Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Capt. Ron Johnson
of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place
Restaurant in Florrissant, Missouri. REUTERS/Pablo Martinez
US Attorney General Eric Holder has visited Ferguson,
Missouri, hours after nearly 50 protesters were arrested in the
11th straight night of demonstrations over the killing of an
unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.
The St. Louis County prosecutor's office will also begin
presenting evidence on Wednesday (local time) to a regularly
seated grand jury investigating the August 9 shooting death
of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch said his office could
continue presenting evidence to the grand jury through
mid-October as he confronts conflicting pressures for speed
"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 said at 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."
Outside McCulloch's office, a few dozen protesters called for
him to be removed from the case and for the immediate arrest
of the officer involved in the shooting. The officer,
28-year-old Darren Wilson, has been placed on leave and gone
"The criminal justice system in America ... is as racist as
it was 50 years ago," said 62-year-old African-American
minister Stanton Holliday, who said he was a longtime civil
rights activist and was concerned that prosecutors were
taking too long.
Holder said he planned to visit Ferguson, a predominantly
black St. Louis suburb of 21,000 residents, to be briefed on
the progress of a separate civil rights investigation he has
ordered into the Brown killing.
In Ferguson, some said they hoped Holder's visit would lead
to a speedy arrest and prosecution of the police officer
involved in the shooting, while others cautioned against
Jason Schmidt, a 28-year-old black man who works for a
temporary agency, said he hoped the federal government's
involvement would lead to "the killer paying for his actions.
"... If this was done to any other race, to any other place,
in any other situation, I don't think it would have taken
this long to get justice," Schmidt said.
Another resident, 66-year-old retired Vietnam War veteran
Walter Garrett, also black, called for patience.
"You don't want to rush it and have him get off if it turns
out he is guilty," Garrett said.
In a special message to the community published online by the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Holder said about 40 FBI agents have
been assigned to the case, along with prosecutors in the US
Attorney's Office in St. Louis.
Hundreds of people have already been interviewed, Holder
said, and federal medical examiners have performed an
independent autopsy, the third conducted in the killing.
"Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be
fair, and it will be independent," Holder said.
He joined Governor Jay Nixon and other officials in a renewed
appeal for public calm following demonstrations that have
gripped Ferguson since Brown was killed.
Most of the protests have been punctuated by looting,
vandalism and clashes between demonstrators and police.
EYES OF THE WORLD
The turmoil has generated international headlines and exposed
simmering racial tensions in Ferguson, whose police force,
political leadership and public education administration are
dominated by whites.
The case also has re-ignited a national debate over racial
disparities in the US criminal justice system, even drawing
sharp words on Tuesday from top United Nations human rights
envoy Navi Pillay, a native South African.
"I condemn the excessive force by the police and call for the
right of protest to be respected," she said in Geneva.
Police and the governor have insisted that thugs or outside
agitators have caused most of the trouble.
On Tuesday, demonstrators were noticeably fewer in number and
more subdued than on previous nights. Onlookers milled about
as civic activists, members of the clergy and even Missouri
Attorney General Chris Koster mingled with protesters.
The relative calm abruptly dissolved just before midnight,
however, as police in riot gear ordered lingering
demonstrators to disperse, then charged into the crowd to
Police later said they took 47 people into custody and seized
several loaded firearms, but no gunshots were fired.