Updated March 16, 2015: Yesterday afternoon, on March 15, 2015, St. Louis officials confirmed that they had arrested and charged 20-year-old Jeffrey Williams for shooting two police officers at a protest in Ferguson, MO last Thursday. Both officers were wounded but released from the hospital hours after the incident and are currently recovering at home.
A .40-caliber handgun that matched the shell casings at the scene of the shooting was found during a search of Williams’ home, said St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch in a press conference reported by NBC News. Williams, who lives north of Ferguson, admitted to firing the shots, but claimed they were a reaction to an unrelated argument with another bystander. He said that he wasn’t targeting the officers.
If convicted, Williams could face up to life in prison, according to McCulloch.
Originally published March, 12, 2015:
The tension in Ferguson, Missouri, broiling there since unarmed teen Michael Brown was killed by police in August, just ratcheted up another notch. On Thursday, two officers were shot outside Ferguson police headquarters during a small, quiet protest.
Both of the wounded officers are conscious, but in serious condition at a local hospital (they are expected to survive), BuzzFeed reports. Per a Reuters article on the events, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters on the scene that one 32-year-old officer from nearby Webster Groves was shot in the face, and the other St. Louis County officer, who is 41, was hit in the shoulder. (As usual, police came to the Thursday protest in full riot gear).
In a televised press conference this morning, Chief Belmar said his department has possible leads on the identity of the attacker, and that he believed the men were targeted "just because they were police officers.”
What we do know is that the incident occurred in front of a small crowd of demonstrators that had assembled following Wednesday’s news that Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson had resigned. But, along with the shooter's identity and motive, it's unclear where the gunshots came from. Chief Belmar told local news channel KDSK he believed the blasts originated north or northwest of the police station, where a crowd had assembled, and a protester told The Guardian the shots came from “the alley or street.” In all reports, witnesses scattered in fear, the scene quickly becoming chaotic.
Police Chief Thomas Jackson’s resignation was the sixth in a growing string prompted by a recent Department of Justice report on the state of policing in Ferguson. The report, which The Washington Post called “scathing,” concluded that the Ferguson PD systemically engaged in practices of racial discrimination.
In another disturbing incident in the St. Louis area yesterday — in fact, while the protest at Ferguson PD was happening just a few miles down the road — a 5-year-old Black child was killed when his family’s car was sprayed with bullets by an unknown attacker, for unknown reasons.
There’s no way to predict how the tense environment in Ferguson could change as more of its top leaders resign and new brass gets installed. We can only hope the local PD will start heeding the words of protesters and start acting, finally, like Black lives do matter.