President Barack Obama denounced the shooting of two police officers in racially charged Ferguson, Missouri, calling it a criminal act, as the manhunt continued Friday for the shooter or shooters.
Speaking on Thursday's late-night "Jimmy Kimmel Live" television program, the president said the police's pattern of violating African-Americans' civil rights in the St. Louis suburb "was oppressive and objectionable and was worthy of protest, but there was no excuse for criminal acts."
The officers were shot very early Thursday morning as a demonstration that began Wednesday evening was breaking up outside the Ferguson police station. A 41-year-old St. Louis County officer was wounded in the shoulder, and a 32-year-old officer from nearby Webster Groves was wounded near an ear.
"Whoever fired those shots shouldn’t detract from the issue" of improving community and police relations, Obama continued. "They’re criminal, they need to be arrested." People who "disregard and disrespect” the law and civil rights need to be "marginalized," he said.
The shooting came just hours after the city's police chief resigned in the wake of a Justice Department report accusing the department of racially biased policing. Demonstrators had gathered Wednesday evening outside the police department to call for more change.
On Thursday evening, dozens of people gathered near the site of the shooting for a candle-light vigil, and protesters continued their practice of picketing the police station.
On Friday, law enforcement continued their search for suspects in the shootings. Rewards of $13,000 are being offered for information leading to an arrest or arrests.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the Thursday morning attack "an ambush" and said the perpetrator was "trying to sow discord."
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson submitted his resignation Wednesday, seven months after the racial tension began with a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shooting to death an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, after Brown attacked him during a street confrontation last August.
Jackson became the focus of bitter complaints of racial discrimination within his department in the aftermath of Brown's shooting. A report released last week by the Justice Department criticized the Ferguson police department for bias against the city's black majority, including arbitrary traffic stops, arrests and tickets. The report said city officials operated its courts as a money-making venture.
Jackson is the sixth Ferguson official to step down in the wake of the Justice Department report. Ferguson's city manager and a municipal court judge resigned this week, while a city court clerk and two police officers were either dismissed or resigned after they were identified in the report of sending racist emails.
Ferguson is still reeling from the shooting, which set off weeks of violence in the city. Wilson was not charged by the Justice Department with violating Brown's civil rights, and a state grand jury failed to bring criminal charges against him.