Ferguson quiet as protests continue

All quiet in Ferguson as protests continue

A day and a half after two police officers were shot and wounded during street protests, calm prevailed in Ferguson on Friday after a night of loud but peaceful demonstrations.

Some protesters continued to demand the resignation of Ferguson's mayor and the disbanding of its embattled Police Department, despite the resignations of the city's police chief and other police and municipal officials in recent days.

More demonstrations were expected Friday despite a daylong drizzle. Intermittent rain Thursday night helped keep crowds smaller than during previous demonstrations as several dozen people chanted and blocked the street in front of the Ferguson Police Department.

There were no arrests or violence Thursday night, police reported, and the protesters dispersed shortly before midnight. Police adopted a nonconfrontational strategy and generally kept their distance even as small groups of officers armed only with holstered sidearms strolled into the crowds to speak with demonstrators.

A manhunt continued Friday for the suspect or suspects who shot and wounded two officers. A 32-year-old officer from the Webster Groves Police Department was shot in the face, and still has a bullet lodged behind his ear. A 41-year-old St. Louis County police officer was shot in the shoulder. Both men were treated and released at a local hospital.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar called the sniper-like shooting "an ambush" and suggested the shots came from protesters gathered outside the police station at the time. But seven witnesses told The Los Angeles Times that the shots were fired from a hill above the demonstrators.

"I'm not blaming anybody other than the individuals who took a shot at my officers and hit them, but I am telling you, these are situations that are very difficult to navigate through if you’re a police officer on the street," Belmar said.

A St. Louis County Police spokesman, Sgt. Brian Schellman, said several people have been questioned about the shootings but no arrests have been made.

"Detectives are still looking at leads to determine how many shooters or suspects we are looking for," Schellman said in an email to The Times.

Asked about police reaction to the absence of violence during Thursday night's demonstrations, Schellman replied, "It's always good to see folks express their 1st Amendment rights and do that within the law."

U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. called the gunman "a damn punk" who attempted to "sow discord in an area that was trying to get its act together, trying to bring together a community that had been fractured for too long."

Ferguson Mayor James W. Knowles III, whose resignation has been demanded by some protesters, said in a statement that the city "is confident the individuals responsible will be held accountable for their actions" for shooting the officers.

Knowles added: "While we respect the right to peacefully protest, we cannot continue to move forward under threats of violence and destruction to our community. We ask our residents and clergy in this area to partner with us as we make our way through this process."

In addition to the police decision to take a nonconfrontational approach that included not wearing tactical gear, local ministers appealed for nonviolent protests. They held a candlelight prayer service Thursday night for the wounded officers and for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old unarmed black man whose death at the hands of white Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson sparked months of sometimes violent protests.

Susan Ankenbrand, a 40-year Ferguson resident and a former City Council member, said that despite the peaceful night, she still felt hopeless.

"I don’t know how we begin to move ahead," she said Friday. "I'm at a loss."

Ankenbrand said Ferguson residents still weren’t talking openly and directly to one another after more than seven months of street protests.

"We have to do better in our interpersonal relationships," she said. "And I don't see each other moving toward that at all.... Evidently there are deep-seated feelings that I as a white person need to better understand."

Ankenbrand and her husband, Ark, watched the protests late Thursday on online livestreams after attending a local candidates' forum.

"I'm not sure that anything will stop the protesting," Ark Ankenbrand said. "Maybe it shouldn't. The police chief resigned. Now they want to disband the Police Department."

He added: "It saddens me last night to see some of the celebrating that went on" following the shooting of the officers. "There's just sort of a disrespect on the other side."

The couple planned to spend Friday afternoon volunteering at the "I Love Ferguson" store across from the Police Department. The store is run by a nonprofit that seeks to support the city, its schools and businesses.

The Ankenbrands posted an invitation on Facebook for others to join them in "a quiet gathering" outside the Ferguson fire station, next to the Police Department, at 7 p.m. Friday "to renew our commitment to this city that so many of us love."

Zucchino and Hennessy-Fiske reported from Ferguson, and Pearce from Los Angeles

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