FERGUSON, Mo. -- Gov. Jay Nixon announced early Monday that he would deploy the Missouri National Guard to this St. Louis suburb, ratcheting up efforts to quell unrest that has paralyzed the city since an unarmed black teenager was killed by a white police officer.
Nixon said in a statement that he chose to activate the National Guard because of “deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent acts.”
“Tonight, a day of hope, prayers and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk,” Nixon said.
The governor’s decision came after the worst night of violence since the unrest began.
On Sunday night, hours before the start of a second day of a mandatory curfew that the governor had ordered, police officers came under assault from gunfire and firebombs and responded with their largest show of force so far.
Using a barrage of tear gas and smoke canisters, and firing rubber bullets and deploying hundreds of officers in riot gear to sweep the streets of protesters, the law enforcement officials had the situation largely under control by the time the curfew began at midnight.
Protesters said that the police acted without provocation. But at a news conference about an hour into the curfew, Ronald S. Johnson, the Missouri State Highway Patrol captain brought in by the governor to take over security here, blamed “premeditated criminal acts” that were intended to provoke the police.
“We had to act to protect lives and property,” he said.
Johnson said that some demonstrators throughout Ferguson had opened fire on the police, hurled firebombs and looted and vandalized businesses.
It appeared that an attempted attack by some protesters on the shopping center the police have used as a command center prompted the most severe response from the authorities.
Johnson said that at 8:56 p.m., hundreds of protesters had descended upon the area of the command post. Soon, he said, “multiple Molotov cocktails were thrown at police.” The police responded with tear gas.
The captain said that after that episode, the police had received reports that a McDonald’s restaurant had been seized by the demonstrators. Meanwhile, police officers were being targeted with bottles, Johnson told reporters.
“Based on these conditions, I had no alternative but to elevate the level of our response,” he said.
A spokesman for the Highway Patrol said the authorities had made seven or eight arrests, and Johnson said he believed three people - none of them police officers - had been injured in the outbreak of violence.
The violence occurred along West Florissant Avenue, one of the city’s main streets, near an area that the police had partitioned for the news media, and within two blocks of where Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager, was killed on Aug. 9.
On Monday, administrators of the Ferguson-Florissant School District, as well as nearby Jennings, again delayed the start of classes. The protests have “contributed to concerns we have about children walking to school or waiting for buses on streets impacted by this activity, debris on the roads that could impact transportation, and continued disruption affecting our students and families in the area,” the Ferguson-Florissant district said.