As protesters demonstrate their dissatisfaction over the St. Louis grand jury's decision to not indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, Attorney General Eric Holder is faced with the challenge of easing mounting racial tensions and frustrations.
On Tuesday Holder reminded the public of the ongoing federal investigations by the Justice Department of the Brown shooting and the Ferguson police department.
"As I’ve said many times before and reiterated in my statement last night, the department's investigations will continue to be thorough, they will continue to be independent and they remain ongoing. They will be conducted rigorously and in a timely manner so we can move forward as expeditiously as we can to restore trust, to rebuild understanding and to foster cooperation between law enforcement and community members," he said.
The attorney general, who has himself been a victim of racial profiling by law enforcement and witnessed racial clashes in decades past, also expressed dismay that some people have chosen to riot and loot in response to the grand jury's decision rather than honor the wishes of Michael Brown Sr., who has publicly asked that his son's memory not be dishonored in such a way. The violence, he added, "will not be condoned."
"By contrast, I’m very encouraged that some of the more peaceful demonstrations last night as well as today have occurred and have been in keeping with Mr. Brown's request," Holder said. "I would remind demonstrators of our history that those, the way in which we have made progress in this country is when we have seen peaceful, nonviolent demonstrations that has led to the change that has been the most long lasting and the most pervasive."
He also pledged to work with cities across the nation to improve relationships between communities and law enforcement that are experiencing the same kinds of divides that are currently being spotlighted in Ferguson.
"We launched in September our Building Communities of Trust initiative to provide training to law enforcement and communities on bias reduction and procedural fairness and we plan to apply evidence-based strategies in the five pilot sites around the country," Holder said. "This is all designed to bridge those divides, bridge those gaps between law enforcement and the communities that they serve. These gaps, these divides exist in other parts of the country beyond Ferguson and our focus will be nationally in its scope to try to deal ultimately with these issues."
The ultimate goal, he added, is to "ensure that concrete steps are taken to address these underlying barriers to trust." In addition, Holder said that in a discussion with President Obama on the situation in Ferguson, they talked about how it has provided the nation an "opportunity to find those things that bind us as a nation, to be honest with one another about those things that continue to divide us and come up with ways in which we make this union even more perfect."
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(Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)