Despite the best efforts of community leaders to keep the crowd in check in Ferguson Monday night, police deployed tear gas, 31 people were arrested and two people were shot.
While there was no curfew in place, police dispersed the crowd shortly before midnight.
“These criminal acts came from a tiny minority of lawbreakers,” Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said during a press conference early Tuesday morning. “But anyone who has been at these protests understands that there is a dangerous dynamic in the night that allows this small number of violent agitators to hide in the crowd and then create chaos.”
Johnson said some of those arrested had come from as far away as New York and California. He said officers came under heavy fire at an apartment complex on Canfield Drive, but that officers had not fired a single bullet.
Then he urged protestors to come out during the day instead.
“Make your voices heard when you can be seen and when you’re not the cover for violent agitators,” Johnson said.
In his press conference and in an earlier interview on CNN, Johnson made clear his displeasure with the press. He said members of the media need to get out of the streets when asked and should not “glamorize activities of the disruptive few.”
Peaceful, but controlled
For several hours Monday night, about 200 protestors marched on the sidewalks along West Florissant Avenue where they have convened since the shooting death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Police officers ordered them to keep moving and stay out of the street or face arrest. The National Guard was not part of the fray, apparently being used to protect the command center.
Early in the evening, Nelly appeared and the atmosphere became almost festive. The rapper from University City talked about the importance of education, saying, "We need to make sure our kids are sitting with their kids when they're learning what they need to run the world."
Around 9:40 p.m. several objects were thrown from the crowd and police formed a line. Members of the clergy and the New Black Panther Party worked to keep agitators from sparking the police to advance.
“We chastise our own brothers and sisters tonight in love and encourage them that we don’t need any more of our mothers, our elders or them to be locked up or hospitalized,” said Rev. Dinah Tatman of Bellefontaine Neighbors.
Peace did not hold
Yet the confrontation escalated at roughly 10:30 p.m. Some in a small group of protesters at the intersection of Canfield Drive and West Florissant Avenue, threw Molotov cocktails toward police and toward the surrounding area. One or more cars also drove through the intersection throwing things. Police responded by firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Some protestors retreated down West Florissant Avenue, catching their breath — a few pouring water into their eyes to relieve the gas.
By and large, the police response was measured. A crowd would approach and tension would seem to mount, only to relax. In a couple of occasions, after the immediate crisis passed, police would pick out individuals within the crowd and make arrests. Exceptions were the arrest of a number of people who entered the area late in the evening in a pickup truck and attacks that went on in the Canfield Drive area after most of the media were making their way to the command center.