Since 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.”
John Oliver’s take on Ferguson from Last Week Tonight.
In this city of about 21,000, West Florissant is a major thoroughfare and is lined with nail and hair salons, a few restaurants and an array of retailers. It is common to see commercial jetliners fly overhead as they arrive or depart from the nearby Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
But for more than a week, the road has been a battleground nearly every night.
On Sunday night, police officers in riot gear marched through smoke-filled streets. As midnight approached, the roadway was filled with debris: spent canisters of tear gas, wooden and rubber bullets, gray cinder blocks and shattered bottles.
But by the time the lunch hours arrived on Monday, the street was largely swept clean, sometimes by volunteers clutching black trash bags.
It was not so simple for Dellena Jones, who runs a hair salon where the door frame was free of glass on Monday. The night before, demonstrators had tossed concrete slabs into the business as Ms. Jones’s two children prepared for what had been scheduled as the first day of school.
As Ms. Jones waited for a wooden board to place over her door, she fretted about what might become of her business as customers have chosen to stay away.
“I had a full week that went down to really nothing,” she said. “They’re too scared to come.”
As she spoke, a man walked by and shouted, “You need a gun in there, lady!” If the unrest continues, Ms. Jones said she may have to meet customers elsewhere.
“I may have to go for a minute and work somewhere else,” she said. “But I’m paying rent here, so I will have to pay somewhere else to work, which is not fair.””
– The New York Times, "Stores Are Boarded Up But Open For Business in Ferguson"
An autopsy of Michael Brown, conducted by a former New York City medical examiner, shows that Brown was shot six times — including twice in the head — and likely not at close range. The autopsy results came as another night of violence engulfed Ferguson, with protestors clashing with police; Missouri governor Jay Nixon has called in the National Guard to help restore order. (Autopsy results via the New York Times)
“I’ve been sitting on it.”
Ferguson, MO police chief THOMAS JACKSON, explaining why he delayed the release of store surveillance video purportedly showing the involvement of Michael Brown in a “strongarm” robbery; Jackson said he finally “had to” honor FOIA requests from the media to release the video.
"We do need to communicate better, because you saw what happened yesterday." Missouri State Highway Police Capt. Ron Johnson, taking questions from both journalists AND concerned citizens. He truly is a law enforcement official who gets it.
For four nights in a row, they streamed onto West Florissant Avenue wearing camouflage, black helmets and vests with “POLICE” stamped on the back. They carried objects that doubled as warnings: assault rifles and ammunition, slender black nightsticks and gas masks.
They were not just one police force but many, hailing from communities throughout north St. Louis County and loosely coordinated by the county police.
Their adversaries were a ragtag group of mostly unarmed neighborhood residents, hundreds of African-Americans whose pent-up fury at the police had sent them pouring onto streets and sidewalks in Ferguson, demanding justice for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was fatally shot by a police officer on Saturday.
When the protesters refused to retreat from the streets, threw firebombs or walked too close to a police officer, the response was swift and unrelenting: tear gas and rubber bullets.
To the rest of the world, the images of explosions, billowing tear gas and armored vehicles made this city look as if it belonged in a chaos-stricken corner of Eastern Europe, not the heart of the American Midwest. As a result, a broad call came from across the political spectrum for America’s police forces to be demilitarized, and Gov. Jay Nixon installed a new overall commander in Ferguson.
“At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said, “I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message.”
Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, and Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, voiced similar sentiments.
But such opposition amounts to a sharp change in tone in Washington, where the federal government has spent more than a decade paying for body armor, mine-resistant trucks and other military gear, all while putting few restrictions on its use. Grant programs that, in the name of fighting terrorism, paid for some of the equipment being used in Ferguson have been consistently popular since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. If there has been any debate at all, it was over which departments deserved the most money.
Department of Homeland Security grant money paid for the $360,000 Bearcat armored truck on patrol in Ferguson, said Nick Gragnani, executive director of St. Louis Area Regional Response System, which administers such grants for the St. Louis area.
Since 2003, the group has spent $9.4 million on equipment for the police in St. Louis County. That includes $3.6 million for two helicopters, plus the Bearcat, other vehicles and night vision equipment. Most of the body armor worn by officers responding to the Ferguson protests was paid for with federal money, Mr. Gragnani said.
“The focus is terrorism, but it’s allowed to do a crossover for other types of responses,” he said. “It’s for any type of civil unrest. We went by the grant guidance. There was no restriction put on that by the federal government.””
– The New York Times, "In Wake Of Clashes, Calls to Demilitarize Police"
“The media is not a target.”
“There is a certain level of emotion that must be expressed in order for us to get to a higher plane… I don’t care how respectful (the protests are) … or if the media wants to keep showing pictures… this is a free country. …Ultimately in the horrific facts that started this particular activity, we must make sure that justice prevails. Without fear or favor, we must make sure that we find the truth.”
– Missouri governor JAY NIXON, addressing a community meeting in Ferguson, MO.
St. Louis Alderman Antonio French emerged Thursday morning from a night in jail after his arrest at the Ferguson protests to say that the police officers’ “heavy-handed” approach on the streets is making the situation worse.
French said police dragged him from his car Wednesday night but gave him no documentation that says why he was arrested. He was released about 7 a.m. today without having to post any bail.
No police spokesman was available to explain why French was arrested.
French said he should never have been locked up, nor should the dozen or so others at the jail overnight.
"Inside that jail is nothing but peacekeepers," he said. "They rounded up the wrong people … reverends, young people organizing the peace effort."
Police arrested about a dozen people Wednesday night, including French and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly.
Police used tear gas and sonic cannons to disperse the crowds. Today, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is scheduled to visit Ferguson in the wake of the growing protests.
As he walked out of the Ferguson Jail this morning, French wore his signature oxford button-down shirt — slightly wrinkled from sleeping in it on a jail cot, and with a burnt orange color on the shoulder from where a fellow inmate had wiped his eyes from the burning tear gas.
French talked with reporters about his experience. He said he was near the burned-out QuikTrip at about 9 p.m. Wednesday when police in riot gear ordered protesters to disperse. Several hundred people were there.
"Police had just given a final warning to disperse and released smoke bombs, people scattered and ran," French said. "Police started to move forward with riot gear and tear gas started to come."
"I moved away when it looked like they were throwing what I thought was tear gas … it turned out to be smoke bombs," French added. "I realized the best place (to be was in my) car with the windows rolled up. That’s where I was."
He said he was recording what was happening.
When a reporter asked French today how he went from being in his car to being arrested, he said: “They open your door and drag you out.”
"They just rounded up anybody they could see," he said.”
– The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "St. Louis Alderman Says Police Dragged Him From Car at Ferguson Protest"