On Black Friday, a group of about 50 people walked through the St. Louis Galleria Mall singing and chanting, “No justice, no peace.” While this is a tactic protestors have continuously used to raise awareness since the Ferguson unrest, this direct action was specifically protesting the officer-involved shooting death of Terry Tillman on August 31.
As they were leaving, a female mall employee called protestors the N-word, said Tory Russell, mission director of the International Black Freedom Alliance.
“We can’t allow racism, white supremacy, just plain arrogance to go on in our community,” Russell said. “Racism has to be expensive.”
After they left, protestors came to the conclusion that a few of the officers patrolling the protest were involved in Tillman’s death, said Amir Brandy, a Ferguson activist and co-founder of Real STL News.
“They wouldn’t look me in the eye,” Brandy said. “I didn’t notice that they didn’t have name tags until I looked at the pictures later.”
Major Craig A. Mueller of the Richmond Heights Police Department told The American that none of the officers involved on August 31 were present on Friday.
The St. Louis County Police Department concluded its investigation into the shooting right before Thanksgiving and gave it to St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell.
“We are reviewing it now,” said Tim Swope, Bell’s operations director. “There is a lot of evidence. We are working quickly but efficiently. We hope to be able to release as much information as possible in the near future.”
On August 31, Tillman, 23, had been shopping with the pregnant mother of his child for maternity clothes, when two uniformed police officers began questioning him about the gun in his waist band. When Tillman ran, the officers chased him and later shot and killed him in a bank parking lot across the street.
According to the St. Louis County Police, Tillman dropped his gun in the mall during the chase but picked it back up — and then later pointed it at the police officers. Community organizers claim that Tillman wouldn’t have had a chance to pick up his gun because the two officers were right behind him, according to video taken by a woman in the mall. They believe further video footage proves that police planted the gun on the crime scene.
When The American asked Swope if there was any video footage of Tillman shooting at the officers, Swope said, “We have numerous videos of evidentiary value to review. We are not yet prepared to discuss the events depicted in the videos but in the effort of full transparency, at the earliest practical time we will release the videos to the public.”
The incident has brought together a coalition of community leaders questioning the police’s actions, including the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, International Black Freedom Alliance, Organization For Black Struggle, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Universal African Peoples Organization (UAPO) and others.
The coalition met with the Richmond Heights city manager and mayor last week, Rev. Darryl Gray said at a December 2 town hall meeting. There, they were told that the officers involved in the shooting underwent a psychological evaluation, and St. Louis County police gave them the green light to return to duty, Gray said.
Major Mueller of the Richmond Heights Police Department disputed that claim.
“The city did not ‘ask County PD to clear the officers,” Mueller told The American.
“The leave varied for the officers involved and was many days/weeks. Once the city felt the officers were fit to return to duty and, before doing so, the city asked the investigative team if, based on current findings of the investigation, the County PD felt there was any reason not to return the officers to duty. County PD did not see a problem with the city returning the officers to duty.”
Now that the investigation’s findings are in Bell’s hands, community leaders said they expect information.
“We are hopeful Wesley Bell will do what is supposed to be done,” Brandy said. “That’s what he ran on, and that’s what we expect from him.”
So far Galleria leaders have refused to meet with coalition leaders, they said, and that is unacceptable.
“We’re not going to let up the pressure,” Brandy said. “Their mall continues to be at the center of bad situations for people of color.”