Will aggressive federal intervention make matters worse?
Attorney General Eric Holder is meeting with law enforcement and civil rights leaders in Ferguson, Missouri today in an attempt to ease racial tensions in the St. Louis Metro area. It’s unclear, however whether Holder’s presence will calm the violence, or make things more difficult for local and state law enforcement:
Justice Department officials say the unusually aggressive federal intervention is justified by the continuing violence and apparent mishandling of the case by local officials, who have been criticized for displaying excessive force against protesters and moving too slowly to investigate the Aug. 9 shooting.
But law enforcement officials and other experts could not recall another instance in which Washington pushed ahead with a federal civil rights case as it has in Ferguson, almost elbowing state officials out of the way.
Fortunately for America, Holder also took time out of his busy schedule to get in on a selfie:
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 20, 2014
Holder has also encouraged local civil rights leaders and advocates to promote a more federal-centric approach to resolving the crisis in Ferguson.
In a sign that Holder’s campaign is gaining traction in the area, a group of African American lawyers held a news conference Tuesday in front of the St. Louis County courthouse, calling on local prosecutor Robert McCulloch to recuse himself. They said the federal investigation should proceed first because McCulloch appears to be “emotionally invested in protecting law enforcement.”
Yet with all of Holder’s determination, the reality is that state prosecutions almost always go first and that a federal civil rights case could be harder to build and win than a state case involving a charge of murder or manslaughter.
The Justice Department has spent a great deal of time briefing President Obama on the situation, and has dispatched agents to Ferguson to interview witnesses and arrange a third autopsy on Michael Brown. Although the President has maintained a lower profile on the issue than has General Holder, he still had a message for the people and law enforcement officers of Ferguson:
Via CBS News:
“We have all seen images of protesters and law enforcement in the streets. It’s clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting. What’s also clear is that a small minority of individuals are not,” he said.
“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.”
“Let me also be clear that our constitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble and to report in the press must be vigilantly safeguarded especially in moments like these. There is no excuse for excessive force by police, or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully,” he added.
Ahead of his visit to Ferguson, General Holder penned an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asking citizens in the St. Louis metro area to work with law enforcement to end the violence:
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.
The only problem with these statements (and they are, generally, good and productive statements that should be heeded) is that the Obama Administration has defined itself as the most racial post-racial administration in American history, and Eric Holder is no exception to that rule.
The riots in Ferguson are fueled by the very racial tensions that General Holder has spent his career fine-tuning, and it’s fair for conservatives and civil libertarians to wonder whether or not it would be best for General Holder and the DoJ’s Civil Rights Department to stay out of it.DONATE
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