Unlike with Michael Brown, there is no mystery surrounding the death of another black teen in Missouri who died after being shot by a cop. Thanks to surveillance video of the incident, there are virtually no accusations that the as-of-yet unnamed officer from the Berkeley Police Department acted wrongly when he shot and killed 18-year-old Antonio Martin late Tuesday night. Martin pulled a stolen gun from his pocket, aimed it at the cop and got a few bullets in return—the result of a split-second, deadly decision on the part of the officer.
“…On the day before Christmas, he had to take someone’s life,” the officer’s attorney, Brian Millikan, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s a traumatic experience and something he’ll be doing a lot of reflecting on for the rest of his life.”
In the hours after Brown’s death, rumors swirled—and that would have been the case for Martin if not for the surveillance video showing the incident in full being shared online. The speed with which rumors spread after Brown was killed came in part thanks to an information blackout on the part of the Ferguson Police Department, perhaps a result of being unprepared for the rapid pace of word-on-the-street aided by social media. Martin’s death is the polar opposite. Despite a gathering of protesters at the scene Tuesday night, the cameras that captured Martin’s last living moments have provided police with an immediate and almost indisputable version of events that support the officer’s claims.
Millikan, who also represents the officer who killed VonDeritt Myers, another St. Louis-area teen gunned down by an (albeit off-duty) cop, said the video showing Martin’s death “puts to rest all of the false narratives that would be out there.”
For cops and their supporters, anything other than the police version of events is often seen as less than reliable, if not outright lies. But for the tens of thousands of protesters who have demonstrated across the country in recent months, cops aren’t to be trusted, either. Without video evidence, Brown’s death was and is forever subject to unending questions and accusations against St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch and the status quo he represents.
“The whole damn system is guilty as hell!” protesters in Ferguson and elsewhere have chanted since Brown’s death on August 9. And in addition to McCulloch’s close ties to law enforcement, there are the conflicting witness accounts, the woman who McCulloch himself said lied in her grand jury testimony, and the general sense of unease that came when the prosecutor removed himself from the process nearly entirely.
None of that will happen now.
“This really underscores the task that our police officers across the nation have to deal with day in and day out as they answer these calls in our community,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said.
It also may emphasize the importance of video evidence—which the officer benefited from in Martin’s death, though not thanks to his own actions. The cop’s dashcam was off and he wasn’t wearing his body camera, for reasons unknown. It’s impossible to tell why Martin pulled his gun, but if he was putting up a fight it wasn’t for much: either a few items stolen from the gas station equipped with those cameras that captured his death, or an unexplained act of deadly bravado.
“Around us, there weren’t any pistols,” Martin’s mother told reporters.
So if the gun didn’t come from his home it likely came from the streets, where someone had ground off the serial number, making the weapon hot enough to burn your fingers. And Martin’s decision to pull it and aim it—whatever the motivation—was a fatal one.
Immediately following Martin’s death, a crowd gathered. Some brought rocks and bricks, intent on clashing with the police. But by Wednesday evening there was little in the way of organized protests or random unrest in the area. Perhaps the video had made the rounds.
“We had somebody who was pointing a gun at a police officer. With not a lot of time, I would imagine that most of us would feel like we were in imminent danger of losing our lives at that point,” Belmar said.
Martin, pointing his gun at cop just a few feet away, apparently wasn’t scared of anything.