Eric Holder: A message to the people of Ferguson

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was in Ferguson, Missouri today for a briefing on the investigation, had this op-ed published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning. A message to the people of Ferguson:

Eric_Holder_official_portraitSince 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.

Today, I will be in Ferguson to be briefed on the federal civil rights investigation that I have closely monitored since I launched it more than one week ago. I will meet personally with community leaders, FBI investigators and federal prosecutors from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to receive detailed briefings on the status of this case.

The full resources of the Department of Justice have been committed to the investigation into Michael Brown’s death. This inquiry will take time to complete, but we have already taken significant steps. Approximately 40 FBI agents and some of the Civil Rights Division’s most experienced prosecutors have been deployed to lead this process, with the assistance of the United States Attorney in St. Louis. Hundreds of people have already been interviewed in connection with this matter. On Monday, at my direction, a team of federal medical examiners conducted an independent autopsy.

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.

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.

Over the years, we have made significant progress in ensuring that this is the case. But progress is not an endpoint; it is a measure of effort and of commitment. Constructive dialogue should continue — but it must also be converted into concrete action. And it is painfully clear, in cities and circumstances across our great nation, that more progress, more dialogue, and more action is needed.

This is my pledge to the people of Ferguson: Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be fair, and it will be independent. And beyond the investigation itself, we will work with the police, civil rights leaders, and members of the public to ensure that this tragedy can give rise to new understanding — and robust action — aimed at bridging persistent gaps between law enforcement officials and the communities we serve. Long after the events of Aug. 9 have receded from the headlines, the Justice Department will continue to stand with this community.

As we move forward together, I ask for the public’s cooperation and patience. And I urge anyone with information related to the shooting to contact the FBI by dialing 800-CALL-FBI, option 4.

Eric H. Holder Jr. is attorney general of the United States.

2 responses to “Eric Holder: A message to the people of Ferguson

  1. So glad that AG Holder went to Ferguson. This is unprecedented action by an administration and a welcome one for residents that have been targeted for harassment and failure. I highly recommend that you read this:
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/vwptqn3mhq9xvy7/ArchCity%20Defenders%20Municipal%20Courts%20Whitepaper.pdf

    to begin to understand how this long standing mistrust and animosity began to grow….my question is, what took so long!

    Very simply, a town that bankrolls itself through racial profiling and harassment of minority citizens in penny ante driving violations which are then ratcheted up in both costs and ramifications through manipulative measures, is EXACTLY the kind of place where a jaywalking offense would spiral out of control. There really is something very systemically awful going on in that town and it is tragic that it took the death of black teenager to draw one’s eyes to it.

    “Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of 2,635,400,” according to the ArchCity Defenders report. And in 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court issued 24,532 arrest warrants and 12,018 cases, “or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.”

    Put simply, the whole town, mostly AA, has now been transformed into a mass of individuals that has been fined and/or arrested for minor infractions…or, as one so aptly pointed out,this is “the mass transformation of an entire population into fugitives due to outstanding bench warrants is that that same population has now been successfully disenfranchised of their vote. Felons don’t vote and fugitives don’t vote.”

    And the vicious cycle goes ’round and ’round and ’round. This is NOT ok …no wonder people are angry and mistrustful. Their taxes pay for them to be harassed and incarcerated and disenfranchised.