The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials during ongoing protests in Ferguson, Missouri caught the attention of the world this week, with UN officials and US Attorney General Eric Holder speaking out in defense of demonstrators there. The statements come as local prosecutors begin presenting evidence to a grand jury on whether criminal charges should be filed in the shooting death of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.
A spokesman for the United Nations told reporters on Monday that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was calling on the United States to protect the rights of demonstrators in Ferguson. “The Secretary-General calls on the authorities to ensure that the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are protected,” said spokesman Stephane Dujarric. “He calls on all to exercise restraint, for law enforcement officials to abide by US and international standards in dealing with demonstrators.”
The conflict between law enforcement and protesters also did not go unnoticed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. “I condemn the excessive force by the police and call for the right of protest to be respected,” she said in Geneva on Tuesday.
Holder, who is traveling to Ferguson today to be briefed on the DOJ civil rights investigation into the case, stressed in an op-ed for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the DOJ “will defend the right of protesters to peacefully demonstrate and for the media to cover a story that must be told.” Holder also reiterated the commitment of the DOJ to learning “exactly what happened.”
“This is my pledge to the people of Ferguson,” he wrote. “Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be fair, and it will be independent.” The DOJ has sent approximately 40 FBI agents to Ferguson and has assigned a number of prosecutors to lead the investigation, with the assistance of the United States Attorney in St. Louis.
In his address to the public on Monday, President Barack Obama also indicated that experts from the DOJ Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services would travel to Ferguson to work with law enforcement in an attempt to reduce tensions between the community and police. When asked if he’d considered making his own trip to Ferguson, the President acknowledged there were historically legitimate reasons at the root of the unrest, but shared his concern about “prejudging” the investigation. “The DOJ works for me. And when they’re conducting an investigation, I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other.”
Media Resources: Reuters 8/20/14, 8/18/14; St. Louis Post-Dispatch 8/20/14; Washington Post 8/18/14