- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2015

Activists offered their support to the two police officers shot Thursday in Ferguson but acknowledged that the gunfire delivered a setback to the movement as questions surfaced over whether nonstop protests helped provoke the incident.

The midnight rally in front of the Ferguson Police Department at which two officers were shot marked the 200th consecutive day of demonstrations in the Missouri city since 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by an officer Aug. 9.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar noted that no one had been shot at a Ferguson protest until this week.

“I think it’s a miracle that we haven’t had any instances similar to this over the summer and fall,” Chief Belmar said at a Thursday press conference. “With the amount of gunfire that we would hear, that I personally heard last the summer and fall, I think it’s a miracle that we haven’t had something like this happen.”

The two officers, whose names have not been disclosed, were released Thursday morning from Barnes-Jewish Hospital after treatment for injuries that were not considered life-threatening. A 41-year-old St. Louis County officer with 14 years on the force was shot in his right shoulder, but the bullet exited his body through the middle of his back.

A 32-year-old officer from the Webster Groves Police Department was shot just under the right eye, and the bullet lodged underneath his right ear. That officer will need additional treatment, the chief said.

The officers had been working crowd control at the protest rally with two dozen other police in a line outside the police department when the shots were fired.

“This is really an ambush,” the chief said. “You are basically defenseless. It is hard to guard against.”

St. Louis police union official Jeff Roorda lashed out at the protesters, saying their goal is not reform but to have “dead cops.” Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson stepped down the previous day.

“Dead cops. That’s what they want,” Mr. Roorda said on “Fox & Friends.” “And let’s not pretend like they wanted Tom Jackson’s resignation or that they’re still mad because Mayor [James] Knowles is there. They want dead cops, and that was their goal all along, and that was their goal last night.”

Activists insisted on a press call Thursday that the Ferguson protests have been peaceful and that the shooting was an aberration, but they also worried that the gunfire could harm their efforts to overhaul the city and police department.

“We’ve heard definitely from folks like the police union, and even a few elected officials have come out and claimed this is what we wanted all along,” said Montague Simmons, executive director of the Organization for Black Struggle. “And that spits into the face of everything we’ve said and done throughout this movement.”

There were protests outside the Ferguson Police Department again Thursday evening, but the reporters vastly outnumbered the several dozen demonstrators milling about quietly. Police presence in Ferguson, which has been taken over by state and county officers, also was light.

Police detained and questioned several people Thursday in relation to the shooting after a tactical team surrounded a home in Ferguson. All were released, and no arrests had been made as of Thursday evening.

Some Ferguson protesters questioned whether the shooting was carried out by someone aimed at discrediting them. They said the timing was suspicious.

“It is extremely, extremely unfortunate that we are at this place right now. So unfortunate that I’m trying very hard not to be very suspicious of it,” said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of the Christ the King Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri.

The protest movement has logged a series of victories in the past week, starting with the release of a Justice Department report March 4 that found Ferguson police used tickets and arrests in order to boost the city’s revenue, a tactic that placed a disproportionate burden on black residents.

The report also found a half-dozen racist emails on the city server. Six Ferguson City Hall and police employees, including the police chief and city manager, have resigned since the report was issued.

That same day, the Justice Department issued a report explaining why no charges would be brought against Officer Darren Wilson, whose gunshot killed Mr. Brown in what protesters described as an example of police racism. The report said it could not be disproved that the officer feared for his safety.

The protest was aimed at celebrating the resignation of the police chief and reinforcing calls for the mayor’s resignation, but it wasn’t entirely peaceful. Before the shooting, local news reported that a fistfight broke out and two people were arrested.

“We must not let the rogue actions of a few derail the positive path that the Justice Department has placed us on,” Ms. Blackmon said.

She asked that “you be cognizant that there were victims who were shot last night, and there are victims who have been traumatized for over 200 days.”

“And we are all hurting,” she said. “Whoever did this act last night, whatever group it was put us all in danger, and not just the policemen, but the protesters who were out there as well.”

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