In the wake of an unarmed black Missouri teen’s fatal shooting by a white police officer this month, civil rights groups, activists and others are calling for authorities to address what they say is profiling by law enforcement.
Michael Brown’s slaying in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, allegations of racially biased law enforcement as well as “the military-style response by the local police to demonstrators” during recent protests “are the result of longstanding and corrosive limitations on our nation’s law enforcement policies that allow unlawful profiling to persist across the country,” said the Leadership Conference and Civil and Human Rights. It was joined in a statement Thursday by a coalition of more than 100 groups, including the NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
They are pushing for Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act, which would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using profiling based on race, ethnicity, national origin or religion.
“It’s imperative that we take steps now at the national and local levels to cultivate an environment of greater trust between law enforcement and communities of color,” the group statement read. “The Department of Justice and local law enforcement agencies need the tools to respond to this urgent and ongoing threat to our constitutional rights and to effective law enforcement. We are asking Congress and the attorney general to prevent tragedies like those unfolding in Ferguson from happening again.”
Meanwhile, Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter, moderated a conference call Thursday night with Muslim-American activists nationwide about the Ferguson incident and its implications for communities across the country.
Finding ways to stop alleged profiling could “help dismantle this structure of institutional racism in law enforcement,” said Walid, who also plans to attend Brown’s funeral in Missouri on Monday morning and meet with community leaders there.
During the conference call, Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and advocacy director of National Network for Arab American Communities, said the situation in Ferguson could be a turning point. “Sometimes it takes a Ferguson to really kind of light the fire under creating a national movement around these issues,” she said.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday ordered the Missouri National Guard to begin withdrawing from Ferguson, where nightly scenes of unrest have erupted since a white police officer fatally shot Brown.
Since the guard’s arrival Monday, flare-ups in the small section of town that had been the center of nightly unrest have begun to subside. The quietest night was overnight Wednesday and Thursday, when police arrested only a handful of people in the protest zone.
Demonstrations began after the shooting, and authorities have arrested at least 163 people. Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, in charge of securing Ferguson, said six people were arrested at protests Wednesday night, compared to 47 the previous night, providing hope among law enforcement leaders that tensions may be beginning to ease.
Federal authorities have launched an independent investigation into Brown’s death, and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill told the Associated Press that all of the physical evidence from the case was being flown Thursday from St. Louis to the FBI forensics lab in Quantico, Virginia. The evidence includes shell casings and trajectories, blood patterns and clothing, the Missouri Democrat said.
“The only thing you have to test the credibility of eye witnesses to a shooting like this is in fact the physical evidence,” McCaskill said. “I’m hopeful the forensic evidence will be clear and will shed a lot more light on what the facts were.”
McCaskill also announced that next month she will lead a Senate hearing to look into the militarization of local police departments after criticism of the law enforcement response to the protests in Ferguson following Brown’s death.
A grand jury on Wednesday began considering evidence to determine whether the officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, should be charged. Magee said there was no time line for the process, but it could take weeks.