Police say two officers shot in Ferguson during a protest should pull through. Demonstrators gathered after the US Justice Department found widespread racially biased abuses in the police and the city administration.
Officials said long-term injuries weren't expected for the officers after an unidentified assailant shot them early on Thursday from a distance of approximately 125 yards (110 meters). St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said a 41-year-old county police officer was shot in the shoulder and the second, a 32-year-old from a neighboring community, in the face.
"This is really an ambush," Belmar said at a press conference on Thursday. "That is something that is very difficult to guard against, when you have a group of officers standing together in a large group and you have gunfire - certainly gunfire directed at them."
It was not clear where the shots came from, Belmar said. Blurry television footage showed the dozens of protesters running away in panic and police crouching down with weapons drawn.
The shooting followed the resignation of Ferguson Chief Thomas Jackson. He was the sixth city employee forced out since a US Justice Deparment inquiry - launched after a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager - found a profit-driven court system and widespread racial bias. Two-thirds of Ferguson's population is black but its administration is predominantly white.
Mayor James Knowles III said the city would pay one year of Jackson's annual salary of $96,000 (90,000 euros) and health coverage. Jackson's resignation comes into effect on March 19.
Protests became familiar after Brown's death last summer at the hands of Darren Wilson, whom a grand jury declined to indict, setting off further demonstrations. In February, the Justice Department decided not to prosecute Wilson on civil rights charges. Until Thursday, the protests had not seen anyone shot.
"I think that the community at large is fully supportive of these officers and probably wishes the very best for them," Steve Stenger, St. Louis County's elected administrator or executive, said at the press conference on Thursday.
Several recent high-profile deaths of unarmed men and boys of color at the hands of US police officers have stirred nationwide calls for greater accountability. President Barack Obama mentioned the issue at a ceremony to remark the 50th anniversary of an important civil rights milestone on Saturday.
Protesters in the Atlanta area added their voices to the chorus on Wednesday after a white police officer shot an unarmed naked black man at an apartment complex. Protests have also continued in Wisconsin state capital Madison, where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager last week.
mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)