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Family, activists seek answers to death of black Missouri man

SPANISH LAKE, Missouri (AP) – A puzzling daytime shootout in a small town trailer park renews activists’ concerns about how justice is served when a black man is killed in Missouri.

A neighbor killed Justin King, 28, on November 3 at the neighbor’s mobile home in Bourbon, a town of 1,600 residents 120 kilometers southwest of St. Louis. While police say the initial investigation indicates the shooting was justified, King’s relatives and civil rights officials called for a further investigation on Thursday.

“I just think it’s a nightmare and I’m going to wake up,” King’s mother Eva Bruns said at a press conference. “He didn’t deserve to die like this.

Racial injustice activists have cited other murders of black men in Missouri that have not resulted in criminal charges. Among them: Tory Sanders, who died after a white sheriff pressed a knee against his neck in a manner similar to the death of George Floyd in 2020 in Minneapolis; and Derontae Martin, a teenage boy shot dead inside the rural home of a man with a history of racist comments.

“When it comes to a white abuser and a black victim, it’s so hard to get answers,” said St. Louis activist leader Darryl Gray. “It’s hard to get justice.

The Crawford County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to requests for an interview but said on Facebook that “it appears King was shot after forcing entry into a neighbor’s residence where an altercation took place. occurred. The owner said he feared for his life and shot King.

But two of King’s neighbors, in phone interviews, questioned the police account. They said King was a friend of the gunman, a white male in his forties who lived across the street. Breaking into his house, they said, wouldn’t be King’s character.

Katie Bosek said when her car didn’t start around 11:30 a.m. on November 3, King and the shooter worked together to connect a loose wire and got the car started within minutes.

“They were laughing when they left,” Bosek said. “They got along well.”

Less than 15 minutes later, “I heard three gunshots,” Bosek said. “Bam bam bam! I got out and Justin was dead.

Lesa Stiller, who runs the trailer park, was drinking coffee outside when she saw King leave the shooter’s property, then turn around and go back. Seconds later, she heard three gunshots and saw King – wearing only pajama bottoms – stagger backwards, falling against a car. The shooter yelled at Stiller to call 911.

“I said, ‘You shot him! ” she said. The man didn’t answer.

King grew up in St. Louis County. He moved into the trailer about a year ago to be closer to his young daughter, who lives with her mother in a nearby town, her father, John Alexander King, said.

Stiller called Justin King an “amazing person” who insisted on hanging up her Christmas lights so she wouldn’t risk a fall. Bosek said King helped find his dogs after they got lost on the morning of his death.

Missouri’s “Castle Doctrine” law permits lethal force against intruders. Peter Joy, professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, said the law requires the owner to “act reasonably.”

“Prosecutors have discretion,” Joy said. “If the police report indicates that the person who was killed was attempting to break into the house, even if they know each other, that might be considered reasonable. “

Activists believe the criminal justice system has failed Martin and Sanders as well.

Martin, 19, was among several young people at a party near Fredericktown in April when he was shot dead by a single shot. Investigators determined that Martin had committed suicide, but the coroner’s inquest jury concluded that he had died by “violence”, not by suicide.

A witness said at the coroner’s inquest in July that the landlord told him he killed Martin, saying “He didn’t like black people.” But another witness said he saw Martin kill himself.

The owner, on Facebook, mocked foreign accents and defended the Confederate flag. He testified that he was on the first floor of his house when the gunshot rang out. Some of the young people in their testimonies supported his account.

As for Sanders’ death, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced in February that no charges would be laid. The 28-year-old black man from Nashville was crossing southern Missouri in 2017 when he went to police in Charleston saying he needed psychiatric help. Hours later, as police held him while waiting to take him to a mental health facility, he created a disturbance, prompting Mississippi County Sheriff Cory Hutcheson to lead a team of officers into the cell.

A complaint by Sanders’ family said Hutcheson kept his knee on Sanders neck for up to three minutes, even as a police officer urged him to stop.

Sanders’ death was instrumental in the 2017 Missouri Chapter NAACP decision to issue a travel advisory warning people that civil rights will not be respected in Missouri. The notice remains in effect.

Chapter President Nimrod Chapel Jr. said the Missouri criminal justice system “makes a ridiculous excuse for murder” when a black man is the victim.

“It’s part of the Missouri legacy,” Chapel said.

By JIM SALTER, Associated Press