FERGUSON, Mo. — Two police officers were shot in Ferguson early Thursday morning when what started as a celebration of the police chief’s resignation devolved into a chaotic scene.
“These police officers were standing there and they were shot, just because they were police officers,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said.
But neither of those shot was from the Ferguson Police Department. One, from the St. Louis County Police Department, was struck in the shoulder. The other, a Webster Groves officer, was hit in the face, Belmar said.
The officers were hospitalized and conscious, he said. It’s not clear who the shooter was.
Police from an array of jurisdictions were in the city keeping an eye on the protestors at the time.
Several protesters said the shooter was not near the crowd of demonstrators, but was on a grassy hill.
The gunman was “no less than 100 feet” away, protester Kayla Reed said.
From calm to chaos
Some demonstrators had gathered Wednesday night at the Ferguson Police Department to cheer the resignation of Police Chief Thomas Jackson.
Others amassed there to demand more: the disbanding of the entire police department and the resignation of Mayor James Knowles, protester DeRay McKesson told CNN.
“Racist cops have got to go,” some chanted.
The crowd had been thinning out, ready to call it a night, when gunfire erupted, Belmar said.
“All of a sudden, I heard at least four or five shots ring out,” witness Markus Loehrer said. “It took me at least 30 seconds of watching before I realized there was an officer down. We are not there to shoot cops, we don’t like violence. So we did what anybody would do — we ran away.”
Organizers say protests have continued for more than 200 days — ever since Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.
But the protest Wednesday night appeared to be the largest since November, when a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson for Brown’s death. It suggests anger in Ferguson is far from over, even after the police chief said he will resign.
“We aren’t satisfied with this,” Reed said of Jackson’s resignation. “It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not what total justice looks like in Ferguson.”
Total justice, she said, would include the departure of the mayor. McKesson said it would also include criminal charges against Wilson — which a grand jury has already to decided against.
The U.S. Justice Department also didn’t find grounds to prosecute the officer, who resigned in November.
“There is no evidence upon which prosecutors can rely to disprove Wilson’s stated subjective belief that he feared for his safety” when he shot Brown, the Justice Department said.
Jackson’s resignation is the latest fallout from a damning Justice Department report that cited widespread and systemic discrimination against blacks by the Ferguson police and court system.
City Manager John Shaw also resigned after the report, as did two police officers. And the city’s top court clerk was fired for sending racist emails.
The police chief’s resignation will go into effect March 19, Jackson said, to “provide for an orderly transition of command.”
Protesters had wanted Jackson gone since shortly after Brown’s death.
After his resignation Wednesday, Jackson said he was encouraged by the report’s conclusion, which said Ferguson “has the capacity to reform its approach to law enforcement.”
“We agree that Ferguson can do the tough work to see this through and emerge the best small town it can be,” he said.
Exactly how Ferguson can emerge united remains unclear.