Ferguson Activists ‘See Light at the End of the Tunnel,’ Condemn Police Shooting

March 12, 2015 7:12 pm Last Updated: June 24, 2015 7:57 pm

Protesters in Ferguson, Mo., swiftly condemned the shooting that seriously wounded two police officers just after midnight on Wednesday. Shots rang out just as a long night of protesting in front of the Ferguson Police Department was winding down.

“I do not condone the killing of police officers,” tweeted Deray McKesson, one of the highest profile community organizers in Ferguson and a prolific user of social media. His Twitter feed shows that he was at the scene immediately before and after the shooting.

McKesson and others at the scene said via Twitter that they heard the shots come from behind them, not from within the crowd.

“You know how I know that for a fact?” tweeted local activist Charles Wade, who is also well known in the area and was at the scene at the time of the shooting. “I’ve spent 7 months around these protesters. Most are against violence PERIOD.”

A video clip from a livestream of the shooting shows police and protesters on opposite sides of one of Ferguson’s main roads as several shots rang out.

Protesters in the video and those who were live tweeting at the time seemed as frightened and shocked as police, who drew their weapons. A man’s voice can be heard yelling, “It’s on the hill! It’s on the hill.”

Numerous eyewitnesses also said the shots came from behind the protesters, who were gathered along the sidewalk with a store parking lot and a small hill behind them. The Ferguson Police Department parking lot was the backdrop for where the injured officers were standing.

The St. Louis-area officers were identified as a 41-year-old male with 14 years on the St. Louis County force, and a 32-year-old male with 7 years on the Webster Groves city police force. One was shot in the shoulder and one in the face, according to the St. Louis County Police Department.

As of late Thursday, no shooter had been found by police.

Valeria Souza, a local activist who was in Boston at the time of the shooting, told Epoch Times that condemnation of the shooting has been widespread within what is referred to as the “Movement.”

“I, like virtually all Ferguson protesters, strongly condemn violence of any kind,” said Souza. “Last night’s shooting was horrific. … I witnessed it on livestream.”

She added that while her thoughts and prayers are with the two wounded officers, friends who were at the scene have said they don’t know who the shooter was.

“We do not know who perpetrated the shooting, but based on multiple eyewitness accounts from people I know and trust, I am convinced the shots did not originate with or from the protesters.”

A police tactical team prepares to enter a home on Dade Avenue, in Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday, March 12, 2015, as they search for a suspect they believe to be in the attic as they continue investigating the shooting of two police officers during protests earlier in the day. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Gooden)
A police tactical team prepares to enter a home on Dade Avenue, in Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday, March 12, 2015. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Gooden)

Fleeting Progress

The shooting comes at a time of simultaneously heightened tensions as well as hopeful optimism for area residents. A recent report by the Department of Justice investigating the practices of the Ferguson Police Department and its municipal court has affected the firing or resignation of several high-ranking local officials, including Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson.

The report described in great detail how the court pressured police officers to fine residents for minor traffic and city code violations. Officers overwhelmingly stopped, searched, and arrested black residents, often without reasonable suspicion that any criminal activity was going on.

The mood was mostly celebratory after news of Jackson’s resignation.

Rasheen Aldridge Jr. was demonstrating with other protesters in front of the police station Wednesday night before the shooting. He said the mood was mostly celebratory after news of Jackson’s resignation. Some were dancing, others brought out drums. But he also said that several scuffles broke out when some local activists got into arguments.

“That took the energy away from the protest,” said Aldridge, who is an activist and member of the Ferguson Commission, a panel appointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon last November to study the issues underlying the unrest in Ferguson following the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man shot by a white police officer.

Aldridge said it was the first time he saw protesters arguing with each other.

“The air and energy wasn’t the same. It didn’t feel right almost.”

Aldridge left the scene at around 11:50 p.m., missing the shooting by just minutes. But he recalled that the protesters were gathered in front of the police department, away from where eyewitnesses and video footage suggest shots were fired.

Aldridge said that while the recent firing and resignations of six city employees—the top court clerk, police chief, city manager, city judge, and two police officers—were steps in the right direction, he hopes for more systematic reform throughout Missouri. 

Police shine a light on a helmet as they investigate the scene where two police officers were shot outside the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo., on March 12. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Police shine a light on a helmet as they investigate the scene where two police officers were shot outside the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo., on March 12. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

He believes the municipal governments that oversee dozens of small towns in St. Louis county should be done away with, as they also rely on ticketing and fines to generate revenue.

“Not just in Ferguson, but these small municipalities: Dellwood, Jennings. They’re so small that the only way they can operate is through tickets. It’s not healthy for the community,” Aldridge said.

Local legal organizations filed lawsuits against Jennings and Ferguson last month, alleging that the two cities jail indigent defendants who cannot afford traffic tickets and other fines for minor violations.

Aldridge believes the Ferguson mayor should also resign, because he knew of the abuses described in the Department of Justice report, but did nothing to stop them.

“The buck does not stop with the chief of police and him resigning. A lot more individuals need to be held accountable. A lot more people in positions of leadership knew this has been going on for years,” Aldridge said.

The buck does not stop with the chief of police and him resigning. A lot more individuals need to be held accountable.
— Rasheen Aldridge Jr., activist

Zaki Baruti, a local activist and president of the Universal African Peoples Organization in St. Louis, also expressed that more changes need to take place, including overhauling the police department by recruiting more black officers and requiring that they live in the community they serve.

Sixty-seven percent of Ferguson’s residents are African-American. At the time of Brown’s shooting, three officers in Ferguson’s police force were of minorities.

Bassem Masri, another lifelong local resident who has been a highly visible activist in the St. Louis area for the past seven months, said earlier on Wednesday that while he’s happy with the changes that have come about, he also wants to see a change in policing tactics.

“This is very vindicating knowing that our work hasn’t been in vain,” said Masri, who was not at the scene on Wednesday night. “When the report came out … I was overwhelmed with joy. Before the report came out, there was no progress.”

Ironically, before Wednesday night’s violence, Masri said that it finally felt like a hopeful moment.

“For people who lived here their whole lives, we can see a light at the end of the tunnel.”