Are outside instigators to blame for Ferguson violence? It's complicated

2014-08-20T00:15:00Z 2015-02-04T11:53:13Z Are outside instigators to blame for Ferguson violence? It's complicatedBy Steve Giegerich, Joel Currier and Joe Holleman Post-Dispatch stltoday.com

FERGUSON • The perpetrators of violence who have instigated a response that has filled the air with tear gas the past 10 days are generally not a presence among the demonstrators protesting the death of Michael Brown.

Rather, police and peaceful demonstrators say, the rocks, Molotov cocktails and gunfire directed at police are the product of a small group of young men who gather furtively as darkness falls near Red’s Barbeque and the adjoining warren of avenues off Canfield Drive — the street where Brown was killed Aug. 9.

St. Louis County Jail records say at least 85 people have been booked for “refusal to disperse” since Aug. 13, the day before the Missouri Highway Patrol took command of the situation.

At least 52 protesters were arrested Monday night into Tuesday morning for refusing to disperse, unlawful use of a weapon and interfering with a police officer, St. Louis County records say.

All had been released, according to jail officials.

Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson calls some of the protesters a “dangerous dynamic in the night.” Some of those, he has said, have come to Ferguson from outside the St. Louis area, but most are local.

“There are some outsiders,” Johnson told CNN Tuesday. “There’s a lot of people who live here ... we can’t just blame it on outside instigators.”

Jail records available for those arrested Monday night show that 38 of those arrested were from the St. Louis region, including 15 from St. Louis city.

Fourteen have addresses outside the region including Chicago; Des Moines, Iowa; New York City; Huntsville, Ala.; Washington, D.C.; and San Diego.

“We continue to worry about folks who are coming in from outside who are using this,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday.

The governor said the state is working with intelligence experts on the matter and is in contact with the FBI.

“What started as a peaceful protest has been attracting bad guys across the country,” he said.

Brian Houston, co-director of the Terrorism and Disaster Center at the University of Missouri-Columbia, predicted Ferguson has not seen the last of what officials characterize as “outside agitators.”

“The longer trouble goes on in Ferguson the more time people have to come to St. Louis to cause the trouble,” Houston said.

Among those arrested were New York City residents Carl Dix, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and Travis Morales, who identifies himself as a party supporter.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Morales confirmed the arrests.

The special section dedicated to the events in north St. Louis County on the organization’s website carries the subheadline: “People are standing up in Ferguson! It’s Right to Rebel!”

“It may be about Communism,” Ferguson Township Democratic Committeewoman Patricia Bynes said of a group she has encountered tangentially in her nightly effort to quell the Ferguson unrest. “But that doesn’t mean it should be about anarchy.”

St. Louis Alderman Antonio French has been another constant presence in Ferguson since Brown’s death.

French says the numbers may show that the majority of those provoking the situation are local, but out-of-town antagonists are exacerbating the tension.

“We had two guys last night from Chicago, one of them who calls himself Joey, who was set on getting people worked up,” said French, who has worked incessantly as a mediator between police and demonstrators.

French at the same time concedes that some of the agitation is coming from “those Canfield boys,” referring to the apartment complex where Brown lived.

But he maintains that the violence over the past several days attracts nonresidents.

“Some people think that the revolution is starting now, and they want to be here,” the alderman said.

Police are additionally coming face-to-face with another enemy: hopelessness.

“There are two kinds of demonstrators out here,” Lyfe Yusen, 40, of Jennings, said as he stood on the sidewalk watching the West Florissant protest Monday night. “There are the ones that are here to make a stand over injustice. And the ones who don’t give a (expletive) and think they have nothing to live for.”

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum said differentiating between the two groups is the greatest challenge facing officers on Ferguson streets.

“Most people are there to protest,” Wexler said. “But you can’t make the mistake of treating everyone the same way. The police need to appeal to community leaders. They are critical to establishing calm.”

Houston said the role social media has played in bringing outsiders to Ferguson cannot be discounted.

Twitter in particular, he said is “intimately” connecting people around the world to the situation in the no longer obscure St. Louis suburb.

From advocates joining the peaceful protest over Brown’s death, to provocateurs intent on wreaking havoc, to those drawn by the presence of international news crews, “social media is sustaining the events in Ferguson in lots of different ways,” said Houston. “And when it goes on day after day without seeming to abate, it draws in more people who say, ‘I want to be a part of it.’”

As the unrest moved toward its 11th night, French credited police for adapting to the environment along West Florissant Avenue by dispatching small units to remove agitators from the larger groups of peaceful protesters.

“They come in and get those guys out of there,” he said.

He further noted that not everyone who has arrived in Ferguson is bent on disruption and confrontation.

“There’s a group of Tibetan monks here. I’d hardly call them agitators,” the alderman said.

Greg Jonsson and Matthew Franck of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

General assignment reporter Steve Giegerich covers St. Louis County. On Twitter @stevegiegerich

Copyright 2015 stltoday.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

ACTIVATE YOUR DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTION

MOST POPULAR STORIES
Get weekly ads via e-mail