Two officers who were shot and wounded during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri, had been the victims of an “ambush”, police said today – as they vowed to track down those responsible.
A manhunt was focused early on one nearby home. News video footage showed officers on top of a house, seemingly trying to break through the roof. “People have been taken in for questioning,” police spokesman, Sergeant Brian Schellman, said, adding: “No arrests at this point.”
Protesters who gathered outside the city’s police headquarters late on Wednesday evening were beginning to disperse when shots rang out and the two officers were hit, one in the shoulder and the other in the face. They were treated at hospital and both were discharged.
The shootings promised once again to inflame tensions that erupted after the killing of an unarmed black man, 18-year-old Michael Brown, by a police officer last August. That incident, and a decision by a local grand jury not to indict the officer, set off protests across the United States. It also led to debates about policing and racial prejudice.
Anger still simmers in parts of the African-American community in Ferguson. That was reawakened by the release last week of a Department of Justice report asserting that racism had been rife in the city’s police department. The report said the department operated a “toxic” system of apprehending members of Ferguson’s mostly black citizenry for minor misdemeanours as often as possible to boost the city’s coffers.
Eric Holder, the Attorney General, denounced the shooting as “repugnant” and Barack Obama also responded. “Violence against people is unacceptable,” said a message on the White House Twitter feed. “Our prayers are with the officers in MO [Missouri]. Path to justice is one all of us must travel together.”
The shootings came hours after the city’s police chief, Thomas Jackson, announced his resignation. They also recalled the December killing of two police offices in New York by a lone assailant who was seemingly fixated on avenging police killings of African-Americans.
According to an initial investigation, the bullets that struck the officers came from 120 yards beyond the protest itself and were fired by a handgun. There was conflicting information on whether the shooter was linked with the protest or not.
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The immediate aftermath of the shots being fired
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Later officers closed the area
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It is thought that the shots came from a hill overlooking the station
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The chief of the St Louis County police, Jon Belmar, said only luck had prevented the officers from being killed. “We could have buried two police officers next week over this,” he said. “This is really an ambush... You can’t see it coming. You are basically defenceless.”
Chaos broke out on the street outside the police HQ after the shots rang out, with protesters diving for cover. In a video taken at the scene other police officers can be seen drawing weapons and running to take cover behind police vehicles. Loud screaming can be heard, presumably from one of the hurt officers; they were from neighbouring communities.
Mr Belmar said it was now the “number one priority of St Louis county police” to identify who was to blame, noting that while officers at the site of the shooting had not returned fire, they might do so in the future. He said the shooter had been “embedded in that group” protesting, but activists disagreed.
Those condemning the attack included a lawyer for the family of Mr Brown. “There may be a few people who are misguided or confused, but in large part the majority of the protesters and the majority of Americans want justice,” Benjamin Crump told CNN.
Ferguson conflict: How events have unfolded
9 August 2014
Michael Brown and a companion, both black, are confronted by police officer Darren Wilson as they walk back to Mr Brown’s home from a convenience store. Mr Brown and the officer, who is white, are involved in a scuffle, followed by gunshots. Mr Brown dies at the scene.
10 August 2014
After a candlelight vigil, protesters smash car windows and carry away looted goods from stores. In the first of several nights of violence, looters are seen making off with bags of food and alcohol. A state of emergency is later declared and thousands of police line the streets.
25 November 2014
A grand jury decides not to bring charges against Mr Wilson. The news is met with protests across the United States.
12 March 2015
Hours after Ferguson’s police chief, Tom Jackson, announces his resignation, two police officers are shot. The shootings are described as “inexcusable and repugnant” by Eric Holder, the US Attorney General. “Such senseless acts of violence threaten the very reforms that non-violent protesters in Ferguson and around the country have been working towards,” he says.Reuse content