WASHINGTON -- 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."
A 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by the Washington Post -- highlighted in a Wednesday USA Today op-ed -- found that police files and court records from a period coinciding with Holder's tenure as Washington's U.S. attorney revealed "a pattern of reckless and indiscriminate gunplay by officers sent into the streets with inadequate training and little oversight."
"Washington's officers fire their weapons at more than double the rate of police in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Miami," the Post reported. In the five-year period before the investigation was published, D.C. police had fired at 54 moving cars, shot nine unarmed men on foot, and in 11 cases ruled shootings justified "despite eyewitness accounts or forensic evidence that contradicted officers."
Holder told the Post he hadn't seen a pattern of excessive force. For all the malfeasance the Post found, Holder's tenure as top prosecutor from 1993 to 1997 saw charges against only two officers -- for lying about their roles in a fatal shooting.
“Under the leadership of Attorney General Holder the Department of Justice has investigated and reformed more police departments than any other time in the Department’s history," spokeswoman Dena Iverson said in an email. "His commitment to constitutional and community policing has led to agreements that are improving police departments of all sizes across the country.”
To the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Holder's record in recent years is what's more important.
"This case is part of a larger effort, one in which Mr. Holder is using his office to further the cause of civil rights for African-Americans and other minorities," the paper's editors wrote in a Wednesday editorial. "In the past couple of years, he has significantly increased DOJ’s involvement in local cases of questionable police shootings. Mr. Holder is also pressing voting rights lawsuits across the county that directly challenge Chief Justice John Roberts’ errant view that the era of racial discrimination in the United States is over."
This story has been updated to include a comment from the Justice Department.
BEFORE YOU GO
08/26/2014 7:49 AM EDT
The Toll On Michael Brown's Family
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."
08/26/2014 7:44 AM EDT
New Audio Allegedly Captures Moment Michael Brown Was Shot
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.
08/25/2014 12:58 PM EDT
Al Sharpton: America, It's Time To Deal With Policing
08/25/2014 12:53 PM EDT
Al Sharpton: All Of Us Are Required To Respond
Rev. Al Sharpton: All of us are required to respond to this #MikeBrownfuneral— HuffPost BlackVoices (@blackvoices) August 25, 2014
08/25/2014 12:48 PM EDT
Benjamin Crump: We Will Not Accept Three-Fifths Justice For Michael Brown
08/25/2014 12:28 PM EDT
Funeral Program Includes Tribute From Michael Brown's Parents
USA Today reporter, Yamiche Alcindor shares photo of program which includes tributes to Michael Brown from his mother and father
08/25/2014 12:22 PM EDT
Michael Brown's Stepmother: He Prophesied His Own Death
Stepmother of #MichaelBrown said the late teen "pretty much prophesied his own death and didn't realize it."— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) August 25, 2014