Attorney General Eric Holder, who will head to Ferguson, Missouri on Wednesday, has penned an open letter to residents of that community, asking for an end to the violence that has erupted in the wake of the shooting death of eighteen year old Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer, and pledging an independent investigation into the shooting.
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.
Holder has emerged as the face of the administration's approach to the protests and shooting in Ferguson, with civil rights groups lauding his hands on approach. On Monday, shortly before Obama addressed Ferguson, Holder held a conference call with leaders of the nation's civil rights groups and others, and stressed that the Justice Department's investigation is broad in scope -- and will take some time. About 40 FBI agents and some of the most experienced federal prosecutors are on the ground in Ferguson.
To Ferguson residents, who have marched in their suburban community for the past week demanding transparency from the police department, Holder said that he understands 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."
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.
On Wednesday, Holder will meet with community leaders and be briefed on the federal investigation, by FBI officials and prosecutors from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.