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Missouri Congressmen Meeting With Defense Secretary Hagel To Talk Police Militarization

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WASHINGTON -- Missouri congressmen will meet with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday to discuss possible changes to a Pentagon program that provides surplus military weapons to police departments.

Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D) and Lacy Clay (D), who represents Ferguson, will discuss with Hagel the so-called "1033 program," which since launching in 1997 has provided billions of dollars in military equipment at no charge to local law enforcement agencies around the country. The effects of the program have been on full display this month in Ferguson, Missouri, where police have responded to mostly peaceful protests over the Aug. 9 killing of Michael Brown with a stunning display of force involving armored vehicles, tear gas, assault rifles and smoke bombs.

Clay spokesman Steven Engelhardt said the daily images of militarized police in the St. Louis suburb have raised "obvious" concerns about how the Pentagon program is administered.

"Surplus military equipment being allocated to local law enforcement with good intentions, but not nearly enough training," Engelhardt said in an email. "Much evidence of just that in Ferguson."

A Defense Department official said Hagel has been getting briefed on the program over the past two days to get a better handle on how it works.

"I haven't heard the Secretary come down one way or another, either for or against, this congressionally mandated program. ... He is asking for more information to be better informed on this so he can figure out if there needs to be a review," said the official. "At this time, no formal review is underway."

The effects of the Pentagon initiative have been documented for years, but many lawmakers don’t know much about it. One House Democratic aide speculated that the lack of lobbying around the program has made it easier for members of Congress to simply defer to their local police on what should happen.

Some lawmakers have attempted to rein in the program, with little success. The House overwhelmingly voted in June to block legislation by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) that would have stopped the program. Last week, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) announced plans to file legislation to scale it back, though it's unclear whether his effort will go anywhere.

President Barack Obama weighed in on the debate on Monday, saying "it's probably useful" to revisit the program's funding to ensure that police departments are getting military gear they actually need.

"There’s a big difference between our military and local law enforcement, and we don't want those lines blurred," Obama said. "That would be contrary to our traditions."

See updates on the situation in Ferguson below:

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USA Today's Yamiche Alcindor provides an intimate look at how Michael Brown's parents have been dealing with the loss of their son:

Phones constantly ring with reporters asking for interviews or family members offering support. Last week, as demands reached a tipping point, both parents moved into hotels to shield themselves.

In the days leading up to the funeral, Brown's mother continued to cry and spoke in whispers as she tried to explain her feelings.

"They say tomorrow is going to be the hardest day, but I think today was — just seeing my baby laying there, cold," Lesley McSpadden, 34, told USA TODAY. "It did something to my heart. It's too much. It's too much."

Read the rest at USA Today.

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New audio has surfaced that allegedly captures the moment when Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot dead by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on Aug. 9.

CNN aired the unverified recording on Monday night. Six shots can be heard, followed by a pause, then several more. A private autopsy performed on Aug. 17 at the request of Brown's family found that the 18-year-old was shot 6 times, including twice in the head.

Read the rest here.

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USA Today reporter, Yamiche Alcindor shares photo of program which includes tributes to Michael Brown from his mother and father

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08/25/2014 11:57 AM EDT
Program For The Funeral
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08/25/2014 11:04 AM EDT
Noteworthy Funeral Attendees
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08/25/2014 10:58 AM EDT
Waiting For Brown's Family
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08/25/2014 10:57 AM EDT
Police Captain Ron Johnson Arrives
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08/25/2014 10:45 AM EDT
Mo. Sen. To Attend Funeral
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08/25/2014 10:37 AM EDT
Casket In Place

MSNBC reports:

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08/25/2014 10:35 AM EDT
Funeral Security
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08/25/2014 10:33 AM EDT
Brown's Father Asks For Peace
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MSNBC reports:

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08/25/2014 10:26 AM EDT
Hands Up
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08/25/2014 10:22 AM EDT
Sanctuary Filling Fast For Funeral

CNN reports:

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Missouri congressman Lacy Clay (D) said on Thursday that he had "serious concerns" about the prosecutor in charge of Michael Brown's case.

"I also have serious concerns about the local prosecutors, about their ability to fairly prosecute this case in the interests of justice. To deliver justice to this community, or to Michael Brown's family. And I say that because we have a track record," Clay told CNN.

Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch has come under heavy scrutiny in the days following Brown's death. Critics say that McCulloch's ties to law enforcement will cloud his judgement and have called on Governor Jay Nixon (D) to appoint a special prosecutor instead. A petition against him has received over 70,000 signatures.

McCulloch's father was a police officer killed in the line of duty.

For his part, McCulloch has promised that his investigation will be fair and thorough. In a statement, he said:

I have no intention of walking away from the responsibilities and duties entrusted to me by the people of this community. Additionally, there is no basis in the law to do so. I have faithfully and fairly carried out those responsibilities and duties for more than two decades and will continue to do so for at least the next four years.

Nixon has also repeatedly insisted that he won't take McCulloch off the case.

Alana Horowitz

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From HuffPost's Dave Jamieson:

Like the rest of the St. Louis community, including their own teachers, Gateway students had emotional discussions about being black in America, about mistrust of the police, about peaceful demonstration and violent protest. They were asked to write down what they were feeling about Ferguson, with the assurance that no sentiments were out of bounds.

Click here to read excerpts from the responses penned by a group of 7th and 8th graders at the school.

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Washington Post reports that Darren Wilson was injured following a scuffle with Michael Brown before he shot and killed him.

A family friend told WaPo that Wilson's eye bone was fractured. Fox News reported similar information earlier this week, citing a police source.

Another source told CNN that these reports are false.

Last week, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told reporters that Wilson was taken to the hospital following the incident, but did not say for what.

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HuffPost's Arthur Delaney reports:

When Attorney General Eric Holder went to Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday, he assured local residents the U.S. Justice Department will swiftly investigate the police killing of an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9.

In meetings with locals, Holder emphasized how his own past experiences will inform his work overseeing the Justice Department's investigation of Michael Brown's killing. He told students at a community college there that police searched his car when he'd been stopped for speeding on the New Jersey Turnpike.

"I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me," Holder said. "The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the attorney general of the United States."

But Holder's critics point out that this is the same man who was woefully soft on bad cops when he served as Washington, D.C.'s top prosecutor in the mid-1990s.

"Relying on Holder to take action is like sending a guy with a cup of water to put out a wildfire," said Gregory Lattimer, an attorney who has represented family members of people killed by D.C. police, including DeOnte Rawlings, a 14-year-old boy shot in the back of the head by an off-duty officer in 1997.

"[Holder] was part of the problem in D.C., not the solution," Lattimer said. "He says all the right things and then he goes out and defends the status quo."

Read more here.

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