Deadly Dilemma

In Stanley Parker's neighborhood, what you wear and where you go can get you killed

If you're a teenager residing in the O'Fallon-Penrose neighborhood, where seventeen-year-old Stanley Parker was shot to death by Officer Keith McGull at 1 a.m. Labor Day, you can basically do one of two things: roam the streets in subtle earth tones or stay indoors and watch TV reruns 24/7.

At least that's how Detective Robert Ogilvie and neighborhood resident Janice King see it.

"You can wear anything you want to wear, provided you're not going to frequent areas these kids [gang members] are gonna be frequenting," says Ogilvie, a member of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department's Gang Unit. "I wouldn't hang out on the corners. I wouldn't frequent the parks. I wouldn't go to any of the places that are the typical hangouts for teenage kids."

Sounds like fun.

And if you like the Rams, Broncos or, well, colorful clothing in general, you're screwed, too, as King and her brood are well aware. A few years back, King's nephew and her daughter's fiancé, both clad in orange T-shirts, had just come inside King's house, in the 4400 block of Athlone Avenue when a young man knocked on the door.

The man at the door, recalls King, "asked for the guy who was wearing the orange T-shirt, so my nephew left the door open and went in the house to get my daughter's fiancé. While he was in the room, this young guy who wasn't on the porch -- he must have been hiding in the bushes -- came in our hallway, and he has a gun in each hand, saying that we're disrespecting the neighborhood. My daughter was screaming, 'How can you say that we're disrespecting the neighborhood when you're standing in our house with two guns in your hand?'

"I thought orange was neutral."

Wrong. The Six-Deuce Crips (a.k.a. the 62's) wear orange. Members of rival gang the Six-Oh Crips (the 60's) don blue and gold, so many a young G pulls his favorite Rams jersey on in the morning -- before the daily grind of intimidating unaffiliated neighbors such as Parker and his friends, all of whom were armed to protect themselves from these 'bangers, says Police Chief Joe Mokwa.

"If you refuse to join a gang and you live in the neighborhood, then you're gonna have to arm yourself to protect yourself," says James Buford, CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. "And if you join a gang, you're gonna have to pack. You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't."

Since five-year-old Dwight Moore was shot in the 4500 block of Mary Avenue on August 28 (he survived), "several" gang-related shootings have occurred in the neighborhood, says Ogilvie, although he won't say precisely how many. Police say Moore's father, Dwight Sr., now incarcerated, is a member of the Six-Deuces, a rival gang to the Six-Ohs that dominate Parker's neighborhood.

There are 154 open criminal cases in the Penrose-O'Fallon neighborhood, says Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce. "A good chunk of 'em" are gang-related, she says. Of the first six cases she rattles off, Joyce offers that "four of them, at minimum, are probably gang-related, in that they involve a weapon."

Homicides appear to be down in the Penrose-O'Fallon neighborhood -- five killings so far this year, compared with seven at this point in 2001 -- something that cops and residents chalk up to enhanced police resources in the area. But that hasn't stopped the knee-jerk finger-pointing at police by neighborhood residents, as evidenced by the makeshift memorial at the end of the alley behind the 4500 block of Clarence Avenue, where Parker was shot. Surrounded by stuffed animals and colorful cards is a crude cardboard sign, pinned to a telephone pole, that reads:

"Stanley P. was an American Citizen, not bin Laden! And you're not God to kill at will!"

Says Mokwa: "If you believed everything you saw on the news, you'd think everybody in North St. Louis hates the police, that we put people in headlocks."

There were reportedly no headlocks deployed the night Stanley Parker died, just gunfire. Yet what exactly transpired is murky, unlike the September 13 police shooting of 24-year-old carjacker Cornelius Davis in the Central West End. In the Davis shooting, Mokwa quickly went on record to defend the officer's actions. The chief made no such rush to McGull's corner in the aftermath of Parker's shooting.

As McGull's unmarked Chevy Lumina approached Parker and his three teenage companions, the kids bolted down the alley, only to be met at the other end by the uniformed McGull. The officer says he verbally warned the kids and fired nine rounds at Parker only after being fired upon. Parker's brother, sixteen-year-old Joshua Nashville, flatly denies this, saying that McGull didn't make a peep and that none of the boys fired a gun, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

A .22 derringer was found next to Parker's body. The only shell casings recovered at the scene were from McGull's gun, although if a revolver had been fired at him, it would have left no casings. One of Parker's companions, eighteen-year-old Dwayne Massie, says he gave his pistol to a friend, Christopher Moton, also eighteen. Police arrested Moton on September 7 after seeing him throw a bag containing a .32-caliber revolver onto the roof of a garage. The pistols carried by the youths had been stolen from a home in the same neighborhood less than a week before the incident. Moton, Massie and another of Parker's companions, seventeen-year-old Jessie Couch, have since been charged with a range of crimes related to the jacked gats.

