Wednesday 28 September 2016

Man 'critical' after shooting at Ferguson protest

Published 10/08/2015 | 14:12

Protesters march in the rain in Ferguson, Missouri, one year since Michael Brown was shot and killed (AP)
Protesters march in the rain in Ferguson, Missouri, one year since Michael Brown was shot and killed (AP)

A man who opened fire on officers in Ferguson, Missouri, on the anniversary of an unarmed black teenager's death has been critically wounded when the officers shot back.

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St Louis County police chief Jon Belmar said at a news conference that officers had been tracking the man, who they believed was armed, during a protest marking the death of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old whose killing by a white Ferguson police officer touched off a national debate over police treatment of minorities and the "Black Lives Matter" movement.

The anniversary of Mr Brown's killing has sparked days of renewed protests, though until Sunday they had been peaceful and without any arrests.

For the first time in three consecutive nights of demonstrations, some officers were dressed in riot gear, including bullet-proof vests and helmets with shields. Police at one point early Monday shot smoke to disperse a lingering crowd, Mr Belmar said.

The shooting happened shortly after what the chief called "an exchange of gunfire between two groups" rang out around 11.15pm on Sunday while protesters were gathered in a business zone that saw rioting and looting last year after Mr Brown's killing. The shots sent protesters and reporters running for cover.

The man approached the officers, who were in an unmarked police van, and opened fire, Mr Belmar said. The officers returned fire from inside the vehicle and then pursued the man on foot when he ran.

The man again fired on the officers, the chief said, and all four officers fired back. He was struck and fell.

The man was taken to a hospital, where Mr Belmar said he was in "critical, unstable" condition. Authorities did not immediately release the identities of anyone involved, but Tyrone Harris told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the injured man was his son, 18-year-old Tyrone Harris Jr.

The elder Mr Harris told the newspaper shortly after 3 am that his son had just come out of surgery.

None of the officers was seriously injured. All four have been put on standard administrative leave. They were not wearing body cameras, Mr Belmar said.

The chief said an estimated six shooters unleashed a "remarkable" amount of gunfire over about 45 seconds.

Mr Belmar waved off any notion that the people with the weapons were part of the protest. "They were criminals. They weren't protesters," he said.

The man who fired on officers had a semi-automatic 9mm gun that was stolen last year from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, according to the chief.

"There is a small group of people out there that are intent on making sure that peace doesn't prevail," he said. "There are a lot of emotions. I get it. But we can't sustain this as we move forward."

Early Monday, another reported shooting drew officers to an apartment building in the area. Two men told police they were targeted in a drive-by shooting near a memorial to Brown. A 17-year old was shot in the chest and shoulder while a 19-year-old was shot in the chest, but their injuries were not life-threatening, police said.

Before the gunfire, protesters were blocking traffic and confronting police. One person threw a glass bottle at officers but missed.

One officer was treated for cuts after a rock was thrown at his face, and two officers were pepper-sprayed by protesters, police said. Five people were arrested.

Several other peaceful events earlier on Sunday were held to mark the anniversary.

Mr Brown's father, Michael Brown Sr, led a march through town. It started at the site where Mr Brown was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury and the US Department of Justice declined to prosecute Mr Wilson, who resigned in November.

Later, a few hundred people turned out at Greater St. Mark Family Church for a service to remember Mr Brown, with his father joining other relatives sitting behind the pulpit.

Organisers of some of the weekend activities pledged a day of civil disobedience on Monday, but have not offered specific details.

Press Association

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