Video released by the St. Louis Police of the August 19 shooting of 25-year-old Kajieme Powell, just miles away from the protests in Ferguson, raises questions about whether events transpired as police initially claimed.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson had told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Powell "pulled out a knife and came at the officers, gripping and holding it high," yelling "Shoot me now, kill me now." Police said he was shot when he was "two or three feet" away from the officers.
The newly released video begins before police arrive on the scene. A bystander has followed Powell after he took energy drinks and muffins from a market without paying for them, and can be heard chuckling over Powell's erratic behavior. Powell is seen slowly pacing around the scene of the eventual shooting before police arrive. When the officers enter and draw their guns, Powell ignores warnings to put down his knife, and advances on them. He then repeatedly yells, "Shoot me!"
But Powell does not appear to be holding a knife high, and he looks to be walking normally — and to be further than two or three feet from the officers — when they open fire, killing him.
The video was released to the media alongside 911 calls and surveillance camera footage. "Dotson said all of these images were made public Wednesday because he promised a crowd that gathered at the shooting scene transparency and explanations, with many asking why officers didn't use a taser," reported KMOV-TV.
A police union spokesperson told St. Louis Public Radio the footage is "exculpatory," or favorable to the officers' side of the story.
But the video's release quickly triggered angry responses on social media, with many asking whether the shooting was necessary. Ferguson protesters and activists derided what they called a "shoot first" attitude among police.
Prior to the video's release, tensions were already high in Ferguson after the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown. That shooting blew open long-simmering racial tensions and distrust between police and the public in the small St. Louis suburb. The video, as the social media reaction suggests, is widening that distrust.