Out-of-town criminals are inciting violence and hijacking peaceful protests in Ferguson, police said early Tuesday, with officers coming under "heavy gunfire" in the Missouri town.
Chaos once again broke out overnight in the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown was fatally shot by police on August 9. Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol noted that the night had begun with calm and orderly protests. However, bottles were later thrown and police came under "heavy gunfire," he said.
Pointing to seized Molotov cocktails and two seized guns displayed before him, Johnson told an early-morning press conference that police had been attacked throughout the night but had not fired a single bullet.
"These criminal acts came from a tiny minority of law-breakers," he said. "It is criminals who throw Molotov cocktails, fire shots and endanger lives. These are not acts of protesters but acts of violence."
At least two people were shot in the violent overnight melee and 31 people were arrested - with some of those detained coming from New York and California, Johnson said.
He praised the restraint of police amid the chaos, saying he "heard the screams of officers under gunfire" throughout the night. Johnson insisted that the use of SWAT vehicles - which has drawn criticism - was necessary to protect lives and evacuate a gunshot victim.
Police were backed up overnight for the first time by National Guard troops, who were deployed to Ferguson to help quell the unrest which first boiled over in wake of the teen's death. Anger was amplified by the release of a controversial video allegedly showing Brown stealing cigars and subsequent autopsy results showing the teen was shot at least six times.
Johnson early Tuesday acknowledged the frustration, saying it will take time for the community to heal. Addressing reporters after a short prayer - which began "we are weary but we come to you today that you may continue with your spirit that our community may be whole" - the Highway Patrol officer said he was inspired by the residents of Ferguson.
He urged demonstrators to gather only during the daytime so that authorities can deal with those "bent on ruining our community" and so criminals could "no longer mask themselves behind peaceful protesters."
First published August 19 2014, 12:21 AM
Gabe Gutierrez is an NBC News correspondent based in Atlanta, Ga. He joined the network in March 2012, and reports for all platforms of NBC News, including "TODAY," "Nightly News with Brian Williams," MSNBC, NBCLatino.com, and NBCNews.com, as well as Telemundo.
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Gutierrez came to NBC News from KHOU 11 News in Houston, Texas, where he worked as the station's City Hall reporter. Prior to working in Houston, Gabe was a weekend morning anchor and reporter at WJRT-TV, the ABC station in Flint, Mich. While at WJRT, he regularly produced and hosted the station's public affairs program in addition to covering the state legislature and the auto industry. His first on-air job was at WBOY-TV, the NBC affiliate in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where he anchored weekend newscasts and reported during the week. While in college, Gutierrez interned at Telemundo in South Florida and at ABC News' satellite feed in Chicago.
Gutierrez was named "Best Reporter" in 2009 by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He also won an Emmy for his investigation into what several banks called one of the largest mortgage schemes ever in the state. The Associated Press also honored him for breaking news coverage and investigative reporting.
Originally from Miami, Gutierrez graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism with a double major in political science. He is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.