Attorney General Eric Holder is urging law enforcement officers and protesters to keep the peace as a grand jury decision nears about whether to indict white police officer Darren Wilson for shooting dead a black 18-year-old who was unarmed in Ferguson, Mo.
For months, federal officials in Washington, D.C., have been on the ground in Missouri, offering training and tips to ease community tensions and try to prevent violence. That work has picked up steam in recent days as elected officials and protest groups in Ferguson steel for an announcement about the grand jury that’s been hearing evidence since August.
In a video released today, Holder says, “The Justice Department encourages law enforcement officials in every jurisdiction to work with the communities that they serve to minimize needless confrontation.”
Images of armored vehicles, police clad in riot gear, and weapons pointed at unarmed demonstrators protesting the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown startled the nation and provoked an ongoing conversation about “militarization” of local law enforcement. The American Civil Liberties Union responded by repeatedly suing local authorities in Missouri for allegedly violating the First Amendment rights of peaceful protesters.
Holder says in the video that “durable relationships between police and their communities do not develop overnight.” And he praises the vast majority of law enforcement agents for behaving well amid the intense national glare.
But the attorney general says he has a message for protesters, too.
“History has … shown us that the most successful and enduring movements for change are those that adhere to nonaggression and nonviolence. And so I ask all those who seek to lend their voice to important causes and discussions, and who seek to elevate these vital conversations, to do so in a way that respects the gravity of their subject matter,” Holder says.
Holder, who’s preparing to leave the Justice Department after the Senate confirms his successor, says he will continue to work on issues of community policing and implicit bias even after he retires from government service.