U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is promising a fair and thorough federal investigation into the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Holder spoke about his visit to Ferguson in unusually personal terms to reporters upon his return to Washington.
A day after his visit to Ferguson, Holder sought to assure community leaders and citizens that the Justice Department takes its role in the case seriously.
“Our investigation will be fair, it will be thorough and it will be independent,” he said.
During his visit, Holder met with law enforcement, community leaders and the family of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by a white police officer after a confrontation in a street of the St. Louis suburb, in the central U.S. Witnesses have given different accounts as to what led to the shooting.
During his Washington news conference, Holder was asked about the most important thing he learned from meeting with community leaders and citizens in Ferguson.
“A desire to be seen as equals and a real desire to have healing. There is a real fracture out there now that I think people are really trying to work their way through and as I indicated to them, I think out of this tragedy comes a great opportunity for reforming that community,” he said.
Ferguson has been calmer in recent days and the involvement of the federal government may be helping, according to Howard University expert Greg Carr.
“They are sending a message, a very strong message that they will be watching, that they will be side-by-side with local government and that this case must be handled with the greatest care and concern for objectivity, fairness and justice,” he said.
Holder was sent to Ferguson by President Barack Obama with the hope of reassuring the local community. Obama was elected as the country’s first African-American president in 2008, and Holder became the nation’s first African-American attorney general in 2009.
In his meeting with community leaders, Holder recalled some of his own encounters with police as a young man and the anger and humiliation he sometimes felt.
Healing process begins
Analyst and author Sam Fulwood of the Center for American Progress said both Holder and Obama can have an impact in the wake of Ferguson. He also said, however, the healing process will take time.
“I think it is important that they speak out and that they do it because it moves us further along the road than we would be if they didn’t," he said. "But I think there is a totally unrealistic expectation that when the president says something, people automatically salute and things change.”
The shooting incident in Ferguson and its violent aftermath has also drawn fresh attention to longstanding, deeper issues of race and class differences in the U.S., said Georgetown Law Professor Anthony Cook.
“We live in separate worlds. Still, a majority of black and brown kids go to schools that are majority black and brown," he said. "When you look at residential areas, even some black middle-class neighborhoods, those neighborhoods continue to be predominantly minority.”
In the meantime, the international spotlight remains on Ferguson as the latest test of the country’s ability to come to grips with issues of race and violence. Michael Brown’s funeral is set for Monday in St. Louis.