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Attorney General meets Brown family in US riot town

US Attorney General Eric Holder met on Wednesday (Aug 20) with the parents of Michael Brown, the African American teen killed by a police officer whose death triggered nearly two weeks of riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

FERGUSON: The top US law enforcement official met on Wednesday (Aug 20) with the parents of Michael Brown, the African American teen killed by a police officer whose death triggered nearly two weeks of riots in a US town. Attorney General Eric Holder promised the family in a private 20-minute meeting that there would be a "fair and independent" inquiry into the August 9 death of their 18-year-old son in Ferguson, Missouri.

Before the meeting, Brown's mother viewed her son's body at a local morgue for the first time since he died after being shot six times.

A grand jury was to begin hearing witnesses to Brown's killing, with widespread calls for the police officer to be put on trial for the fatal shooting. Brown's remains are undergoing three separate autopsies - by local authorities, the family and Holder's Justice Department.

Holder, who also met with the Missouri governor, the state's two senators and two area lawmakers, told Ferguson residents that he had assigned the Justice Department's "most experienced agents and prosecutors" to investigate Brown's death, amid local suspicion that police will protect one of their own.

"Our investigation is different," Holder said. "We're looking for possible violations of federal civil rights statutes." Police say that Brown was rushing at the officer, but other witnesses say the teen - who was about to start vocational college - had his hands up, ready to surrender. Holder said that he hoped his visit "will have a calming influence on the area".

POLICE OFFICER SUSPENDED

When Holder met with students at the local community college where Brown planned to study, he told them that "the eyes of the nation and the world are watching Ferguson right now ... because the issues raised by the shooting of Michael Brown predate this incident. This is something that has a history to it and the history simmers beneath the surface in more communities than just Ferguson."

One of the students who met Holder was Molyric Welch, 27, who said her 31-year-old brother died of cardiac arrest after Ferguson police had allegedly shot him with a stun gun in 2011. "A lot has happened here," Welch said, adding that Holder had promised her "things were going to change."

As Holder met with locals, police said that one of its officers was suspended after pointing a semi-automatic assault rifle late Tuesday at a peaceful protester following a "verbal exchange". Video posted on YouTube and aired on TV shows the officer using foul language as he appears to say: "I will (expletive) kill you. Get back." When the protester asks his name, the response is: "Go (expletive) yourself."

At this time "a St Louis County police sergeant walked over and immediately took action, forcing the officer to lower the weapon, and escorting him away from the area." The Ferguson security command "strongly feel these actions are inappropriate, and not indicative of the officers who have worked daily to keep the peace." The officer involved, who is from the nearby suburb of St Ann, "has been relieved of duty and suspended indefinitely," county officials said in a statement.

TENSIONS OVER POLICE SUPPORTERS

At sunset on Wednesday, pastors, priests, a rabbi and an imam led more than 100 people on a short march to the St Louis County justice centre in suburban Clayton, where county prosecutor Robert McCulloch has his office, demanding justice for Brown. It was a distinctly older crowd, with many more whites participating, chanting the usual slogans.


"We want due process," said Heather Arcovitch, the senior pastor at the First Congregational Church of St Louis, speaking to the crowd through a bullhorn. "This is not a Ferguson problem. This is an American problem and all Americans have to be part of the solution."

On West Florissant Avenue, scene of nightly demonstrations that often turn violent, about 50 people defied rain to march under the eye of riot-equipped police. Tensions flared briefly when a white middle-aged couple turned up with handmade signs expressing solidarity with police officer Darren Wilson, witnesses said. Police swiftly escorted the two away for their safety amid a chorus of catcalls.

Late Tuesday, however, protesters threw glass and plastic bottles of water and urine towards the end of an otherwise peaceful demonstration. Police made some arrests and seized three guns, said Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson.

But Johnson, who has been given charge of security in Ferguson, stressed that protesters did not fire guns at police and officers refrained from using tear gas, unlike Monday and Sunday nights. He credited community leaders, activists and clergy for keeping the rally peaceful and preventing it from being taken over by what he called violent "agitators."

Mingling with citizens at the outset of the march, Johnson - charged with restoring order in the mainly African-American town of 21,000 - denounced what he called "criminal elements" who, late Sunday and Monday, had ignored police orders to disperse.

On Wednesday, Johnson said that the community was "turning against the criminals", but that residents and local police still have to "grow" together. "The community does not feel there is a connection. And that has to change," he said.