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Rob Zerban End Mass Criminalization Obama: Attorney General Holder to go to Ferguson Wednesday
Tuesday, 19 August 2014 09:52

Obama: Attorney General Holder to go to Ferguson Wednesday

Written by  Katie Zezima | The Washington Post
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)
President Obama said Monday that Attorney General Eric Holder will travel to Ferguson, Mo., Wednesday, to meet with federal officials investigating the death of an unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by a police officer Aug. 9. Holder will meet with members of the Department of Justice and FBI who are conducting a federal investigation into the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Brown's death has sparked days of protests that, after nightfall, have turned into violent clashes between demonstrators and police in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis.

"Let's seek to heal rather than wound each other," Obama said, in his second set of remarks on the situation in the past five days.

Obama said Holder will also meet "with other leaders in the community who’s support is so critical to bringing about peace and calm in Ferguson."

In carefully calibrated remarks that echoed comments and a written statement on the situation the president delivered last week, Obama called for people to seek out their "shared humanity" and to remain calm.

"While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving into that anger by looting or carrying guns, and even attacking the police, only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos. It undermines rather than advancing justice," Obama said.

Obama said constitutional rights, including freedom of assembly and the press, must be "vigilantly safeguarded" and that there is "no excuse for excessive force by police or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully."

And the president said he is personally committed to helping ensure that young people of color are not left behind.

"I’ve said this before: In too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement. In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind, and seen only as objects of fear," Obama said.

Obama also said it is likely "useful to review" federal anti-terrorism grants that have led to local police departments around the country receiving military equipment like the material that has been deployed in Ferguson.

"There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions," Obama said. "And I think that there will be some bipartisan interest in re-examining some of those programs."

Obama flew back to Washington late Sunday night from Martha's Vineyard, where he is midway through a two-week vacation. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon deployed the national guard to Ferguson very early Monday after chaos erupted there Sunday night. A barrage of tear gas, smoke canisters and rubber bullets were deployed on protesters and police said protesters threw Molotov cocktails at and fired on police. The administration learned later Monday morning that the National Guard had been called, according to an official.

Holder Sunday ordered a federal autopsy of Brown's body. A spokesman for the Justice Department said Holder ordered the additional autopsy at the request of Brown's parents and because of "the extraordinary circumstances involved in this case."

A private autopsy conducted at the behest of Brown's family showed the 18-year-old was shot at least six times, including two shots to his head. Lawyers for Brown's family said one of the results showed that Brown was surrendering as he was shot in the head.

The White House has said that Obama has received regular briefings on Ferguson while on Martha's Vineyard, including from Holder and special adviser Valerie Jarrett. It said the White House has coordinated with state and local officials and that Jarrett has been in touch with civil rights leaders, including Al Sharpton and NAACP President Cornell Brooks.

Obama has made two statements about Ferguson, one released on paper by the White House Tuesday and the other delivered in person by the president Thursday. Until Monday's remarks, he had not taken any questions from the press about the unrest.

Early last week, Obama issued a statement calling Brown's death "heartbreaking."

"I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding," the statement said.

Last Wednesday night, the situation in Ferguson turned more violent. Obama was briefed late in the evening, after attending a friend's birthday party; as reports of the unrest were trickling in, the White House said Obama dined on surf and turf and pasta and danced "to nearly every song."

A senior White House official familiar with Wednesday's briefing said Obama was "very concerned about the violence" and thought his voice might "help quell the violent reaction."

The official said Obama spoke with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon Thursday around noon. Nixon told Obama then that he had wanted to give local law enforcement the opportunity to manage the situation, but it had become clear Wednesday night they no longer had the capacity to do so. About an hour later, Nixon's chief of staff called the White House and informed them them of the decision to have the Missouri Highway Patrol take over security under the command of Capt. Ron Johnson, a black man who grew up not far from Ferguson.

Obama then spoke publicly about the situation for the first time, saying Thursday that there is "no excuse for police to use excessive force," and that the city should be "open and transparent" about its investigation and plan for protecting the community.

Link to the original article from The Washington Post.

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