- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Calling trust in law enforcement “all-important, but … fragile,” U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday that the people of Ferguson, Missouri, need to “have confidence” in the Justice Department during its investigation of the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer, an incident that set off riots and protests and drew the nation’s top law enforcement officer to the still-tense St. Louis suburb.

On a day in which he met privately with police, the family of Mr. Brown and local officials, Mr. Holder said he hoped to bring a “calming influence,” saying he brought a special perspective to the racially charged confrontation.

“I am the attorney general of the United States. But I am also a black man,” Mr. Holder said, speaking with students at a branch of St. Louis Community College and recounting several instances of being stopped by police, including having his car searched on the New Jersey Turnpike.

“I remember how humiliating that was, and how angry I was, and the impact it had on me,” he said.

Arriving in the embattled town Wednesday, Mr. Holder met with Ron Johnson, the Missouri State Highway Patrol captain selected by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to coordinate law enforcement efforts.

Mr. Holder and Capt. Johnson have been trying to calm riots that have broken out in Ferguson, as well as ascertain exactly what happened the day Mr. Brown was shot by Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9.

Officer Wilson has reportedly told investigators that he fired at Mr. Brown after the teenager attacked him in his squad car and then later charged him on the street. But others claim Mr. Brown was unarmed and had his hands over his head when he was shot six times by the police officer.

But the event set off peaceful protests and destructive riots in the highly segregated suburb of St. Louis, with many locals claiming this was simply the last straw in a long line of abuse by the police.

Almost 40 FBI agents have traveled to Ferguson to investigate the case, and an autopsy was done by a team of federal medical examiners. Federal and Missouri state law enforcement has taken over large parts of the investigation after complaints from Mr. Brown’s supporters that the local Ferguson police weren’t being impartial. A federal grand jury has also been convened to hear the facts in the case.

But even that has drawn criticism as some have questioned whether St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch is too closely tied to the local police. Mr. McCulloch’s father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin have all worked for the St. Louis Police Department, and his father was killed in an incident involving a black suspect.

Mr. McCulloch, who is white, has said his background will have no effect on his duties investigating Mr. Brown’s death. Outside the St. Louis County Justice Center in Clayton, where the grand jury convened, two dozen protesters gathered in a circle for a prayer, chanted and held signs demanding that Mr. McCulloch step aside.

After recounting personal instances of racial discrimination, Mr. Holder told the students the country was capable of change.

“The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the attorney general of the United States,” Mr. Holder said.

Human rights group Amnesty International called upon Mr. Holder to conduct a “prompt, thorough and impartial investigation,” according to a statement from the organization’s U.S. executive director, Steven Hawkins.

“The public needs to know what measures the government will be taking to prevent excessive or unnecessary force from being used in the future — not only in Ferguson, but in every town and city in the United States,” Mr. Hawkins said.

Mr. Holder planned meetings with community leaders, FBI agents, federal prosecutors and civil rights officials while in Missouri.

Police officers have faced sharp criticism for their handling of the situation, including using tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters who are usually unarmed. Several journalists have also been arrested, and others said they have been threatened with arrest. But even protest organizers have said a small minority of the crowds in the street have defied curfews and sought to confront and goad the police.

A Missouri Highway Patrol officer accused of threatening to kill protesters Tuesday night was reportedly removed from duty.

Meanwhile, funeral services for Mr. Brown will be held at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church on Monday morning. Mr. Brown’s uncle, the Rev. Charles Ewing, will deliver the eulogy. The Rev. Al Sharpton, as well as several members of Congress, have announced they are planning to attend the service.

The protests were more subdued Tuesday night, with smaller crowds, fewer confrontations and no tear gas. Police said they still made 47 arrests, mainly of people who defied orders to disperse. Tensions rose briefly when someone hurled a bottle at officers, but there were no reports of gunfire or the type of clashes that had marked previous nights.

• This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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