U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to the St. Louis area where he met with community leaders, FBI agents and the parents of an unarmed black teenager who was fatally shot by police on Aug. 9, setting off more than a week of violent protests.
Holder’s appearance tested the diplomatic and political skills of the nation’s first black attorney general as he seeks to restore order in Ferguson, Missouri, a community locked in battle with its police force since the death of 18- year-old Michael Brown. Clashes between mostly white police and mostly black protesters have featured Molotov cocktails, tear gas and armored vehicles in the suburb of 21,000.
“We’re looking for possible violations of federal civil- rights statutes,” Holder said at the local headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation during a briefing on their inquiry into the shooting. He promised a “thorough and fair” probe.
Holder met with Brown’s parents at the U.S. Attorney’s office in downtown St. Louis. He also was to meet with the Missouri congressional delegation.
Before the meeting, Holder said he hoped his visit “will have a calming influence on the area.”
The arrival of the nation’s top law-enforcement officer, as a St. Louis County grand jury prepares to hear evidence on Brown’s killing underscored how Ferguson has become an international symbol of racial inequality and heavy-handed police tactics.
“The eyes of the nation and the world are watching Ferguson right now,” Holder told students and more than 50 community leaders at St. Louis Community College, according to a statement released by his office. “The issues raised by the shooting of Michael Brown predate this incident. This is something that has a history to it, and the history simmers beneath the surface in more communities than just Ferguson.”
Holder said he’d assigned the Justice Department’s “most experienced agents and prosecutors” to the case.
The attorney general said he understood how some minorities mistrust the police.
“I am the Attorney General of the United States, but I am also a black man,” he said. “I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding.” Holder said officers would “go through the trunk of my car, look under the seats and all this kind of stuff.”
“I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.”
Holder’s visit followed a night of relative calm in Ferguson, the first day since Aug. 14 that police didn’t fire tear gas into crowds of protesters. Residents have taken to the streets daily calling for Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, to be arrested and charged with murder.
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