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In Ferguson, The Shooting Of 2 Officers Stirs A Long-Simmering Anxiety

Demonstrators hold a prayer service near the Ferguson police station on Thursday. Prayers were said for both activists and the two police officers who had been shot earlier in the day.

For members of the Ferguson, Mo., community, the shooting of two police officers Thursday morning has ratcheted up an anxiety that's already long been simmering. As a manhunt continues Friday, one need only visit the blocks around the Ferguson Police Department to get a sense of that tension.

Just down the road from the department, at a salon called Taste of Honey, the windows are no longer covered by cardboard — but familiar worries linger, especially after the shooting nearby.

Sabrina Griffin, who waits inside the salon for her stylist, expresses the surprise shared by many of the women waiting beside her.

"It was a huge shocker," she says. "Such a tragedy for the police officers. What next? We just don't know. We're praying for the best."

That worry — about what comes next — is on the minds of a lot of people in Ferguson, including police and their families.

During the unrest in August and November — first after the police shooting of Michael Brown, and then after a decision not to indict the officer involved in that shooting — hundreds of police officers worked dangerous and exhausting weeks. While the overwhelming majority of protesters were peaceful, gunshots sometimes still rang out. In fact, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar says it was a miracle no police had been shot before yesterday morning.

With these tensions escalating, the St. Louis County Police Department and Missouri State Highway Patrol have again taken over protest security. Gabe Crocker, the head of the St. Louis County Police Association, says that police officers know they have dangerous jobs, but the scale of that danger has escalated significantly.

"The situations that are going on in Ferguson — and of course around the St. Louis region — this isn't really what a lot of people signed up for," Crocker says. "This is taking things to a whole new level."

Add to that unrest a particularly tumultuous week in Ferguson. Its municipal court judge resigned on Monday. The city manager stepped down on Tuesday. Police Chief Thomas Jackson, a target of constant criticism from protesters, stepped down on Wednesday.

Willis Johnson, a pastor of Wellspring Church, which is located just a few blocks from the police department, worries that this week's shooting could be a setback to the young activists he mentors.

"To have something that could — if we allow it to — not only escalate but then also further, in some cases, splinter us is unfortunate," he says.

Across the street from the police department, Kat Daniels is standing with a handful of activists in a tire shop parking lot. She calls the shooting of the two officers a tragedy, but she says protesters aren't going to go away.

"You know whoever did that was a coward," Daniels says, "but we can't let that take us off message. We need to have a government — we need to have a system that works for all people, not for certain groups of people."

And Daniels wants Ferguson Mayor James Knowles to be the next to leave, though he shows no intention of stepping down.

Meanwhile, activist groups are once again calling for calm. Michael Robinson, a pastor at dEstiny Family Church in north St. Louis, helped organize a prayer vigil for peace Thursday night. He says change means much more than a handful of officials in Ferguson quitting their jobs.

Robinson lists a few of the things he'd like to see: "Reform within the court system, taking away some of the ridiculous fines that they have; ensuring that persons are not being stopped simply because they are of a certain ethnicity."

In a written statement, Michael Brown's parents denounced the shooting of the two officers. And, as they have done many times since their son's death last August, they called for peace as protesters continue to push for change.

Copyright 2015 KWMU-FM. To see more, visit http://www.stlpublicradio.org.

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