On Tuesday, a day ahead of visiting the city, Attorney General Eric Holder penned an open letter to the residents of Ferguson. The message was published on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s website. Holder is scheduled to arrive in Ferguson on Wednesday to discuss the investigation into the shooting death of Mike Brown. Currently, the FBI has 40 agents in the Ferguson area looking for additional witness statements. Holder will meet with the FBI regarding a potential civil rights case against Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Brown. It is also expected that Holder will meet with local community leaders.
In his letter to the people of Ferguson, Holder promised that the federal investigation will be fair and thorough.
Since the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, the nation and the world have witnessed the unrest that has gripped Ferguson, Mo. At the core of these demonstrations is a demand for answers about the circumstances of this young man’s death and a broader concern about the state of our criminal justice system.
At a time when so much may seem uncertain, the people of Ferguson can have confidence that the Justice Department intends to learn — in a fair and thorough manner — exactly what happened.
We understand the need for an independent investigation, and we hope that the independence and thoroughness of our investigation will bring some measure of calm to the tensions in Ferguson. In order to begin the healing process, however, we must first see an end to the acts of violence in the streets of Ferguson. Although these acts have been committed by a very small minority — and, in many cases, by individuals from outside Ferguson — they seriously undermine, rather than advance, the cause of justice. And they interrupt the deeper conversation that the legitimate demonstrators are trying to advance.
Holder also expressed his support for protesters to have the right to assemble and let their voices be heard. At the same time, he also pointed out that there is a place for law enforcement in calming the situation in Ferguson. He said it was up to the police to build trust and forge relationships within the community.
The Justice Department will defend the right of protesters to peacefully demonstrate and for the media to cover a story that must be told. But violence cannot be condoned. I urge the citizens of Ferguson who have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights to join with law enforcement in condemning the actions of looters, vandals and others seeking to inflame tensions and sow discord.
Law enforcement has a role to play in reducing tensions, as well. As the brother of a retired law enforcement officer, I know firsthand that our men and women in uniform perform their duties in the face of tremendous threats and significant personal risk. They put their lives on the line every day, and they often have to make split-second decisions.
At the same time, good law enforcement requires forging bonds of trust between the police and the public. This trust is all-important, but it is also fragile. It requires that force be used in appropriate ways. Enforcement priorities and arrest patterns must not lead to disparate treatment under the law, even if such treatment is unintended. And police forces should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.
Many of the people of Ferguson have been calling for the federal government to completely take over the investigation into Brown’s killing. There is a lack of faith in St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch’s ability to objectively investigate and prosecute this case. McCulloch’s father was a police officer who was shot to death by an African-American man. Also, McCulloch harshly criticized Missouri Governor Jay Nixon last week for his decision to place Captain Ron Johnson in command over security in Ferguson. Another thing that brings a great distrust within the African-American community is McCulloch’s endorsement of Steve Stenger in the Democratic primary for St. Louis County Executive. Stenger won over long-serving incumbent Executive Charles Dooley, who is black. Many black residents in St. Louis County feel there was a racial component to McCulloch’s endorsement of Stenger, who won the primary earlier this month.
McCulloch is prepared to present evidence to a grand jury Wednesday. Nixon said Tuesday evening that he isn’t prepared to assign a special prosecutor to the case. Meanwhile, McCulloch has refused all requests to recuse himself. Protesters were gathered at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in St. Louis County Tuesday night demanding McCulloch be removed. Holder has said they will monitor the state’s investigation. As for the the feds, apparently they have gathered over 200 statements so far in their investigation, so they should have quite a bit to discuss with the AG.