Since the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, the nation and the world have witnessed the unrest that has gripped Ferguson, Mo. At the core of these demonstrations is a demand for answers about the circumstances of this young man’s death and a broader concern about the state of our criminal justice system.
At a time when so much may seem uncertain, the people of Ferguson can have confidence that the Justice Department intends to learn — in a fair and thorough manner — exactly what happened.

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.

Law enforcement has a role to play in reducing tensions, as well. As the brother of a retired law enforcement officer, I know firsthand that our men and women in uniform perform their duties in the face of tremendous threats and significant personal risk. They put their lives on the line every day, and they often have to make split-second decisions.

At the same time, good law enforcement requires forging bonds of trust between the police and the public. This trust is all-important, but it is also fragile. It requires that force be used in appropriate ways. Enforcement priorities and 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.

Over the years, we have made significant progress in ensuring that this is the case. But progress is not an endpoint; it is a measure of effort and of commitment. Constructive dialogue should continue — but it must also be converted into concrete action. And it is painfully clear, in cities and circumstances across our great nation, that more progress, more dialogue, and more action is needed.

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. Long after the events of Aug. 9 have receded from the headlines, the Justice Department will continue to stand with this community.

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There were at least two versions of the encounter that led to a police officer fatally shooting an unarmed Ferguson teenager on Saturday: one from a young man named Dorian Johnson who told reporters he had been walking with the victim, Michael Brown, and the second from St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar.

The versions agree on some basic facts: The officer approached the teens, who were walking in the street, there was an altercation in or near the car, and the officer fired several shots at the unarmed Brown, who was then several yards away, killing him.

In Johnson’s version, the officer reached out of the car to grab Brown by the throat. In Belmar’s version, which cited his department’s investigation, Brown reached into the car to attack the officer, and struggled to grab his weapon.

There is a certain level of emotion that must be expressed in order for us to get to a higher plane… I don’t care how respectful (the protests are) … or if the media wants to keep showing pictures… this is a free country. …Ultimately in the horrific facts that started this particular activity, we must make sure that justice prevails. Without fear or favor, we must make sure that we find the truth.
- Missouri governor JAY DIXON, addressing a community meeting in Ferguson, MO. (via inothernews)

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