FERGUSON (Missouri) • A man was gravely wounded in a gunbattle with police in Ferguson, Missouri, after a day of peaceful rallies to mark the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white officer one year ago.
Gunshots rang out on Sunday as police in riot gear tried to disperse demonstrators blocking traffic and smashing storefront windows along a street that was a flashpoint of last year's unrest in the St Louis suburb after 18-year-old Michael Brown was slain.
Police later said the gunfire began with two groups of agitators apparently shooting at each other. When one gunman ran across a parking lot, four police detectives confronted him. The suspect opened fire on a police vehicle and was badly wounded in the ensuing foot chase and exchange of gunshots with the officers, police said.
St Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the unidentified man, believed to be in his mid-20s, was hospitalised in critical and unstable condition. "These were criminals, they weren't protesters," Chief Belmar said of the shooters.
Police initially had reported two people shot on Sunday night. But the police chief later said an officer was struck in the face with a brick hurled by protesters and a member of the local news media was robbed and assaulted in separate incidents amid Sunday night's turmoil.
"These were criminals, they weren't protesters."
ST LOUIS COUNTY POLICE CHIEF JON BELMAR, on the two groups of agitators apparently shooting at each other
Anniversary commemorations had begun earlier with a peaceful march after a moment of silence for Mr Brown, whose death ignited months of demonstrations and a debate across the United States on race and justice.
The scene changed dramatically after dark with the appearance of dozens of chanting protesters, in the midst of a severe thunderstorm. The protesters confronted a line of police officers, who ordered them to disperse. Their face-off was shattered by bursts of gunfire, sending police crouching behind their patrol cars and demonstrators scurrying for cover.
Merchants, some armed, stood guard outside their businesses early yesterday after the disturbances, near where Mr Brown was gunned down on Aug 9 last year by officer Darren Wilson.
Mr Brown's death - and a grand jury decision to spare Officer Wilson from criminal charges for shooting him - sparked a prolonged wave of demonstrations in Ferguson last year that boiled over into rioting and arson at times and spawned sympathy rallies across the country.
It also sparked greater scrutiny of racial bias within the US criminal justice system, giving rise to the "Black Lives Matter" movement that gained momentum from other high-profile slayings of unarmed minorities by white police in cities such as New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles and Cincinnati. REUTERS