Ferguson police officer shot amid new gunfire in tense Missouri town

A police officer in Ferguson, Mo., was shot in the arm Saturday night. Officials say the incident was not connected to protests related to the Michael Brown shooting. But it speaks to the nature of Ferguson's crime problems.

In this image courtesy of KSDK-TV, police watch as a crowd gathers near the scene where a police officer was shot in the arm Saturday night in Ferguson, Mo.

[Updated 4:07 p.m.] A police officer responding to a burglary report at a community center in Ferguson, Mo., was shot in the arm after he confronted two men Saturday night, authorities said.

The officer returned fire as the two men fled, but there was "no indication" either of the men had been hit, said St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar in a press conference early Sunday morning. The officer's injuries are not seen to be life-threatening.

The shooting did not appear related to the ongoing protests over the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black teen, by Ferguson police on Aug. 9. Though looting and violent protests erupted again earlier this week, the demonstrations at Ferguson police headquarters Saturday night were peaceful.

The continuing tension, however, along with the gunfire during what appeared to be a petty burglary, hint at the deep distrust between the city's power structure, which is overwhelmingly white, and the majority-black populace. The Brown shooting kindled residents' anger against authorities they see as interested only in exploiting them, and the lack of substantial change since has resulted in a near-constant state of simmering unrest. 

Despite current images of Ferguson in the media, data suggest that violent crime has dropped since 2008. Ferguson's greater problem is with petty and property crime.

According to City-Data.com, Ferguson scored a 217.3 on its violent crime index in 2012; the national average was 214.0. By contrast, Ferguson scored a 481.4 on property crime such as burglaries and thefts; the national average was 266.5.

But the way the city deals with minor violations and crimes has fueled the sense of distrust that pervades the city today.

Before this week, the city's second leading revenue source was fines and fees for simple violations like traffic stops. The city pursued these fines so aggressively that there are an average of three arrest warrants per household in Ferguson, according to a Newsweek article. This resulted in people losing jobs, falling into debt, and even going to jail.

Moreover, a report by a local advocacy group, ArchCity Defenders, suggests that these tactics disproportionately targeted blacks. It notes that 86 percent of vehicle stops "involved a black motorist, although blacks make up just 67 percent of the population."

Ferguson City Council amended the rules surrounding its fines last week, but many Ferguson residents were hoping for more sweeping action.

The result of the policy, say many residents, has been a breakdown in trust between the governed and the governing, with even routine infractions looming as potentially life-changing events.

On Aug. 9, Brown was originally confronted by officer Darren Wilson for jaywalking. Later in the episode, police say, Mr. Wilson suspected that Brown might have been connected with the robbery of $50 in cigars from a nearby store.

Though the details of the encounter are contested, the situation escalated to the point that Wilson apparently fired more than 10 shots, killing Brown.

Saturday night, the two men fleeing the community center shot first, police say. A search for the two men was underway Sunday morning.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.