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Protesters March Through Shaw, Block Traffic, Break Windows; Police Use Pepper Spray

Police stand in a skirmish line at the intersection of South Grand Avenue and Arsenal Street, in St. Louis on October 9.
Joseph Leahy
St. Louis Public Radio

Update 10/10/14: 

Eight people were arrested during a protest beginning in the Shaw neighborhood in south St. Louis late Thursday. According to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police, one officer was hit in the arm with a brick. 

Among the arrests, five people were charged with unlawful assembly, two for property damage, and one for possession of marijuana. 

Two department vehicles and the window of a pharmacy on South Grand Avenue were damaged over the course of the night. 

Original Story: 

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 Boulevard. 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 police officer. Police said Myers fired a pistol at the officer after a struggle, but some protesters said they were 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 after 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 Boulevard 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.” 

South Grand Community Improvement District Board President Christopher Shearman released an open letter Friday morning, asking for a continued dialogue and peace: 

South Grand, Shaw, and the other Tower Grove neighborhoods have a long history of diversity and respect for our community.  Our hearts ache for the Meyers family, for the loss of a son, for a mother's grief and a family's pain.  No words or actions can heal this wound. We ask for understanding as our community remembers the loss ofVonderrit Myers.  We ask for patience as we reflect on the circumstances that led us here, in order to change them for the future. We recognize the challenging role police face.  We empathize with the anxiety their families experience, especially during times of tension.  We support these families, many of whom are our neighbors. We are a neighborhood in the truest sense, an anomaly in modern America.  We are an economically and racially diverse community where people from all races live, work, shop and eat.  We find ourselves with a problem of history that is greater than any one person or neighborhood.  We, like all neighborhoods and the people they are comprised of, have flaws.  We are actively working toward correcting these.  Community members have long seen the inequity in educational opportunities in the neighborhood.  In addition to improvements within SLPD, community members have opened charter schools to offer a high quality education to all children in our community.  Residents have opened and expanded businesses that hire from the immediate neighborhood.  Parks and other public spaces have been improved for the benefit of all.  Affordable housing is actively being renovated and built to ensure that we continue to be a community for everyone.  We ask for continued dialogue so that we may hear all voices.  We work for continued improvement in educational and vocational opportunities for all of our children.  We continue to search for the same answers as police and protestors alike.  We pray for patience and peace in our community and world as a whole.  Thank you, Christopher Shearman South Grand CID Board President