ST. LOUIS -- The teddy bears, candles, stuffed animals and balloons on the corner of Shaw Boulevard and Klemm Street stick out amid the brick houses and quiet streets of this residential St. Louis neighborhood. It’s Sunday afternoon, and the few people outside don’t want to talk about the events of Wednesday night, when Vonderrit Myers Jr. was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer at that intersection, or what life is like in Shaw.
“Stop killing our young black men,” reads a cardboard sign at the memorial to Myers. In parentheses are the names of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Myers, the 18-year-old whom police said fired at an officer after a brief pursuit, but whose family and supporters say was armed only with a sandwich.
Myers' uncle told a crowd at the shooting site last week that his nephew's killing won't be forgotten. "They can wash away his blood, but they can never wash away what happened here," said Jackie Williams, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The roughly 20-block square area that comprises Shaw is mostly residential. Sasha’s on Shaw, a wine bar, is one of the few business open in the area on Sunday afternoon. The tattooed, bespectacled bartender is reticent to talk. A young woman and child take a break from their bike ride with coffee and hot chocolate. Mama Josephine’s, a restaurant that dishes "home cooking spiced with love," has a sign indicating it’s closed.
The diversity of the St. Louis neighborhood’s housing stock -- two-story single-family, multifamily, detached and nondetached homes with porches -- is rivaled by its demographics: 51 percent of Shaw’s roughly 6,800 residents are white while 42 percent are black, according to 2010 U.S. Census data, the most recent survey on Shaw. The neighborhood’s population in 2010 declined more than 17 percent in the 10 years since the 2000 Census when more than 8,200 people lived here -- a trend mirrored in most areas of St. Louis.
The Shaw Neighborhood Improvement Association said Myers death was "a tragic situation." "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of a resident who was shot [Wednesday] night in Shaw. The loss of a human life, no matter the circumstance, leaves us all with heavy hearts," read a posting on the association's website, titled "Healing in Shaw." "Full information on what occurred last night will take time and we encourage everyone to be patient and peaceful through a thorough investigation. This is a complicated and tragic situation that will not be easily resolved."
On Castleton Avenue sits St. Margaret of Scotland School. Its fenced-in asphalt playground is empty, save for a babysitter playing with two children.
Closer to Klemm Street, young black children play with a ball in a yard as one of them holds up a plastic basketball hoop without the post. Several yards back, a white middle-age couple walks their two dogs. Occasionally, bicyclists ride through the neighborhood.
Other than the memorial for Myers, the only other indication of his death sits in the window of a house about three blocks away. In white letters on a black background reads a sign that says, “Don’t Shoot.”