In determining whether a shooting is justified, police investigators turn to deadly-force regulations, which state that deadly force may be exercised to protect the officer or others from what is reasonably believed to be an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm. Furthermore, the code states, "an officer will not discharge a firearm, when to do so would endanger a bystander or hostage."

"You shouldn't just fire into a group of people without knowing where the shot comes from," acknowledges firearms instructor Steve Moses, a firearms instructor and warrant officer for the Tarrant County (Texas) Constable's Office, "but, in fairness, it's like having a covey of quail blow up in your face."

What is known is that Parker was shot in the back by McGull. Furthermore, the gun found on Parker hadn't been fired.

"If they're just holding a weapon or have a weapon, that doesn't necessarily mean they're going to use it on you," explains independent firearms instructor Jim Stephens of the Bull's Eye gun shop and firing range on Manchester Avenue.

The central question for investigators is whether McGull was engaged in a justifiable gunfight or fired at fleeing suspects.

But it's hardly ever that cut-and-dried, says Moses, who believes it's possible that one of Parker's buddies picked up the gun that McGull claims was fired first.

"When wasps come at you, you turn around and run. When people are under gunfire, they have the same reaction. You can probably do that [turn around] in two-tenths of a second. So if a guy turns around while he's still engaged in a threat, he's gonna get shot in the back," Moses says.

Many wonder why police aren't trained to shoot a suspect in the arm or leg rather than in the center of the torso.

"You're not trying to kill that person, you're trying to get them to cease their attack. The most effective way to do that is to shoot for center body mass," explains Moses. "People don't realize that a shot to the knee or a shot to the arm can be just as lethal. Your chances of missing and endangering someone else are greater."

Moses says the best way for an officer to prepare for combat scenarios is to immerse himself or herself in an ongoing regimen of tactical training that presents a variety of simulated scenarios, such as having to shoot from behind a barricade or in dim light.

Problem is, once a cadet graduates from the police academy, he or she is only required to requalify twice a year on a two-dimensional target range. And even though officers are required to review use-of-force policies every month, the department's tactical training system, called PRISim (Professional Range Instructor Simulator) , is voluntary. This is soon to change, however. Beginning January 1, officers will be required to pass tactical-training tests twice a year.

By day, the 4500 block of Clarence is as postcard-perfect a street as any in St. Louis, standing in sharp contrast to some of the bombed-out blocks south of West Florissant Road. The redbrick homes are meticulously maintained. When automobiles glide by, drivers frequently stop to exchange pleasantries with folks who are watering their lawns or working on their houses, many of which are undergoing restoration.

"This is a real quiet street here," says nineteen-year-old Jamir Baker, a factory worker who has lived in the neighborhood all his life.

Too quiet, says Shirley Ann Williams of the O'Fallon Community Organization. She pins the responsibility of incidents such as the Parker shooting squarely on the parents.

"Eight thousand people live in this neighborhood, but only ten come to meetings regularly," explains Williams. "Something happens in the community, and people want to blame police -- but they have no interaction with them.

"The question we're asking is: Why aren't your children at home?"

In addition to community involvement, Williams advocates basic crime-prevention techniques such as more street lights. Block-watch captain Richard Hayes, a 38-year-old truck driver and father of four teenagers, says it's simply a matter of frequent police patrols and getting kids into programs such as the YMCA and police boxing leagues.

However, Mokwa notes, "Most of these guys running around at 1 a.m. are not inclined to talk to cops."

To Janice King, it's a generational catch-22.

"Problem is, older people want police to do anything -- and police are treating everybody that's young like they're drug dealers," she says.

The Urban League's Buford says solution-based advocacy is what's missing in the ongoing debate.

"It's very easy to attack the police, and, believe me, the police are wrong in some instances -- but that's not gonna solve it," he explains. "The black community gets up in arms and says police shouldn't be shooting our kids. It puts police in confrontational mode -- they feel like they're not wanted. The kids do wrong, and yet the issue isn't what they do, it's what the police do. That shouldn't be the case."

Lifelong neighborhood resident Elam King (no relation to Janice), a violence-prevention expert with the Missouri Department of Social Services, is tired of the incessant finger-pointing.

"We get mad at the police, whoever. But why are young men walking around at 1 a.m. with guns? We're not asking the right questions. We need to be more intuitive," he says. "I understand why people don't get involved. They really have a right to be fearful. You've got young men scared of everybody. And you've got elders afraid to come out of the house.

"But ain't nobody gonna fly in on some spaceship and solve your problems."

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