Questions surrounding police accounts of the shooting of a black teenager in St. Louis this week have prompted fresh calls for officers to be equipped with body cameras in a city that has wrestled with the issue for the last year.
There was no video evidence when two white police officers fired four times at 18-year-old Mansur Ball-Bey on Wednesday in a crime-ridden part of St. Louis.
One bullet hit Ball-Bey in the back and struck his heart, killing him almost instantly, according to the city’s medical examiner.
Police have said the officers shot Ball-Bey because he was pointing a gun at them, and added he was able to run some distance after being shot.
But the lack of visuals from any body cameras helped fuel confusion and distrust, setting off a night of confrontations between police and protesters in the streets of St. Louis Wednesday night. The coroner’s report on Friday raised more questions with Ball-Bey’s family about the police account, increasing the desire for the adoption of body cameras.
“I’m not sure why St. Louis is still dropping the ball on this. We need a clear picture that is unbiased,” said Jamira Burley, senior campaigner for Amnesty International USA.
Calls for police to wear body cameras to record their interactions with communities surged after a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson fatally shot an unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, in August 2014.
Brown’s death sparked months of sometimes violent protests and demands for a range of police reforms, including mandatory body cameras. The White House is among a range of agencies and private as well as public entities encouraging the use of such cameras.
Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman and prominent voice in the black community, said body cameras would have been helpful in assessing Wednesday’s deadly encounter.
“There is so much broken trust. The folks out there don’t believe a word coming from police,” French said. In a case like the Ball-Bey shooting, he said, “if you are serving a warrant and you are going in heavy, that would be a case you should record.”
St. Louis police have yet to adopt body cameras for a variety of reasons, including cost, questions about privacy rights and resistance from the police union, according to police and city officials.
“Body cameras are certainly a conversation… happening not only in St. Louis but around the country,” St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said in a Thursday press conference. “The jury is still out.”
However, St. Louis police are using video cameras to record the actions of protesters, including those who demonstrated after the shooting of Ball-Bey.
“It is important that we document the things that are happening,” Dotson said on Thursday.
Other jurisdictions around the country are moving forward with the cameras, including Chicago, which has the country’s second-largest police force. On Tuesday, Detroit said all of its police officers would wear body cameras within three years.
Ferguson police officers received donated body cameras following Brown’s shooting, and they are to be turned on during any contact with the public, city spokesman Jeff Small said.
And the St. Louis County Police Department, which has roughly 850 officers, is currently using 75 donated cameras as a test, with the ultimate goal of outfitting all patrol and special operations officers, said department spokesman Brian Schellman.
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