At least 31 people were arrested, some of whom came from as far away as New York and California, said Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said.
For almost two hours, police in riot gear formed a barricade and stood watch as hundreds of peaceful protesters marched in a single-file line that stretched so long that different parts chanted different slogans.
“Hands up, don’t shoot,” some repeated. “No justice, no peace,” others said. Still others were singing church hymns.
But the scene quickly deteriorated after a handful of protesters threw rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails at police. Officers responded by firing stun grenades and tear gas canisters.
Amid the frenzy, the sounds of gunfire rang out from different parts of the city. Two people were shot within the protest site, Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said.
One group of protesters made a barricade with portable toilets and orange cones. Some ripped out street signs, including the symbolic “Do Not Enter” sign.
Armored vehicles rolled down the streets with officers perched atop, their hands steadied on guns. Other officers darted into the protest crowd to make an occasional arrest before retreating.
Johnson, who was asked by Missouri’s governor to try to keep order in Ferguson, said police are still trying to use a peaceful approach.
“For the most part it works,” he said. “But tonight we had gunfire occur. Officers were taking shots at their vehicles.”
He urged demonstrators to protest during the daylight hours Tuesday and not after dark.
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“Make your voices heard where you can be seen and you’re not the cover for violent agitators,” he said.
Trying to keep the peace
To be sure, the rowdy demonstrators were greatly outnumbered by fellow protesters trying to keep the gathering peaceful.
“Get out of the street! Don’t fight!” some protesters bellowed on bullhorns.
Protester Jerrell Bourrage grabbed one of the bottle-hurling demonstrators and told him to stop.
“We don’t need these antagonizers out here. We need people who can stand out here to the side and still let your word be known,” Bourrage told CNN.
“I came to keep my brothers safe. We have fathers, brothers, mothers and aunties out here.”
Some believe those causing trouble are from outside Ferguson.
“We are not going to let outside provocateurs to come here. We can’t allow this movement to be destroyed,” said Malik Shabazz, national president of Black Lawyers for Justice. He wouldn’t say who the provocateurs were.
CNN’s Jake Tapper echoed the frustrations of many in the crowd.
“Absolutely there have been looters, absolutely over the last nine days there has been violence, but there is nothing going on in this street right now that merits this scene out of Bagram. Nothing.
“So if people wonder why the people of Ferguson, Missouri, are so upset, this is part of the reason. What is this? This doesn’t make any sense.”
Grand jury proceedings likely
Ferguson has seen protests every night since Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot to death by a white police officer 10 days ago.
The situation remains so unstable that the Ferguson-Florissant School District has canceled classes for the rest of the week, and the The Missouri National Guard has been called out by Gov. Jay Nixon.
A grand jury could begin to hear testimony from witnesses and decide on whether to return an indictment in the case as early as Wednesday.
In addition to that proceeding, the Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into Brown’s death.
“I realize there is tremendous interest in the facts of the incident that led to Michael Brown’s death, but I ask for the public’s patience as we conduct this investigation,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.
“The selective release of sensitive information that we have seen in this case so far is troubling to me.”