Missouri city calm as police investigate shooting of officers

FERGUSON, Missouri (REUTERS) - As the hunt for suspects in the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, extended into a third day on Saturday, an anxious calm settled over the St Louis suburb and residents awaited tangible signs of progress in the investigation.

The placid scene was in stark contrast to the mayhem that erupted near midnight on Thursday, when gunshots rang out, wounding the officers and sending a fresh jolt of tension through a city that has become a symbol of racial conflict.

The streets of downtown Ferguson were nearly empty except for the remnants of the media army that had descended on the city earlier in the week.

Likewise, there were no protesters at the makeshift memorial to Michael Brown, the black teenager shot to death by a white officer this summer, an event that touched off two nights of rioting and months of protests in the city.

Some residents, while supporting the goals of the demonstrators, said they were growing weary, especially after the latest spasm of violence to shake Ferguson.

"It's been emotional here. We all want justice for Mike Brown, but we also have to heal," said Jerome Parker, 26, who lives in the area and works in a store.

"I support the protests, but I need to make a living."

Parker also worries about the impact the shooting of the officers will have on the push for reforms in Ferguson.

"Whoever shot those cops was not one of the protesters, but I'm afraid people will think they were. If people think we're violent, what does that do to our message?"

The rally that came to an abrupt end when the officers were shot was called after Ferguson's police chief resigned, a longstanding demand of activists.

The resignation followed a scathing federal government report that found racial bias pervaded Ferguson's mostly white police force, creating a "toxic environment" for its mostly black population.

Chief Tom Jackson's resignation followed the departures of the city manager, a municipal judge and two police officers.

Investigators had dozens of leads in Thursday's shooting but had made no arrests.

St Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said authorities had "a pretty good idea" where the gunshots had originated, without providing specifics, but stressed that no arrests were imminent.

The kind of gun used, the shooter's motivation and any connection to the protesters remained a mystery, prolonging uncertainty and exacerbating tensions.

The desire of some to move on from months of racial strife and protests was evident on Friday evening, as a dozen mostly white residents stood in front of police headquarters holding signs that expressed their love for Ferguson.

"Obviously we have a lot of changes to make, but we're very resilient and committed to do what's right," said Susan Ankenbrand, 72, a tour guide in St Louis and a Ferguson resident for 40 years.

"But we want to put another face on our community."

Though others, like Montague Simmons, executive director of the Organisation for Black Struggle (OBS), are determined to continue the near-daily demonstrations.

"Some people are sick of it, sure," Simmons said. "At the same time, others want us because of the change we bring."

To that end, OBS has launched a petition to recall Mayor James Knowles. The mayor, who serves in a part-time capacity, insists he will not step down voluntarily.

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