Calm Prevails in Ferguson After Shooting of Police Officers
Following police shootings, a night of peaceful protests in Ferguson.
Two officers shot amid protests in a Missouri city that has become a symbol of tensions between police and African Americans were released from the hospital Thursday as officials and activists sought to tamp down tensions.
FERGUSON, MO – After a tense day here as law enforcement hunted for a suspect who shot and wounded two police officers, the night ended on Thursday without any notable clashes between police officers and the anti-police brutality protesters who have demonstrated for the last seven months. Louis-area police officers were wounded by gunfire less than 24 hours earlier, police and protesters engaged in a long evening of stare-downs and posturing late Thursday.
The officers were shot early Thursday morning in front of the Ferguson Police Department during a protest following the resignation of the city’s police chief in the wake of damning U.S. Then, late Wednesday, with demonstrators thinning out, gunshots rang out and two officers were hit. “The same problems and issues that existed yesterday exist today,” said DeRay McKesson, one of the most visible protest leaders. “The protests continue, the movement lives.” Around 8 p.m. Three people were taken in for questioning, but not arrested, St Louis news media reported, as a $10,000 reward was posted for information leading to the shooter. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder were quick to denounce the “ambush,” which threatened to derail efforts to calm nerves in the mainly African-American suburb of 21,000. Last year, rioting erupted in Ferguson and protests spread to several US cities after a white police officer shot dead an unarmed black teenager, igniting a fierce national debate about race and law enforcement.
Then last week, Holder’s Justice Department said investigators had found evidence of deep-seated institutional racism in the city’s government and in the overwhelmingly white police force. Jerry Lohr, a buzz-cut officer with tobacco in his cheek, was in charge of the police response, along with an officer from the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Our prayers are with the officers,” he wrote on Twitter, warning that the “path to justice is one all of us must travel together.” The family of Michael Brown, the young man whose death last year in a police shooting triggered months of protests, condemned the “senseless shooting” and appealed for calm. “We specifically denounce the actions of stand-alone agitators who unsuccessfully attempt to derail the otherwise peaceful and non-violent movement that has emerged throughout this nation to confront police brutality,” they said. Tensions have been high in Ferguson since August and escalated in November after a grand jury declined to prosecute officer Darren Wilson for Brown’s killing. He accepted their handshakes and reassurances, wearing, as he always does, a uniform without riot gear, and standing, as he always does, at ease instead of in lockstep.
It was a return to the approach Lohr took when he was last sent to help with security here in October. “There is an added sense of unease due to the events of last night — on both sides,” he said as he stood with fellow officers behind him, facing the chanting crowd. Officers watched in silence at “standoff distance” — farther from protesters, and in a less militaristic posture, than during previous confrontations. Louis community activist, said the shooting was conducted by outside agitators who are intent on hijacking attention from peaceful, reform-minded protesters. In a statement, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III and the city council said that though they respect the right to protest peacefully, “we cannot continue to move forward under threats of violence and destruction to our community.
But when others stayed in the middle of the street, he shook his head and walked back to the parking lot. “These people don’t want to hurt you,” Nevels told Lohr. “We feel bad about what happened to those officers. But the people who shot them were up the hill, not part of who we are.” Lohr nodded and said he was doing his best to keep the peace and maintain an open dialogue with the community. Police made a conscious decision to be non-confrontational and to keep a “standoff” distance between officers and protesters, he said. “The strategy was to protect peoples’ 1st Amendment rights to peacefully protest while also protecting these officers so that they can perform their jobs,” he said.
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