Facing off across the very spot where two St. Louis-area police officers were wounded by gunfire less than 24 hours earlier, police and protesters engaged in a long evening of stare-downs and posturing late Thursday.
A line of police officers stood next to or behind a row of white police vehicles for protection against possible gunshots. But they did not wear riot gear, and many stood openly just a few feet from where their comrades were shot in front of the low, brick Ferguson Police Department headquarters. Both are expected to recover.
A few dozen protesters wandered back and forth near the spot where the officers went down. At least as many journalists as demonstrators had gathered.
Early in the evening, a group of ministers held a prayer vigil in which they pleaded for non-violence and lit candles in honor of the two wounded officers, as well as for blacks killed by police. That included Michael Brown, the unarmed man whose killing last summer triggered unrest and longlasting protests.
Police officers, too, hoped for peace Thursday night.
St. Louis County Police Lt. Jerry Lohr, a buzz-cut officer with tobacco in his cheek, was in charge of the police response, along with an officer from the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Ferguson residents call Lohr “Officer Friendly.” When they saw him, some protesters hugged him and shook his hand. They expressed concern for the two wounded men and said they didn’t want to see officers hurt.
He accepted their handshakes and reassurances, wearing, as he always does, a uniform without riot gear, and standing, as he always does, at ease instead of in lockstep.
That was a dramatic departure from the Ferguson police response of recent weeks and months. It was a return to the approach Lohr took when he was last sent to help with security here in October.
Lohr acknowledged at the start of the night that it was a tough time to try community policing.
“There is an added sense of unease due to the events of last night — on both sides,” he said as he stood with fellow officers behind him, facing the chanting crowd.
“The spouses of the officers who came tonight are really worried,” Lohr said — and that included his own wife.
Getting shot is always a possibility. Still, he said, officers were determined “to treat people as humans, with dignity.”
Some demonstrators said they feared being shot — either by gunmen or police — but walked openly on the street and sidewalk.
Protesters blocked all or parts of the street in front of the Ferguson Police Department. They greeted police requests to clear the street with chants, some of them profane. They pounded on drums and chanted as officers stood, arms folded.
Officers watched in silence at “standoff distance” — farther from protesters, and in a less militaristic posture, than during previous confrontations. They stood next to where anti-police slogans had been scrawled in blue and pink chalk the night before. One read, “Racist police.”
This was a night of political theater. Sometimes police and protesters talked with one another, albeit briefly, as TV crews bore down on them.
SOURCE: DAVID ZUCCHINO AND MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE
The Los Angeles Times