Why Vonderrit Myers matters
The following piece is from MSNBC. It was written by Trymaine Lee.
By: Trymaine Lee
Vonderrit Myers is no Michael Brown. Myers, the black 18-year old shot and killed by a St. Louis police officer last week, is also no Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis or any of the others on a growing list of slain unarmed black men who have invigorated a new generation’s fight for racial justice.
But Myers doesn’t have to be.
Unlike Brown and others who were clearly unarmed during their fatal confrontations with white antagonists, police say Myers shot first, and the officer he shot at returned fire and killed the teen. Lab results found Myers had gun powder residue on his right hand at the time of his death. He was also facing trial on earlier gun charges and was wearing an ankle bracelet as a condition of his bond in that case.
Myers at 16 was arrested for another shooting but was never charged. And photographs have gone viral on social media showing him posing with guns just days before his death.
Myers, in other words, may not be the model victim in the ongoing story of police brutality and white violence against young black men. But his death nonetheless has sparked an important wave in the burgeoning movement built around the notion that black lives matter. All black lives – not just those that draw the most public sympathy.
“Vonderitt Myers matters because we are still talking about a fundamental question of the value of black children and the value of black life,” said Brittany Packnett, head of Teach for America in St. Louis. “The circumstances may be different, but there’s the recognition that if we don’t come out early and often to demand justice for African-American children, quite often it doesn’t come.”
“He has no incentive to engage the police in a shooting”
Brown’s death in Ferguson on August 9 sparked weeks of rage and protest, in large part because he was unarmed and witnesses say had raised his hands in surrender when he was fatally struck.
Myers’s family insists that he too was unarmed when he was shot on October 8, packing little more than a sandwich at the time. They remember Myers as a beloved teenager who had hopes of getting his life back on track.
Protesters took to the St. Louis streets in the hours and days after Myers’s shooting, just as they had a dozen miles away in Ferguson. They marched and chanted. There were showdowns with police and some burned American flags. The unrest became something of a parallel protest to what had happened to Brown.
Myers’s family and their supporters say they don’t trust the police. They’ve poked holes in the police account of how the teen was killed and have highlighted over and again how often that account has changed.
“A lot of people believe St. Louis police compromised this case by doing things that I hate to think they could have done in this situation,” said Jermaine Wooten, an attorney for Myers’ family.
Brown’s killing was highly symbolic, another name on the tragic roll call of unarmed black men gunned down by white men and cops. The list includes Sean Bell, killed the morning of his wedding in Queens, New York in 2006; Oscar Grant, shot by a transit cop on an Oakland, California subway platform in 2009; Trayvon Martin, shot to death by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Florida in 2012; and Jordan Davis, gunned down by motorist Michael Dunn in 2012 in a scuffle over loud music.
Brown’s killing was also among a string of similar cases across America this summer, where cops killed unarmed black men under mysterious circumstances.
They include Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York on July 17, killed in a police chokehold after being confronted over selling untaxed cigarettes; John Crawford in Beavercreek, Ohio on August 5, shot down by police at a Walmart as he talked on his cell phone and toyed with a plastic gun he’d picked up off a shelf in the toy department; and Ezell Ford in Los Angeles on August 11, felled by police bullets after they stopped him on a sidewalk, at which point they say he made “suspicious movements” before attempting to take an officer’s gun.
The protests sparked by Brown’s killing only grew more emboldened by what happened to Myers weeks later. But while Brown’s killing fits a much neater narrative, with multiple eyewitness accounts and forensic evidence, the Myers case is murky.
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