Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday said his department has warned Missouri police officials against the deployment of military equipment as part of its effort to quell riots taking place there, and said the use of this equipment sends the wrong message.
“At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message,” Holder said Thursday. “At my direction, department officials have conveyed these concerns to local authorities.”
“Also at my direction, the department is offering – through our COPS office and Office of Justice Programs – technical assistance to local authorities in order to help conduct crowd control and maintain public safety without relying on unnecessarily extreme displays of force,” Holder added. “The local authorities in Missouri have accepted this offer of assistance as of this afternoon.”
Holder’s statement was released shortly after President Barack Obama spoke in a televised address that he used to call for peace and calm among both police and protestors in Missouri.
“There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting,” Obama said Thursday. “There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Efforts to control protesters Wednesday night led to discussion Thursday about the aggressive actions of the police, including the arrest of two reporters who were later released. Various videos showed police firing tear gas into crowds and near reporters and camera crews, and reports circulated that police were firing rubber bullets.
Those events led Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to call for a broad effort to demilitarize the police. Paul blamed Washington DC for providing anti-terrorism funding to local police departments, which he has has turned some police forces into small armies.
Holder said Justice Department officials are in Missouri to help work with law enforcement officials and others to help reduce tensions in the community, where many are reacting to the killing of an 18-year old black student by a yet-to-be named police officer. One of those steps, Holder said, is that the police should “consider the role that increased diversity in law enforcement can play in helping to build trust within communities.”
In the meantime, Holder said Justice is continuing its parallel investigation of that shooting.
Like Obama, Holder said acts of violence by protestors cannot be condoned.
“Looting and willful efforts to antagonize law enforcement officers who are genuinely trying to protect the public do nothing to remember the young man who has died,” Holder said. “Such conduct is unacceptable and must be unequivocally condemned.”
But at the same time, he said law enforcement officers must do what they can to reduce tensions.
“Those who peacefully gather to express sympathy for the family of Michael Brown must have their rights respected at all times,” Holder said. “And journalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told.”