© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

During Visit Here, Holder Recalls Own Confrontations With Police

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, left, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Attorney General Eric Holder met on Wednesday to talk about the killing of Michael Brown.
Provided by the office of Rep. Clay

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder returned to Washington late Wednesday after meeting with the family of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old whose shooting by a Ferguson police officer has touched off almost two weeks of protests, looting and unrest.

Holder also held sessions with local officials, college students, community leaders and Justice Department personnel. He told reporters his aim was to help provide “a calming influence on the area."

In remarks released by the Justice Department, Holder told civic leaders at the community college that he understood the frustration and tensions of the protesters and of African Americans.

“I understand that mistrust. I am the Attorney General of the United States. But I am also a black man,” Holder said. “I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding. Pulled over…. ‘Let me search your car’… Go through the trunk of my car, look under the seats and all this kind of stuff. I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.”

He then recounted being stopped by police in the upscale Washington neighborhood of Georgetown as he and a cousin were driving to a movie theater. “... Now my cousin started mouthing off. I’m like, ‘This is not where we want to go. Keep quiet,’ " Holder recalled. “I’m angry and upset. We negotiate the whole thing and we walk to our movie.

"At the time that he stopped me, I was a federal prosecutor. I wasn’t a kid. I was a federal prosecutor. I worked at the United States Department of Justice. So I’ve confronted this myself.”

Recalling his earlier talk with the students, Holder concluded, “The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the attorney general of the United States. This country is capable of change. But change doesn’t happen by itself.”

A spokesman with U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, who returned to Washington with Holder, said that the attorney general spent 90 minutes in a confidential session with Clay, Gov. Jay Nixon and three other members of Congress: Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill, along with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City. Blunt was the only Republican.

In the meeting, all discussed aspects of the investigation. Said Clay in a statement afterward: “As I have said before, I continue to have serious concerns about the local criminal investigation. But I have complete confidence in the federal team that is working this case.”

Clay added that he also had promised Brown’s mother “that we would focus every possible federal resource to bring justice to her family, and I intend to keep that promise.”

Holder had arrived around 11 a.m., with one of his first stops at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley, where he met with a small group of students.

According to the media pool report, filed by the small group of reporters assigned to accompany Holder, the students included some who have had experience with police violence.

Molyric Welch, 27, said her brother died of cardiac arrest, allegedly after Ferguson police  used a stun gun during a 2011 disturbance call.

She told reporters that Holder “promised things were going to change."

Bri Ehsan, 25 and a criminal justice student, said of the Brown shooting and aftermath: "This kind of thing should not be happening here."

Holder then stopped at Dake's Place Restaurant, where he talked with diners, including Cool Valley Mayor Viola Murphy. She told the attorney general, “we don't want the world to know us for what is going on here."

Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who has been in charge of law-enforcement operations in Ferguson, also talked with Holder at restaurant, and told him that things were "getting better."

Holder, in turn, suggested that Johnson “get some rest,’’ reporters said.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.