Ferguson streets turn tense around midnight

After a night of virtual calm on Ferguson streets, the protests turned tense shortly before midnight Tuesday when someone threw a bottle and police swarmed to make arrests.

 The night appeared on the verge of spinning out of control when some protesters stepped in. They linked arms and formed a line to  separate police from possible troublemakers.

 The situation remained fluid on West Florissant Avenue, where protests have continued for nearly two weeks since the Aug. 9 killing of Michael Brown, 18, by a Ferguson police officer. 

 Shortly after midnight, officers did make some arrests. 

 The demonstrations have turned unruly after dark. On Monday night and into Tuesday morning, police made 78 arrests, confiscating at least two guns and a Molotov cocktail.

 Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is in charge of the police response, has accused outsiders of stirring up trouble in the darkness. At least 14 of those arrested were from outside Missouri. 

 One of them, Carl Dix, denied that outsiders were troublemakers. "There are no outsiders in the struggle against injustice and oppression," said Dix, from Brooklyn, N.Y. The locals he met, he said, "have wanted to hug me."  

 Tuesday night, dozens of people were marching up and down the sidewalk and, at least for the moment, the atmosphere was calm.

 The Rev. Robert White of the Peace of Mind Church in St. Louis was among the older community leaders trying to keep the peace.

 "The police are out here to protect us,” he told CNN. White urged protesters to "give Ferguson a break" and let businesses get back on their feet. 

 “If we could end tonight without one person getting shot, that would be a real blessing,” he said. 

 Missouri Atty. Gen. Chris Koster briefly came to the streets to address demonstrators. His spokeswoman issued a statement in his name voicing confidence in St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch.

 "It is my understanding he has placed the matter in the hands of two highly experienced prosecutors, one of whom is African American," Koster said in the statement. "I trust in their ability to diligently and fairly present the evidence in this case." 

 A St. Louis County grand jury was expected to begin hearing evidence Wednesday. Meantime, federal officials are conducting a parallel civil rights investigation.

 A group of African American attorneys has called on McCulloch  to remove himself from the case, accusing him of bias. He has declined to do so. 

 Gov. Jay Nixon said he would not call on McCulloch to back out. In an evening statement, the Democratic governor said: "From the outset, I have been clear about the need to have a vigorous prosecution of this case, and that includes minimizing any potential legal uncertainty. I am not asking St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCullough to recuse himself from this case.

 "There is a well-established process by which a prosecutor can recuse" himself, Nixon continued. "Departing from this established process could unnecessarily inject legal uncertainty into this matter and potentially jeopardize the prosecution."  

 Earlier Tuesday, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said federal investigators had interviewed hundreds of people in connection with the Brown killing. A federal autopsy performed at Holder's orders showed that Brown was shot six times, officials said. Holder is to visit Ferguson on Wednesday. 

 In an op-ed piece posted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch titled “A Message to the People of Ferguson,” Holder strongly defended his decision to push forward with the civil rights investigation. Local law enforcement officials in Missouri are being accused of not moving fast enough in investigating Brown’s shooting by a white police officer.

 “The people of Ferguson can have confidence that the Justice Department intends to learn – in a fair and thorough manner – exactly what happened,” Holder wrote.