitts said.
Around 10:15 p.m., dozens of police responded to an officer in need of assistance. Police with riot shields formed skirmish lines at the intersection of South Grand and Arsenal Street, as the crowd swelled to about 100. Multiple times during the night, officers used pepper spray to disperse some of the crowd.
As a police helicopter circled overhead, some Shaw residents expressed anger and disappointment that protesters had chosen to march through the neighborhood.
“I do understand the Michael Brown situation, but from everything I’m hearing [the Myers shooting] is very different from that,” said Linda Worthylake, who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years.
“Come and look at this neighborhood. We live together, we’re fine! Keep in mind and realize that it’s not always a Michael Brown situation.”