Ferguson mayor resists calls to resign

Robert MacPherson
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A protester talks with a police officer in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Missouri, March 12, 2015. The shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, during a protest rally sparked an intense manhunt for suspects on Thursday and ratcheted up tensions in a city at the center of a national debate over race and policing. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST)

A protester talks with a police officer in front of the Ferguson Police Department

Ferguson (United States) (AFP) - The mayor of Ferguson rejected growing calls Friday to resign in the aftermath of a blistering US government report into the fatal police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

Mayor James Knowles struck a defiant tone in a flurry of interviews with US news media as St Louis County police kept up the search for the gunman who wounded two officers amid an otherwise peaceful demonstration on Wednesday.

"Right now, this community needs leadership," Knowles, a white Republican in his early 30s who was re-elected mayor by acclamation four months before Brown was shot and killed on August 9, told NBC News.

He said he enjoys "continued support from a lot of residents" in his St Louis suburb of 21,000. Two-thirds of the population is African-American, but the city government and police force are predominantly white.

"This community needs someone who is going to stay around and work toward bringing us together, moving us forward. And I've committed to doing that. And so has the rest of the city council."

- Recall option -

On CNN, Knowles -- a Ferguson native and one-time civilian employee of its police force -- said that if citizens really want him to go, a recall process exists for ousting disliked elected officials.

"There are ways to remove me if that is the will of the people," he told the all-news network, one of many in the United States giving saturation coverage to the story.

Tension has gripped Ferguson since August 9, when local police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Brown, a suspect in a petty corner-store shoplifting, after an altercation on a residential street.

Sometimes violent protests ensued, as Brown's death -- and the failure by a grand jury to indict Wilson -- ignited a heated national debate about race relations, law enforcement and excessive use of police force.

In the aftermath of a scathing Justice Department report last week that exposed racial bias in his department, Ferguson's embattled police chief Thomas Jackson submitted his resignation on Wednesday.

- Back on edge -

That night, however, Ferguson was back on a knife edge when shots rang out in the dark amid an otherwise peaceful march outside the local police station, wounding two officers -- one in the face, the other on the shoulder.

St Louis County police chief Jon Belmar, now in charge of policing Ferguson's nightly protests, who initially called the shootings an "ambush," said Friday that detectives working "around the clock" were chasing several leads.

"I cannot tell you at this point that an arrest is imminent. There is certainly nobody in custody," he told reporters, nearly 48 hours after the bullets flew.

It was the first time that any police officer had been hit by gunfire during a Brown-related protest, in a Midwestern state that has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the United States.

President Barack Obama, appearing on a late-night TV talk show, said people had a right to be angry about Brown's death, but added there was no excuse for "criminal acts."

- Speculation stirs -

Protest organizers say the shooter, or shooters, did not come from their ranks. But in the absence of a swift arrest, some African-Americans wondered Friday -- with no hard evidence to back their speculation -- if the gunfire might have been the sinister work of disgruntled white agitators.

On Thursday, a SWAT team stormed a house up a hill from the police station, taking away three people for questioning. They had been seen fleeing amid the shooting, but told police they had merely been scared for their lives.

Belmar said Friday he appreciated the trio's cooperation, explaining that the raid had been preceded by "several leads" that had come in regarding the nondescript brown brick bungalow.

He added: "The detectives are looking into this investigation around the clock. They will not rest until we get to the point of where we have a conclusion regarding this investigation."

On National Public Radio, mayor Knowles said the prevailing mood Ferguson remains tense: "Officers are concerned for their safety. Residents are concerned for their own safety right now."

Steady rain kept away protesters Friday night, but forecasts of balmy spring weather lifted the prospect of fresh demonstrations over the weekend.