Two police officers were shot outside Ferguson police station Wednesday night as they faced protestors in an incident that, it is feared, will add to continuing racial tensions there.
Their injuries were not life-threatening, but the shooting raised concerns in view of the assassination of two police officers in New York city last December.
“We were very close to having what happened in New York,” St Louis police chief Jon Belmar told reporters on Thursday. One of the two officers belonged to his team.
The second officer was also from an outside force, and they were among the many who had responded to Ferguson’s police call for assistance against a crowd of protestors.
People had started gathering outside the police station after controversial Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson announced he would be stepping down next week.
But the crowds had begun thinning as the night wore on and there were about 70 left when three shots rang out. One officer was hit in the shoulder, the other in the face.
“This is really an ambush,” Chief Belmar said, adding, but “fortunately, with both officers, we don’t have any remarkable long-term injuries”.
Ferguson city and its police department hit international infamy August 2014 after an African American teen, Michael Brown, was killed by a white police officer, Darren Wilson.
Violence broke out in Ferguson in November when a grand jury declined to indict officer Wilson for Brown’s death, a decision, which, however, was endorsed later by the justice department.
But Brown’s death is no longer the central issue. It is now about the larger question of a community, which, the DoJ report said, was under siege by those entrusted with protecting it.
Attorney general Eric Holder, whose department made that damning report, was quick to condemn the Wednesday night shooting, calling it “heinous”, “repugnant” and “inexcusable”.