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US attorney-general tells of humiliation by police

A demonstrator protests the shooting death of Michael Brown. Picture: Getty

A demonstrator protests the shooting death of Michael Brown. Picture: Getty

  • by ALAN SCHER ZAGIER IN ST LOUIS, MISSOURI
 

united States attorney-general Eric Holder has tried to appease the black community over the fatal shooting of a teenager by a white officer, describing how he himself has been unfairly stopped and searched by police.

On a visit to St Louis, Mr Holder, the first African-American politician to hold his post, said civil rights and the case of Michael Brown was a priority to the Obama administration.

He said he understood why many black Americans did not trust police.

He described being stopped twice on the New Jersey Turnpike and accused of speeding.

Police searched his car, looking through the boot and under the seats. “I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me,” Mr Holder said during a meeting with about 50 community leaders.

He also told how he was once running to catch a film in Washington with his cousin when a squad car rolled up and flashed its lights at the pair. The officer yelled, “Where are you going? Hold it!” he recalled. His cousin “started mouthing off”, and Mr Holder urged him to be quiet.

“We negotiate … and we walk to our movie. At the time that he stopped me, I was a federal prosecutor. I wasn’t a kid,” he said.

On his St Louis visit, Mr Holder met federal officials investigating Mr Brown’s death in Ferguson on 9 August and the victim’s parents.

Before being briefed at the local FBI headquarters, he said he hoped the visit would “have a calming influence” on the area.

He also met Missouri Highway Patrol captain Ron Johnson, who has been in charge of security in Ferguson for nearly a week and has acted as a buffer between the white-dominated city police and the community.

A grand jury has begun hearing evidence to determine whether the officer who shot the teenager, Darren Wilson, 28, should be charged. Outside the St Louis County Justice Centre, where the grand jury convened, two dozen protesters gathered in a circle for a prayer. They held signs urging county prosecutor Bob McCulloch to step aside.

Mr McCulloch’s deep family connections to police have led some black leaders to question his ability to be impartial in the case. His father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin all worked for the St Louis Police Department, and his father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect.

The prosecutor, who is white, has insisted his background will have no bearing on the handling of the Brown case, which has sparked days of protests that have sometimes turned violent at night, when authorities used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the streets.

On Wednesday, police said an officer had been suspended for pointing a semi-automatic assault rifle at demonstrators, then threatening to kill one of them.

Some protesters returned to the streets on Wednesday night but in diminished numbers. They marched as a thunderstorm filled the sky with lighting and dumped rain. Police still stood guard, but many wore regular uniforms rather than riot gear.

Mr Brown’s funeral is set for Monday in St Louis. The Rev Al Sharpton, the renowned rights activist, is due to speak at it.

 

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