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What Can Eric Holder Really Do In Ferguson?

Holder has already launched an investigation, but everyone seems to have an opinion on what the attorney general should do to calm things down.
Posted at 12:32 AM, Aug 21, 2014

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder arrived in Ferguson, Missouri Wednesday with clear objectives: investigate the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown, ensure that there were no federal civil rights laws violated and help ease tensions the city.

Holder met with residents, community leaders and the Brown family hoping to, in his words, exert "a calming influence" through dialogue and face-to-face meetings. (Video via KSHB)

But it's not every day the nation's top law enforcement official and legal advisor to the president comes to visit. And given the circumstances, many people seem to have a few ideas of their own about what Holder needs to be doing with his time.

"What they need to hear from this black man in this position ... is that they need to stay out of trouble with the law. They need to pull up their pants, finish school and take care of their kids." 

That was Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason Riley specifically addressing how Holder should deal with "looters and rioters" in Ferguson amid consecutive nights of chaos. 

A Salon writer suggests this is Holder's moment to address racial inequity on a larger scale: "It’s time to utter the three words that have inflicted more racial injustice against black men than any other three words in the English lexicon: prison industrial complex." 

There's lots of talk about Holder trying to calm racial tensions. A Cornell University law professor told NBC, "He'll be able to mediate between the law enforcement community, which obviously sees Holder as being the highest law enforcement official in the country, and the African-American community, which knows that Holder is one of the highest ranking African-American officials in the whole country. ... That's not an explicitly legal function. It's more of a socio-political function."

But what sort of tangible action can Holder take to really influence things in Ferguson? 

A Politico writer says some of what Holder can do is already being done: he's ordered an investigation, he's ordered (another) autopsy and he can take action against the Ferguson PD if he finds that they've been "violating people’s rights." But the writer adds, beyond that, Holder's authority is limited. 

If Holder were to take over the investigation to prosecute officer Darren Wilson, a Christian Science Monitor writer says that would be a mistake. "Legal analysts stress that a state prosecutor has significantly more flexibility to tailor a charge to a particular crime. ... In contrast, federal law would require Holder’s prosecutors to prove significantly more. ... Prosecutors would have to prove that Wilson deliberately acted with evil intent to deprive the teenager of his rights."

And Holder does have more political leeway to talk about race than, say, President Obama. The president has been criticized in the past for speaking about race, such as when he made remarks following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.  

But a Bloomberg correspondent says Holden can't seem biased, either. 

Peter Cook: "He has to walk a very fine line because he can't appear to take sides in this, just like the president. He has to appear that he hasn't conducted a rush to judgment."

Meanwhile, a grand jury examined evidence in the shooting death of Michael Brown Wednesday, but St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch told reporters it could be as long as two months before we know if charges will be brought against Wilson. 

This video contains images from Getty Images.