Ferguson: 47 Arrests, No Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets; Holder Steps In
Above: Protestors stage a peaceful rally in front of the Ferguson Police Department on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. Photo by Robert Cohen, email@example.com.
Update from story below about the killing of 25-year-old Kajieme Powell by police. A video emerged after this report that showed a different story from the one police told.
Officer Who Pointed Gun at Protesters Suspended Indefinitely: On Tuesday, August 19th shortly before midnight a police officer from St. Ann pointed a gun at protesters and said “I will fucking kill you.” Today that still unidentified officer was “suspended indefinitely.” Two separate videos, below, show the officer pointing his weapon, protesters with their hands up warning others that he had his weapon pointed at them and urging him to lower his weapon, also another officer is trying to push the weapon down. When one protester asks the officer to identify himself his response is “Go fuck yourself.” The ACLU of Missouri complained about the officer’s behavior and claimed success that he was suspended.
Church Raided: Police raided St. Marks church on Wednesday and seized water and other equipment being used by protesters. The church was acting as aid station for protesters. This was thought to be a safe space. After the raid, organizers carried more water and supplies into the church building. The police told the pastor that if people were there tonight they’d be subject to arrest.
Protest Outside Prosecutors Office: Outside the St. Louis County Justice Center in Clayton, where the grand jury was expected to convene, two dozen protesters gathered in a circle for a prayer, chanted, and held signs urging prosecutor Bob McCulloch to step aside. Nearly two dozen officers guarded the building’s main entrance, which also was blocked off with yellow police tape.
Holder Arrives in Ferguson: Attorney General Eric Holder arrived in Ferguson. According to the pool report, Eric Holder met with a handful of students at Florissant Valley Community College, among them was Molyrik Welch, 27 years old, who said her brother died following an encounter with the Ferguson police in 2011. Her brother was 31 years old and had a heart attack after officers allegedly used a stun gun during a disturbance call.
National Guard Troop Uses “N” Word: CNN anchor Don Lemon said one of his producers overheard a member of the National Guard deployed in Ferguson as desrcribing African Americans as ‘niggers.” The anchor was hosting a town hall called “Black and White in America,” when one questioner asked what “safeguards” police departments could put in place to prevent shootings like the one that killed Michael Brown in the future. When one of Lemon’s panelists brought up the idea of putting cameras on officers to make them more accountable, Lemon said: “I’m just going to be honest with you,” said Lemon, who is black. “Last night, one of my producers said that they — I won’t say if it’s a he or she because I don’t want to give anyone away — said they came in contact with one of the members of the National Guard and that they said, ‘You want to get out of here because you’re white because these n-words, you never know what they’re going to do.’ True story. I kid you not. 2014, a member of the National Guard. And my producer doesn’t lie. It is a true story.”
Holder Writes Open Letter to people of Ferguson, Visiting St. Louis, Might Launch Broader Investigation into Ferguson Police
Protests on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning were less violent than the previous nights in Ferguson. The police did not use tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades or smoke bombs and the crowd only had minor incidents of people throwing bottles at the police. There were still confrontations between police and the people but at a much lower decibel than previous nights. At times ‘peacekeepers’ stood in line between police and protesters to minimize conflict. Reporters were corralled in a specific area and some were threatened with arrest. In total there were 47 arrests reported (these numbers may not be accurate, the police reported 31 arrests then night before when there were over 70).
Earlier in the day St. Louis police shot and killed Kajieme Powell, 25 years old, when he brandished a knife at a convenience store two miles from Ferguson. Powell was not from St. Louis but was staying there with his grandmother. Police were called to the scene when Powell allegedly attempted to leave the store without paying for two energy drinks. When the police arrived an argument ensued, Powell allegedly pulled out a knife and advanced toward the police who had their weapons drawn. They told him to stop and when he got two to three feet from the police they shot and killed him. Protesters, number approximately 200, chanted ‘hands up, don’t shoot’, but the police went into the crowd and explained what happened and things calmed down.
On Monday, Michael Brown’s family is planning a public memorial service for their son. “We need to keep the focus on Michael Brown Jr.,” Brown’s father said to the Los Angeles Times. The family expects Michael Brown’s body to be released in the next 48 hours.
