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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."