As I write this, a St. Louis County Police Officer is recovering after being shot in the First Precinct. This new shooting represents the second officer in St. Louis County to be shot this month by an armed suspect. Fortunately, this latest shooting does not appear to be life threatening. However, my topic for today will be the earlier fatal shooting of Blake Snyder and, what has been for me at least, an unexpected aftermath.
On 10/06/2016, St. Louis County Police Officer Blake Snyder was responding to a call of a disturbance in Afton. Afton is an area of South County not particularly known for violent crime unlike its Northern counterpart. Unfortunately, earlier this July, after Ofc. Mike Flamion was shot and paralyzed in Ballwin (another objectively safe St. Louis County community), the terms safe and unsafe have become much more anomalous.
Disturbance calls are about as vague as they sound and can encompass a great variety of events. I’ve always felt that when I’m sent to a disturbance call it’s usually because either the caller didn’t make sense to dispatch or because the dispatcher didn’t know how to classify the call. This feeling is exacerbated if the dispatcher prefixes “some kind of” in front of “disturbance.” In other words, it’s the mystery box of calls. You don’t know what you have until you’re there.
Initial reports of Ofc. Blake Snyder’s last call indicated that he was responding to a house where a male subject had knocked or banged on the front door. Blake made contact with an 18 year old white male subject in the driver seat of a car either in the driveway or immediately nearby. Blake approached the front driver-side window and was shot in the face.
Ofc. Snyder’s back-up opened fire on the shooter and struck him four to five times by early estimates. The shooter is expected to survive, but has also been charged with first degree murder and armed criminal action (ACA).
The shooter was a small time drug dealer with a twitter account easy to locate due to it being his own name. In it, he bragged about sending people to hell with his .40 cal and wanting “Fuck the police” etched on his tombstone. For what it’s worth, most of these tweets appeared to be wannabe rap lyrics. The reality was either much more literal or tragically ironic.
Blake was thirty-three years old and a four year veteran of the County Police. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and two year-old son, Malachi. Elizabeth was recently interviewed on one of the local news affiliates and bravely stated that their son would grow up knowing what a hero his daddy was.
On 10/13/2016, representatives from every law enforcement agency in the region and I, attended Blake’s funeral in Chesterfield. The speakers included St. Louis County Executive, Steve Stenger, and St. Louis County Police Chief, Jon Belmar. However, the stand-out was Elizabeth’s brother, who is also a County Policeman. While doing an admirable job of keeping it together, he told Blake that he would take care of Elizabeth and raise their son to be an honorable man like his father.
After the pain, and sadness, and reflection that dominated the day thus far, everyone prepared to leave in a police procession for the cemetery in West Alton where Blake and Elizabeth lived. Long Rd. in Chesterfield was shut down and used for police parking and it was from here that we began our journey.
Many people lined the few streets leading to I-64, waving, holding signs memorializing Blake, holding American Flags, or simply wearing blue. Given that we were deep in West County, this wasn’t exactly unexpected. However, then we were on the highway and passing the first overpass. A firetruck draped an American Flag while firemen, medics, and other citizens stood holding signs and waved or saluted.
I was impressed with the show of support, but then we hit the next overpass and the next one, and the next one, and the song remained the same with each one. Every overpass had a firetruck with a giant American Flag draped from it. Every overpass was packed with other first responders and more importantly average citizens out to show their support.
There was some confusion as we passed I-270 and lost the main group. Somehow big gaps had formed in the procession and we missed our turn. As a last minute change of plans our part of the group headed north on I-170 which didn’t have traffic stopped like I-270 did. Someone on the radio made a comment that our group was getting creative with navigation. After some tense moments navigating traffic, we finally rejoined the main procession as I-170 merged into I-270.
Now we were in North County and this was where I expected support to be a lot more sparse. I was wrong in the best way.
Earlier on, as the front of the procession began to depart, there was a report of Black Lives Matter protesters at the West Florissant overpass of I-270 (Ferguson venue). However, a county helicopter determined this to no longer be the case. The allegation presented a number of possibilities, namely that either the call was untrue, supporters got the BLM protesters to leave, or the BLM protesters realized this wasn’t the time for their message and melded with the bigger crowd of support.
Whatever the case, North County came out in support just like West County had. Having been the heart of racial unrest in this country two years prior, to see thousands of people, regardless of color, regardless of socioeconomic status, regardless of politics, out to show their support for a fallen police officer of all things was beyond humbling. This is what hope looks like.
By the time we crossed the bridge into Alton we were traveling much slower and the streets of downtown Alton were absolutely packed. At this speed, we could hear repeated thanks for our service. Finally we made our way to the cemetery and Blake was laid to rest. A 21 gun salute, a release of doves, and hundreds of policemen saluting followed him into the afterlife.
Then St. Louis County Communications played Ofc. Snyder’s last call and put him 10-42:
Someone asked me a day or so later about the funeral and had trouble understanding what the big deal was about Blake’s funeral, why all the pomp and circumstance? To his point, Police Officers get shot all the time (though we rarely die given how frequently we get shot [2,018 officers shot in 2015 to be exact]). I explained that setting aside the personal tragedy of Blake and family, after Ferguson, after Ballwin, and the more recent national tragedies in Dallas and Baton Rouge, we needed this as a region. We needed this as a community. We needed a fulcrum to leverage us back together.
I consider myself a pessimist and anyone who has read this blog can probably affirm that, but for the first time since I can remember, I am optimistic about St. Louis. Despite those that wish to divide, those that wish to make us hate each other toward their own ends, we proved on Thursday, 10/13/2016, that it is possible to unite. It is possible for us to find common cause and purpose.
Thank you, St. Louis.
Thank you, for proving me wrong.