US Attorney General Eric Holder met with community members in Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday and vowed a thorough civil rights probe into the fatal police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.
Holder, the first African-American to head the Justice Department, met with students and then community leaders at a community college during a visit to Ferguson for a briefing on a Justice Department investigation into the August 9 killing of the 18-year-old college student, whose death has sparked 11 nights of racially charged unrest.
Holder's visit came hours after nearly 50 protesters were arrested in the latest demonstrations since the shooting. Many of the protests have been peaceful, but others, especially smaller ones late at night, have been punctuated by looting, vandalism and clashes between demonstrators and police.
The turmoil has thrust the St. Louis suburb of 21,000 people into the international spotlight as a symbol of often troubled US race relations.
'ATTORNEY GENERAL MET WITH FAMILY OF SLAIN TEENAGER'
Ferguson is majority black, but its police force, political leadership and public education administration are dominated by whites. Activists and demonstrators have complained that Brown’s death was the culmination of years of unfair police targeting of blacks.
'Lack of trust'
Among students meeting with Holder at the Florissant Valley campus of St. Louis Community College was Molyric Welch, 27, who told Reuters her brother died three years ago after Ferguson police used a stun gun on him.
“A lot has happened here,” she said. “(Holder) promised things were going to change.”
Another student, who asked not to be named, told FRANCE 24's special correspondent Philip Crowther that the protesters were not willing to give up until the police stopped using violent tactics to constrain nightly demonstrations.
Sending Holder to Ferguson, she said, “really shows the lack of trust there is in this community towards the police”.
'Rallying against the criminals'
Holder also met briefly with Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who was put in charge of security days after Brown’s death. The National Guard has been called in to help keep the peace.
“We’re rallying against the criminals,” Johnson said. Asked whether he had confidence in the local investigation of the police officer, Johnson said: “General Holder, by being here, is a guarantee on that.”
Holder also was meeting with Brown’s parents Wednesday evening.
The visit came the same day a grand jury was expected to begin hearing evidence to determine whether the officer should be charged in Brown’s death.
Prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch said his office could continue presenting evidence to the grand jury – which meets once a week – through mid-October as he confronts conflicting pressures for speed and thoroughness.
“On one side, people are saying: ‘You’re rushing to justice,’ and on the other side, they’re saying: ‘You’re dragging this thing out,’” he told a news conference. “We’re going to present this as expeditiously as possible, but we are not going to present it in a half-hearted manner.”
Protesters call for officer’s arrest
Outside McCulloch’s office, a few dozen protesters called for his removal from the case and the immediate arrest of the officer involved in the shooting. The officer, 28-year-old Darren Wilson, has been placed on leave and gone into seclusion.
“The criminal justice system in America ... is as racist as it was 50 years ago,” 62-year-old black minister Stanton Holliday told Reuters, adding that prosecutors were taking too long.
Accounts of Brown’s slaying differ. According to police, Wilson reported that Brown reached into the policeman’s cruiser when Wilson approached him on the street, then grabbed for the officer’s gun.
A companion of Brown said the teenager was initially shot after the officer tried to grab him through the car window and again after Brown staggered back with his hands in the air.
In the meeting at the community college, Holder said he had assigned the most experienced agents and prosecutors to the investigation, according to a briefing note from his office. Hundreds of people have already been interviewed and federal medical examiners have performed an independent autopsy, the third conducted in the killing.
Holder, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and other officials have appealed for public calm.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-08-21