A 23-year-old black man was shot and killed by St. Louis police today after he charged at them with a knife, just 10 days after police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson less than 6 miles away.
The man had taken two energy drinks from a store and returned to take a package of pastries without paying, according to St. Louis City Police Chief Sam Dotson. The suspect then went into the street and was "acting erratically," and talking to himself, Dotson said. When the store employee followed him outside, the man threw the pastries into the street, the chief said.
Police responded to a 911 call, and the suspect walked toward the officers' vehicle and put his hand on his waistband, pulled out a knife and held it in an "overhand" position, above his shoulder, Dotson said.
The chief said the officers got out of their vehicle and drew their weapons, telling the man to drop the knife, but he continued to advance, reportedly saying "Shoot me, kill me now."
When he got within four feet of one officer, both cops fired their weapons at the man, who has not yet been identified. Dotson said that witnesses described it as "suicide by cop."
A crowd of about 150 gathered at the scene of the shooting in the moments after the incident, many of whom expressed anger that cops had not used other means of restraint.
"You don’t need to shoot if you’ve got a Taser and he's got a knife," one bystander said.
"You just kill, kill, kill because you got a gun," another said. "They could've tased him. He was by himself."
"They’re trying to shoot us down," a third onlooker said.
Many in the crowd began chanting "Hands up, don't shoot," and "No justice, no peace," the chants that have been a hallmark of the protests in Ferguson over the past 10 days.
Reporters asked Dotson whether the officers should have used lethal force in this situation given the tensions in the area over Brown's death.
"Our policy is at the end of the day the officer should be able to go home, so (he should use) the amount of force necessary to overcome resistance. If a person is charging you within 3-4 feet that’s a lethal range,” Dotson said.
"I think officer safety is the number one issue and we can all understand the officers' right to defend themselves. I understand what’s going on in Ferguson, but I think everyone has to understand that right and think of officer safety," Dotson said.
Dotson said the officers would be placed on administrative duty while the department investigates the shooting, as per policy.