Attorney General Eric Holder steps into the Ferguson conflict
There is already an ongoing federal investigation involving 40 FBI agents. Holder will be visiting Ferguson to check on the progress of the investigation. Yesterday, he wrote an open letter to the people of Ferguson that was published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Here’s an excerpt:
Today, I will be in Ferguson to be briefed on the federal civil rights investigation that I have closely monitored since I launched it more than one week ago. I will meet personally with community leaders, FBI investigators and federal prosecutors from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to receive detailed briefings on the status of this case.
The full resources of the Department of Justice have been committed to the investigation into Michael Brown’s death. This inquiry will take time to complete, but we have already taken significant steps. Approximately 40 FBI agents and some of the Civil Rights Division’s most experienced prosecutors have been deployed to lead this process, with the assistance of the United States Attorney in St. Louis. Hundreds of people have already been interviewed in connection with this matter. On Monday, at my direction, a team of federal medical examiners conducted an independent autopsy.
We understand the need for an independent investigation, and we hope that the independence and thoroughness of our investigation will bring some measure of calm to the tensions in Ferguson. In order to begin the healing process, however, we must first see an end to the acts of violence in the streets of Ferguson. Although these acts have been committed by a very small minority — and, in many cases, by individuals from outside Ferguson — they seriously undermine, rather than advance, the cause of justice. And they interrupt the deeper conversation that the legitimate demonstrators are trying to advance.
The Justice Department will defend the right of protesters to peacefully demonstrate and for the media to cover a story that must be told. But violence cannot be condoned. I urge the citizens of Ferguson who have been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights to join with law enforcement in condemning the actions of looters, vandals and others seeking to inflame tensions and sow discord.
He made the following pledge to the people of Ferguson:
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.
This portion of the statement seemed to hint at something more than an investigation of the shooting death of Michael Brown. The New York Times reported that there may be a broader investigation into the Ferguson Police Department.
Mr. Holder and top Justice Department officials were weighing whether to open a broader civil rights investigation to look at Ferguson’s police practices at large, according to law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal talks. The issue came up after news reports revealed a 2009 case in which a man said that four police officers beat him, then charged him with damaging government property — by getting blood on their uniforms.
Under Mr. Holder, the Justice Department has opened nearly two dozen such investigations into police departments, more than twice as many as were opened in the previous five years, according to department data.
Grand Jury to consider the death of Michael Brown
The Times also reported slight differences in witness stories. Some witness are saying that after Brown turned and lifted his arms in the ‘don’t shoot me’ position, he moved toward the officer and that is when he was shot, others say the shots occurred with Brown moving toward the officer and some describe the movement as more of a stumble perhaps because he had been shot.
The next major moment in the Brown case is the grand jury which could begin hearing testimony Wednesday. Yesterday, Governor Nixon refused to remove County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch from the case. Nixon said that there is a process for a prosecutor to recuse himself from a case and appoint of a special prosecutor but that is up to the democratically elected prosecutor to determine. According to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, the governor had the power to remove the prosecutor if he declares a state of emergency. McCulloch has appointed two experienced prosecutors to handle the grand jury investigation.
McCulloch is from a family with deep roots in police culture, including his father, a police officer who was killed in the line of duty by an African-American suspect.
In both his prosecutorial decisions and public comments, critics say, he has shown a clear bias toward police in cases where officers’ actions are in question.
His family ties to the St. Louis Police are deep:
Missouri state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, who has led an online petition drive that has gathered 26,000 signatures demanding McCulloch’s removal.
“He doesn’t have the fortitude to do the right thing when it comes to prosecuting police officers,” Nasheed told CNN in an interview that aired Tuesday. “His cousin is a police officer. His mother works for the police department. His uncle is a police officer, and, again, we think that his judgment will be clogged as a result of all of those occurrences.”
Others in the African American community in St. Louis describe a history of insensitivity to the African American community and claim that the community has ” no confidence in him getting justice for the African-American community or for the Brown family,” said St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.
McCulloch was very critical of Governor Nixon’s removal of the Ferguson Police from lead responsibility in the post-Brown killing saying he over-stepped his legal authority and “To denigrate the men and women of the county police department is shameful.”
There have been protests at the prosecutors office during the daytime over the last few days. Last night “peacekeepers” “were encouraging protesters to leave the area for the night and urging everyone to gather for a new protest outside the office of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch Wednesday morning,” according to the Huffington Post.