While the FBI has opened an investigation in the police shooting of Michael Brown, lawyers for the family of the unarmed 18-year-old man are renewing their calls for a fair investigation, saying they are uncertain that can be provided by police in St. Louis County.
“The police need to be very transparent and forthright in this investigation,” said Benjamin Crump, who is one of the lawyers for the family, speaking with BET.com. “The important thing is that this is open and transparent enough that people don’t think things are being swept under the rug.”
Crump played a similar role as the lawyer representing the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Black man who was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Georgia.
Anthony D. Gray, the other lawyer working with Crump in the Michael Brown case, said he had misgivings about the objectivity of law enforcement officials in St. Louis County. He said they had conducted interviews with police officials who were on the scene when Brown was shot but had failed to interview any of the witnesses.
“I believe St. Louis County lost their objectivity,” Gray said, speaking with BET.com.
“There is video footage that the police confiscated,” said Gray, who is based in St. Louis. “The police asked one young lady who was a witness for her phone. The police have what we think is raw footage. We’re not here to indict all police officers. We have strong suspicions on this one."
On Saturday, the teenage Brown was shot multiple times after an altercation with a police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. There are varying accounts of the interaction, with police saying he had been excessively belligerent and witnesses saying Brown had his hands up to indicate compliance.
Meanwhile, it has become clear that the shooting is generating scrutiny from beyond authorities in the St. Louis area, including Attorney General Eric Holder.
“The shooting incident in Ferguson, Missouri, this weekend deserves a fulsome review,” Holder said, in a statement. “In addition to the local investigation already underway, FBI agents from the St. Louis field office, working together with attorneys from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office, have opened a concurrent, federal inquiry.”
He added: “I will continue to receive regular updates on this matter in the coming days. Aggressively pursuing investigations such as this is critical for preserving trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
Following the shooting, there was a peaceful demonstration led by clergy, community leaders and elected officials. However, that was followed by looting and rioting in the St. Louis suburb, leading to a number of injuries.
“We’re concerned that the rioting will shift the focus from the death of Michael Brown,” Crump said. “We can’t have people getting hurt when we’re standing up against police violence. At the end of the day, we have to put the message out that we want people to be responsible, especially the police. We can’t illustrate how to be responsible by engaging in irresponsible behavior.
In a statement, President Obama expressed sympathy for the family of Brown.
"The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family and his community at this very difficult time," read the president's statement. "As Attorney General Holder has indicated, the Department of Justice is investigating the situation along with local officials, and they will continue to direct resources to the case as needed.”
The president added: "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. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that's what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve."
Crump added that it is “heartbreaking” to be involved in another case involving the death of an unarmed young Black man.
“I keep thinking, how many more we have to go, how loud do we have to scream before it stops happening?”
Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan
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(Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)