Fountain Park residents reflect on police shooting — and its tense aftermath
On Thursday morning, sisters Debbie and Darlene Ball were sweeping up around the front yard in St. Louis’ Fountain Park area. Several big teddy bears were strapped to a fence at the two-family flat where police shot and killed the pair’s nephew — Mansur Ball-Bey.
Debbie Ball lives in the flat where the shooting occurred. The incident led to tense confrontations between police and residents, the deployment of tear gas and the burning of a car and a vacant home.
Police say that Ball-Bey, who lived in Spanish Lake, pointed a gun at officers who were serving a warrant. Asked to respond to what police officials had said about her nephew, Debbie Ball replied: “I haven’t even looked at the news. To tell you the truth, I haven’t grieved. I haven’t done anything. Because it’s like it ain’t registering in with me yet.”
“I really don’t know what happened, because I was at work,” she said. “But all I know is my nephew’s body was found over here in the yard laying down dead, when they’re saying he came out of the back door of my house. And they came, they said they had a search warrant come in to go up in my house. That’s all I know.”
Both Debbie and Darlene Ball say Ball-Bey worked for Federal Express. And Darlene said Mansur’s family was “proud” that he had just graduated from high school.
“Everyone was real proud of the people that got out of school and graduate,” Darlene Ball said. “But you have these other boys running through this neighborhood shooting at all of our kids. They’re killing kids that aren’t even into the street. And then that makes them get guns to protect themselves. But I can’t see him with no gun, because he ain’t that type.”
What Darlene Ball was referring to was how the Fountain Park neighborhood, which is just north of the Central West End, has struggled for years with crime, drug-dealing and violence. It was a refrain repeated both by other residents of the area — and from elected officials like state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis.
“It’s a drug-infested area,” said Nasheed, who lives fairly close to where the shooting occurred. “The poverty level is at an all-time high in that area. You have a lot of seniors that are still there in their homes. And many of those seniors, they can’t sustain their homes because they’re on fixed incomes. So you see a lot of decay when it comes to those buildings in that area.”
Melvin Williams owns an auto body shop close to where the shooting occurred. The 28-year resident of the neighborhood said he’s seen the area around him ebb and flow.
He said he’s seen the neighborhood “change from the worst time to OK times.” And now, he said, “it seems to me it’s going back to worse times.”
Why? Williams replied: “Economics, man.”
“There are no jobs around here. You know?” Williams said. “There are no businesses that want to come in here like myself. I go to meetings and it’s kind of depressing. Because you can’t find a business that wants to come into… I’m going to say the Central West End. But they don’t act like we’re the Central West End right here.”
Here to stay
But Williams said he’s not planning on leaving the Fountain Park neighborhood anytime soon.
“We’ve got our roots here. I raised my kids here. Although my kids want me to move right out of here, I’m going to stay here,” Williams said. “I’ve got all my money sunk into this business. And another thing, I mean how much can I get for it? You know? Plus, I like the area. I’m centrally located right here on this corner.
“If they can ever get this area turned around, this is a nice area,” he added.
Bryce Harvey owns Bedoe’s Barber Shop, which is located to close to where the shooting occurred. He said his business has been solid for the past three years, and he also has no intention of leaving.
“I’ve been back and forth throughout this area since I was a little boy. And it has its rough times and it has its times where it’s not been rough,” Harvey said. “And times right now are rough. But the reason why I feel I would not worry about my safety or moving the business because they’re trying to bring back the area. Now we do have riff-raff in the area. I mean, that’s everywhere you go. You’re going to have a bad seed or two.”
Harvey had a mixed assessment of how the police acted yesterday. On the one hand, he noted it was illegal for the people to remain in the street. But he did add there’s often some distrust about police accounts of alleged crimes.
“I’m not going to say that it’s all disbelief and that everything they’re saying is untrue,” Harvey said. “At the same time, there are people out here and there are children out here that are doing wrong – in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are doing things that are getting them into trouble, things like that. That’s the way it is. So their stories, due to the event, don’t always add up. But you have to look at both sides.
“From this situation here, we don’t know actually what happened – except for the people that were involved in it,” he added. “We’re hearing ‘he said, she said’ and overhearing things. But at the same time, we can’t just say ‘the police were wrong for what they did.’ Because we don’t know what the gentleman did actually.”
A reason for body cameras?
Nasheed said Wednesday’s shooting makes her more determined than ever to make body cameras more widely available. A state legislative effort to establish parameters around the devices didn’t make it to Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk.
“Because at the end of the day, body cameras don’t lie. You don’t have to worry about hearsay,” Nasheed said. “It’ll be on the camera and you can see exactly what happened as it occurred. And so, I’m just more vigilant and adamant about the need for body cameras. And I’m going to continue to push by any means necessary to get body cameras here in the St. Louis area.”
The St. Louis Police Officers Associationhas expressed skepticism about deploying body cameras. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson says his department is still studying the issue.
“I think body cams are certainly a conversation that are happening not only in St. Louis, but around the country,” Dotson said. “And I think the jury is still out about Sunshine Laws and the appropriateness and when they’re on and when they’re off. But certainly we have a task force and a working group that’s here in the Metropolitan Police Department talking about body cameras.”
Dotson noted that his officers recorded some of the protests last night as a way to back up contentions that demonstrators threw items at police. Still, some elected officials questioned whether the department’s show of force exacerbated the situation.
“De-escalation tactics were not consistently used yesterday,” said Alderman Antonio French, D-21st, in a Tweet. "Pre-emptive tanks, shotguns & riot gear escalated the situation.”
But both Williams and Debbie Ball expressed disappointment that a car and a vacant building were set on fire yesterday. Ball said “If they’re going to protest, it’s all right to protest. But I really want the people to leave the violence out of it.”
“And I really want the people not down here destroying our community down here. Because we [don’t have anything] down here anyway, so what you want to come down here and mess more of it up for?” Debbie Ball said. “We have nothing right here. And with the car burning, the buildings getting set on fire and vandalized and all that, we don’t want that.”
Added Williams: “The police have a job to do just like everybody else.”
“So if you cross the line – you know what the consequences are. You understand what I’m saying?” he said. “So I’m not going to get behind a person that’s totally wrong.”
St. Louis Public Radio's Stephanie Lecci contributed information to this story.