Sunday, July 31, 2016

Notes on the murders of three 16-year-old black boys in St. Louis

Crime scene in the murder of James Moore. Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

At 7:25 am on the morning of October 22, 2013, 16-year-old James Moore stood at a school bus stop, preparing for the ride to Sumner High School. As he waited on the bus, he noticed a car drive up. A man wearing a mask and holding a gun exited the car and came toward Moore, who took off running toward a nearby baseball field. The masked man gave chase and fired six times. 

As Kim Bell wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "The teen [Moore] fell on the outfield, about 100 yards into the park." He was dead at the scene. Police officers and detectives placed orange barriers around the body to shield people passing by, like students on their way to school, from seeing the body on the ground.

A school bus stop is not the usual place that targeted gun attacks occur. This murder was clearly a targeted hit. And there was more.   

The previous month, Moore was with his friend, another 16-year-old, Chauncey Brown, when Brown was killed  "with a gunshot to his chest." The alleged gunman was 16-year-old Tyrell Davidson, who had been having an ongoing feud with  Brown. Davidson's crew had a confrontation with Brown and Moore at Club 187 on September 27, 2013.

Brown and Moore backed away when someone from Davidson's group brandished a gun. At some point hours later, the two boys were approached again. Shots were fired, and Brown's body was found blocks from Club 18 on September 28.

Davidson was arrested shortly after Brown was killed. In November, Davidson was certified as an adult in the murder charge.   

In late 2013, news coverage mainly highlighted that Moore and Brown were friends, 16-year-old students at Sumner, and tragically killed as a result of the "violent subculture" in the city.  Few people noticed a larger pattern.

But then, something else occurred. on April 22, 2014, the body of Noah Barnes was found dead in the street on Clara Avenue. He was shot, reported Joel Currier, "in the head, torso, back, arms and legs." Barnes, too, was only 16 years old. A month after Barnes's murder, his mother died; according to some, "she died of grief."

Unknown to the general public at the time, homicide detectives noticed a definite connection in the murders of Moore and Barnes. Both boys were on the witness list to testify in the case against Davidson in the murder of Brown. Moore was with Brown the night they had a run-in with Davidson's crew. Barnes, apparently an acquaintance of Davidson, was in the car with Davidson when he began shooting at and ultimately killing Brown in September 2013.

According to recent revelations, prosecutors had Moore and Barnes on a list of witnesses whose testimonies would confirm that Davidson killed Brown. Without those witnesses though, there was no strong case, and in October 2015, the prosecution dropped the charges and released Davidson, who was by then 18 years old.  
At some point, detectives received a tip and discovered crucial connections between the murders of Moore and Barnes. According to recent charges, Latashia Mopkins, the mother of Davidson, is "accused of orchestrating two follow-up murders to eliminate witnesses against her son." Prosecutors charge that Mopkins somehow obtained "a police report on the Brown murder that included a list of potential witnesses."

The charges against Mopkins state that she allegedly recruited her brother and nephew "to silence" those who might testify against Davidson. News outlets describe Mopkins as "masterminding the killing of [Moore and Barnes] in order for her son to be set free."


That's all I know so far.

I've been deeply disturbed since learning about the murders of those 16-year-old boys and the orchestrated plot. I was more saddened to learn about the mother who died of grief.

And I keep coming up with more questions. Like: How did someone get a hold of a supposedly protected witness list from police? Why did anyone feel they had the right or freedom to kill Chauncey Brown and then James Moore and then Noah Barnes? What interventions could have been made much earlier to prevent the violence at every stage?

Then there are some larger questions, like: where does this case fit within the discourse on gun violence? How might this case shape our conversations about the extent to which black lives matter? When the families of the victims note that "justice is finally served" with the charges, what all do they have in mind? And how can knowing and writing about a terrible series of situations like these lead to more protection and support for black boys in St. Louis, or wherever else?

A notebook on gun violence

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