, Washington, Mar 12 – Two police officers in the US flashpoint town of Ferguson were shot early Thursday during the latest protest over the treatment of blacks by the mainly white police force.
One officer was shot in the face and the other in the shoulder as a protest rally outside the police station in the Missouri town was dispersing, St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar told reporters.
He said the officers, aged 32 and 41, were conscious but that their injuries were serious.
Ferguson in recent months has been one of the hot spots for the long-standing US problem of harsh treatment of young black men by mainly white police.
Earlier in the day, the Ferguson police chief resigned over a scathing US Justice Department report into the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, by one of his officers back in August.
The town is so tense that any new development in the Brown case has proved enough to bring protesters out on the street. The latest twist was the resignation of the police chief and other city officials — that gesture apparently insufficient for people enraged over the death of Brown.
Brown was killed by white police officer Darren Wilson, igniting angry protests and a national debate about race and law enforcement in America. Wilson was not charged in that death.
Belmar said the Wednesday protest was dispersing when at least three shots were fired.
“The police officers were standing there and they were shot. Just because they were police officers,” Belmar told reporters at the scene of the incident.
About 60 or 70 protesters had come to the police department. Some blocked roads and sidewalks, and this caused authorities to bring in officers, some in riot gear.
Witness Markus Roehrer told CNN that the atmosphere at the protest was tense and that when he first heard the gunfire he thought it might be firecrackers.
“When I saw the cops go down, I said this is far worse,” he told CNN.
CNN broadcast blurry amateur video in which gunshots are heard and protesters run away in panic. A moaning voice is heard. Then police are seen crouching with weapons drawn.
Belmar said it was not really clear where the shooting came from.