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Police: Criminals are hijacking protests
02:16 - Source: CNN

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Story highlights

NEW: Highway patrol chief: 50 to 60 arrests, including "some outsiders"

Those arrested include residents of Chicago, New York, and elsewhere

"They're fools. They are a disgrace," a state senator says

"We don't need these antagonizers out here," a protester says

CNN  — 

“Agitators” triggering chaos and violence amid the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, aren’t all locals.

Of at least 78 people arrested overnight, about one in four came from outside the St. Louis area, according to the St. Louis County jail.

Nearly all the arrests were for refusal to disperse. Two people, both locals, were charged with unlawful use of a weapon. And one man, from Rockton, Illinois, was charged with interfering with an officer.

Among those arrested are residents of Chicago, Brooklyn, Washington, San Francisco, Austin, Des Moines, and Huntsville, Alabama, according to jail records.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson – who is in charge of security in Ferguson – had a lower number of arrests, telling CNN there were 50 and 60 late Monday and into Tuesday.

“There are some outsiders, but there are (also) a lot of people who live here,” Johnson told CNN on Tuesday. “… So we can’t blame (everything) on outside agitators.”

Some say the arrests do not necessarily indicate wrongdoing. In recent days, numerous people including journalists have faced arrests after what they described as taking part in a peaceful protest or simply observing it.

People from around the country and even other parts of the world have come to Ferguson to express outrage over the police shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown.

But all sides agree there are a select number of people – distinct from the majority of protesters – who are fomenting violence.

“There is a dangerous dynamic in the night. It allows a small number of agitators to hide in the crowd and then attempt to create chaos,” Johnson said late Monday.

“Protesters are peaceful and respectful,” he said. “Protesters don’t clash with police. … It is criminals who throw Molotov cocktails and fire shots that endangers life and property.”

Those stirring up trouble are “fools,” said State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal. “They are a disgrace to this entire movement.”

“What we are trying to address is the intimidation and harassment of police officers onto young people,” she told CNN. But by shooting guns, throwing Molotov cocktails, and looting stores, these so-called agitators are making conditions unsafe and spurring a crackdown by authorities. “It completely changes the narrative,” she said Monday.

“We don’t need these antagonizers out here,” said protester Jerrell Bourrage, who said he grabbed a bottle-hurling demonstrator and told him to stop. “We need people who can stand out here to the side and still let your word be known.”

Michael Brown’s parents spoke out against the violence Tuesday. “It is a distraction, but we won’t let it distract us to the point where we lose focus,” Lesley McSpadden told NBC’s “Today.” “We have to remain focused and we have to remain strong and the violence needs to stop. When justice has prevailed, it may regain the trust in the locals, but right now it’s really out of control.”

Complete coverage of the Ferguson shooting and protests

Participants in the protests also blame the authorities for violence. Police have fired tear gas and used stun grenades, angering some who believe the tactics are too heavy-handed and a sign of the dangers of police militarization.

The situation presents a difficult challenge for police, said Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director who is now a CNN law enforcement analyst. The “normal, after-midnight clientele of the police – these hooligans” mix in with the crowd, he said. “So, that is what the police have to contend with.”

Police attempt to control protesters in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, on Monday, August 18.

The police tried putting away the heavy weaponry at one point last week, Fuentes noted. But then, as late night violence broke out in recent days, “they had no alternative, and they brought them back out.”

Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who famously defused tensions in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, said there’s one tactic authorities should be sure to use. “They have to continue to walk with the people as opposed to walk against them,” he said.

But quelling these protests will require a political and judicial solution, he said. “The political and justice in this country need to find a way out of this that convinces people the right things will be done,” he said.

Some protesters, meanwhile, are trying a tactic of their own. On Monday night, a group of community leaders formed a human chain and walked hand-in-hand – hoping not only to provide a buffer between police and peaceful protesters, but also to block the agitators.

Magazine: The Aftermath in Ferguson

Read more about the flash point in the Heartland at

CNN’s George Howell, Don Lemon, Victor Blackwell and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.