US community hit by race riots told 'change is coming'
Published 21/08/2014 | 02:30
US Attorney General Eric Holder reassured college students that "change is coming" yesterday - while speaking in St Louis near the community where a white police officer shot to death an unarmed black 18-year-old and sparked days of furious protests.
Meanwhile, a small group of protesters gathered outside a building where a grand jury was expected to begin hearing evidence to determine whether the officer should be charged.
Holder was expected to head to Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was shot on August 9, and meet with law enforcement officers and federal investigators.
Kiyanda Welch said Holder talked to her and other students about the unrest and their own interaction with police. The attorney general told the group, "change is coming", Welch said.
Outside the St Louis County Justice Center, 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.
McCulloch's deep family connections to police have been cited by some black leaders who question his ability to be impartial in the case of Darren Wilson - the white officer who fatally shot Brown. McCulloch's father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin all worked for the St. Louis Police Department, and his father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has said he would not seek McCulloch's removal from the case.
The prosecutor, who is white, has insisted his background will have no bearing on the handling of the Brown case, which has touched off days of nighttime protests during which authorities used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the streets.
Holder was expected to meet with FBI and other officials carrying out an independent federal investigation into Brown's death, as well as with community leaders. Holder arrived in St Louis with several Justice Department officials including members of its Civil Rights division.
In a letter published on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website, Holder promised a thorough investigation while calling for an end to the violence in Ferguson.
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", Holder wrote.
The Justice Department has mounted an unusually swift and aggressive response to Brown's death, from conducting an independent autopsy to sending dozens of FBI agents to Ferguson in search of witnesses to the shooting.
Meanwhile, Brown's funeral arrangements were set. The funeral will be Monday morniing. Brown's uncle, the Rev. Charles Ewing, will deliver the eulogy, and civil rights campaigner Rev. Al Sharpton will also speak.