August 20, 2014 at 11:52 pm

Holder discusses police mistrust in Ferguson

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder during his meeting at the FBI building on Wednesday in St. Louis, Missouri. (Pool / Getty Images)

St. Louis— Attorney General Eric Holder sought Wednesday to reassure the people of Ferguson about the investigation into Michael Brown’s death and said he understands why many black Americans do not trust police, recalling how he was repeatedly stopped by officers who seemed to target him because of his race.

Holder made the remarks during a visit to the St. Louis suburb that has been wracked by more than a week of unrest since the black 18-year-old was shot and killed by a white officer.

The attorney general remembered how he was stopped twice on the New Jersey Turnpike and accused of speeding. Police searched his car, going through the trunk and looking under the seats.

“I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me,” Holder said during a private meeting with about 50 community leaders at the Florissant campus of St. Louis Community College.

Holder also met with federal officials investigating Michael Brown’s Aug. 9 death and privately with Brown’s parents.

The attorney general also met briefly with Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who has been in charge of security in the community for nearly a week since relieving Ferguson police. The National Guard has also been called in to help keep the peace.

Asked whether he had confidence in the local investigation of the police officer, Johnson said Holder’s presence “is a guarantee on that.”

In nearby Clayton, a grand jury began hearing evidence to determine whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should be charged in Brown’s death.

A spokesman for St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch said there was no timeline for the process, but it could take weeks.

On Wednesday, police said an officer had been suspended for pointing a semi-automatic assault rifle at demonstrators, then cursing and threatening to kill one of them. A protester captured the exchange on video Tuesday and posted it to YouTube and other websites.

In a letter published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Holder promised a thorough investigation while calling for an end to the violence in Ferguson. He said the bond of trust between law enforcement and the public is “all-important” but also “fragile.”

Arrest patterns “must not lead to disparate treatment under the law, even if such treatment is unintended. And police forces should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve,” Holder wrote.

The Justice Department has mounted an unusually swift and aggressive response to Brown’s death, conducting an independent autopsy and sending dozens of FBI agents to Ferguson in search of witnesses to the shooting.

Meanwhile, Brown’s funeral arrangements were set. The Austin A. Layne Mortuary, which is handling arrangements, said the funeral will be at 10 a.m. Monday at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. Brown’s uncle, the Rev. Charles Ewing, will deliver the eulogy, and the Rev. Al Sharpton will also speak. Burial will be at St. Peter’s Cemetery in St. Louis County.