Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday condemned the violence that exploded late Wednesday night in Ferguson, Missouri, where two police officers were shot after a rally in the streets took a nasty turn.
“What happened last night was a pure ambush. This was not someone trying to bring healing to Ferguson; this was a damn punk,” the attorney general said on Thursday.
Holder also called the shooting a “cowardly action.” He added in a statement on Thursday that “This heinous assault on two brave law enforcement officers was inexcusable and repugnant. I condemn violence against any public safety officials in the strongest terms, and the Department of Justice will never accept any threats or violence directed at those who serve and protect our communities.”
The shooting comes on the heels of a scathing Justice Department report, the result of a months-long investigation into the Ferguson police department, which found that the department had repeatedly violated federal law in its abuse of power and widespread racism toward the city’s residents. The investigation, led by the attorney general, was prompted by the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown Jr. by a white police officer last August.
A St. Louis County grand jury decided in November not to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, who was later cleared of civil rights violations by the Justice Department in March.
Holder urged the leaders in the city to take “immediate action;” embattled Police Chief Thomas Jackson resigned days later on Wednesday.
Jackson’s resignation led to rallies Wednesday evening, but turned violent overnight. One officer was shot in the shoulder, the other in his cheek; both officers are in ‘serious’ condition, but will live, according to St. Louis officials.
“Such senseless acts of violence threaten the very reforms that nonviolent protesters in Ferguson and around the country have been working towards for the past several months,” Holder said.
Timeline: How the Ferguson crisis unfolded
In a press conference Thursday morning, St. Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar called the shooting an “ambush” and referenced the execution-style shooting death of two officers in New York late last year. “We could have buried two police officers next weekend,” Belmar said.
“We stand ready to offer any possible aid to an investigation into this incident, including the department’s full range of investigative resources,” Holder said. ”And we will continue to stand unequivocally against all acts of violence against cops whenever and wherever they occur.”