City in Conflict
Hunting Ferguson’s Cop Shooter in a Town That Doesn’t Trust Cops
The media descend as authorities launch a manhunt for whoever shot two police officers, but how eager to help will long-suffering residents be?
In the 200-plus days since Michael Brown was shot to death in Ferguson, Missouri, not a single cop took a bullet during any of the resulting mayhem until Wednesday night, when two officers were wounded by gunfire outside the city’s police headquarters. And locals are quick to say that the shooter acted alone—and isn't from Ferguson.
“We recognize that what happened at the police station last night has not happened in those 200 days,” the Rev. Tracy Blackmon said at a gathering of clergy Thursday night. Billed as a candlelight vigil, the event attracted more media than community members, and the illumination came mostly from camera lights. “Whoever was the culprit last night, they did not come from this community,” Blackmon added.
Perhaps. But that person did fire from a residential street a little more than 100 yards from the line of cops who separated protesters from police headquarters. Some of the media who had gathered there Wednesday night would have parked near where the shots came from. Reporters and cameramen, however, had their eyes and ears trained on a group of protesters who had convened at the police station in response to the news that Police Chief Tom Jackson has resigned and will be gone in a few weeks. No one—not the media nor the protesters they were filming—saw the gunman who fired from a nearby hilltop.
But that unknown gunman’s shots have prompted a media horde to descend upon Ferguson once again. As a crowd formed in front of police headquarters Thursday night, reporters outnumbered protesters, much as they sometimes did last November following the announcement that Officer Darren Wilson, who killed Brown on August 9, would not be indicted. Reporters who have been in town scrambling for reaction to the Department of Justice report detailing discriminatory policing in Ferguson and the latest news about Jackson’s resignation got something they weren’t expecting when the gunfire erupted.
Matters might have been worse had the officers been fatally wounded, but both men—one had been shot in the cheek, the other in the shoulder—were released from the hospital by Thursday night.
“It’s kind of been one of our worst fears,” said Lt. Jerry Lohr of the St. Louis County Police Department, referring to the “ambush” of the two officers. “And it’s come true.” As he spoke, protesters chanted in the street, just as they have for months.
A big question now is, how willing will a community extremely distrustful of the police be to help the department find the shooter? Lohr declined to address that question Thursday night, but others did.
An exasperated Fox News reporter dealing with a live producer talking in his ear sought such a person. “Do you understand the urgency of this?” he said to an aide. “We need somebody now.”
Juaquin Holmes happened to be standing right there.
“Last night, two policemen shot,” the reporter said. He wanted to know what Holmes’s thoughts were on that. Would Holmes condemn the actions of a complete stranger, a person without a face, name or known identity?
“That does not help what’s going on, that does not help us change the system,” Holmes said of the cops’ shooting.
Told that he had just been on the Sean Hannity show, Holmes laughed, and then spoke about the “manhunt” for the shooter.
“There’s some members of the community that have given them evidence and things like that,” he explained.
But Holmes also had a question about the media now swarming Ferguson, noting that in August it was the burning of a gas station and the clashes between police and residents—not Michael Brown’s death—that brought reporters and camera crews to the small and hitherto obscure Missouri city.
“Why does it take two cops being shot in small-town U.S.A. for this circus to happen?” he said, nodding at the cameras around him.
He condemned the shooting that left two cops injured, but also said that absent the demonstrations that have rocked Ferguson for the last several months there probably wouldn't be a reporter in the city.
“The one thing that I would like people to take from this is that being disruptive does make people wake up,” he said.