Attorney General Eric Holder said he hopes his visit to Ferguson, Missouri “will have a calming influence on the area,” he said after arriving in St. Louis Wednesday morning.
Holder first met with students and community leaders at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley, the first of four stops he would make that day.
“A lot has happened here,” said Molyric Welch, 27, a Florissant Valley student.
Welch was among a handful of students who met with Holder to discuss their “mistrust” of the police, Holder aid. She told the attorney general that her brother, Jason Moore, died following an encounter with Ferguson police in 2011. She said the 31-year-old man died of cardiac arrest after officers allegedly used a stun gun during a disturbance call.
“He promised things were going to change,” she said of Holder.
John Phillips, 61, a bio-technology student at Florissant Valley and long-time Ferguson resident, took advantage of a brief opportunity to ask the attorney general if he planned to speak with Ferguson residents during his visit.
He lives about a mile and half away from where all the violence has been occurring and says he is considering leaving the area.
He viewed the attorney general’s visit as a “photo opportunity” and said nobody wants to address the real issues like Ferguson’s economic and racial disparities, he said.
After meeting with students, Holder and other Department of Justice officials attended a second meeting at the college.
The Community Relations Service (CRS), a conflict resolution agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, organized the meeting that included over 50 members of the Ferguson community.
CRS officials have conducted several such meetings on a regular basis since arriving on the ground in Ferguson on August 10 after the first night of protests.
The second meeting took place in an auditorium at the college; and like the first, was closed to the general public.
“The eyes of the nation and the world are watching Ferguson right now,” Holder told community leaders.
“This is something that has a history to it, and the history simmers beneath the surface in more communities than just Ferguson.
The attorney general spoke for 15 minutes and then took questions from the group. He explained the statute that gives the department jurisdiction to investigate the shooting death of Michael Brown. Brown was an unarmed black teenager shot and killed by a white Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9.
Holder stressed that while federal prosecutors will be aggressive in conducting their inquiry, the St. Louis County Police and the St. Louis County Prosecutor have a job to perform as well.
Holder next stopped at the soul food restaurant Drake’s Place Restaurant where he talked with diners, Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, and Cool Valley Mayor Viola Murphy.
Before an investigative briefing at local FBI headquarters, Holder said the Justice Department had assembled “very experienced” prosecutors and agents to pursue the federal civil rights inquiry.
“Our investigation is different,” Holder said in a meeting room surrounded by top local federal officials, including FBI Agent in Charge William Woods and U. S. Attorney Rich Callahan.
“We’re looking for possible violations of federal civil rights statutes,” the attorney general said.
He promised that the inquiry would be “thorough and fair” to determine “what happened on Aug.9.”
Then Holder met at the U.S. attorney’s office in downtown St. Louis with the parents of Michael Brown.
Before meeting with the attorney general Wednesday afternoon, Brown’s mother viewed her son’s body at a local morgue for the first time since the Aug. 9 shooting.
During the private 20-minute meeting, the family asked about the investigative process. Holder pledged that it would be a “fair and independent” inquiry.