After a night of virtual calm on Ferguson streets, protests over the Aug. 9 police killing of an unarmed black man turned tense shortly before midnight Tuesday when someone threw a bottle and police swarmed to make an arrest.
The night appeared on the verge of spinning out of control until some protesters stepped in. They linked arms and formed a line to separate police from possible troublemakers.
Matt Mendoza, 29, of St. Louis, said he was among them.
"It's what I can do to help with the situation," he said as protesters backed off. "From what I'm seeing, police are instigating when they break off and start running, creating utter chaos. It's better to just let it go.”
Shortly before the trouble began, protest leaders had stopped marching to hold a prayer and to try to get demonstrators to go home and return for a protest outside the county justice building in the morning.
After the prayer, however, the demonstrators lingered.
Suddenly the situation turned confusing. Apparently after a bottle was thrown, police made a movement and young men in the crowd started running. After police made an arrest, demonstrators appeared to throw bottles, and police deployed what sounded like noisemakers.
The situation remained fluid on West Florissant Avenue. About 1:45 a.m., police in riot gear searched, handcuffed and sat five individuals in the middle of the street beside a military-style vehicle.
Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, the officer in charge of the police presence, was out with troopers in the crowd at the McDonald's in the protest area. Johnson wore a bulletproof vest but not a helmet.
In the nearly two weeks since Brown's death, 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.
Johnson 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.