Ferguson protests: Attorney General arrives in St Louis vowing to carry out 'thorough' investigation into shooting of Michael Brown
Pressure for charges to be brought against Officer Darren Wilson shows no sign of letting up
Straining to put a lid on more than 10 days of rioting in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson that has drawn the attention of the world, local and national officials have taken steps to demonstrate a shared determination to get to the bottom of what triggered the violence: the 9 August shooting of Michael Brown.
As Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, arrived here for briefings from local leaders and members of his own investigative team on progress made so far by a Department of Justice human rights probe into the killing of 18-year-old Mr Brown, a St Louis County grand jury was due to meet for the first time to hear evidence in the case.
But tensions remained high after further, sometimes chaotic, clashes erupted in downtown Ferguson on Tuesday night and into the early hours of Wednesday, marring what had been a fairly peaceful evening. Police made 47 arrests and seized three loaded firearms and other projectiles including bottles filled with urine. No shots were fired, however, and, in contrast to Monday’s night’s confrontations, no tear-gas was deployed by the police.
In a message to the residents posted on the website of the St Louis Post-Dispatch, Mr Holder said he was committed to grasping the exact circumstances of the shooting of Mr Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, which remain in dispute. “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,” he said.
The Attorney General noted that trust between the community and police is “all-important, but it is also fragile”. Restoring it “requires that force be used in appropriate ways,” he said, an apparent jab at police for what some have a seen as a militarised response.
Attorney General Eric Holder arriving at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (AP)
Arguably the worst racial unrest seen on American soil since the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the protests and the police response has opened the US to charges of hypocrisy on human rights, including from critics in Russia and Iran. “They call on others countries to guarantee free speech and not to suppress anti-government protests, while the US authorities do not stand on any ceremony at home with those who actively express their discontent with persisting inequalities,” said Moscow’s human rights chief, Konstantin Dolgov.
Video: Clashes continue in Ferguson
Fresh controversy was already threatening the grand jury process in St Louis with African American leaders calling for the dismissal from the case of chief county prosecutor Robert McCrumb, accusing him of pro-police bias. Mr McCrumb’s father was killed in the line of duty by an African-American suspect.
Mr McCrumb meanwhile warned that the grand jury might not conclude its work until mid-October, a long timeline. “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.” The panel will determine if there is sufficient probable cause to file charges against Officer Wilson, as members of the Brown family and their supporters have demanded.
Michael Brown was shot and killed in a confrontation with police, sparking the riots in Ferguson
The next possible flashpoint may be the funeral of the young man set for Monday. “I think all of us see a tinderbox of emotion and energy out there,” Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said in an interview with the St Louis Post-Dispatch. Among those expected to speak at the funeral is the civil rights veteran, Reverend Al Sharpton.
Sharply different versions of what happened between the officer and the teen before he was shot have emerged. Two autopsies have now shown Mr Brown was struck by six bullets and there is no debate that it was Officer Wilson who fired them and that the victim was unarmed.
But critical now is whether Mr Brown was in a posture of surrender when he was struck as some witnesses have asserted, or one of aggression towards the officer.
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