President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder – who are among the most powerful men in America – have become selectively involved in the case of a black teenager, Michael Brown, whose shooting death by a white police officer has become a poignant national symbol for racial justice.
When Holder landed in Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday, his rare and unprecedented visit sent a clear signal to the nation that Obama, America’s first Black president, and Holder, America’s first Black U.S. Attorney General, are also two high-profile Black fathers who understand the precarious racial dynamic in America.
Their definitive action and presence are an acknowledgment of the anger many Black folks are experiencing following Brown’s violent death.
Brown, 18, was killed August 9 by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in what could be called the war against young Black men – the escalating confrontations between police and African-American males, a fierce war that is played out frequently on our nation’s streets.
Holder attended a meeting that included more than 50 members of the Ferguson community. In a rare yet symbolic gesture, Holder met with the Brown family Wednesday evening and has told aides that he wanted Darren Wilson’s identity released earlier; that he was opposed to the police releasing a surveillance video showing Brown’s involvement in convenience store shoplifting. Holder also reportedly told aides, “Tell them to remove the damn tanks” on the streets of Ferguson.
In Ferguson, Holder talked personally about being Black and male in America, He gets it.
“I understand that mistrust. I am the Attorney General of the United States. But I am also a Black man,” Holder said in a meeting with community leaders. “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.
“I think about my time in Georgetown – a nice neighborhood of Washington – and I am running to a picture movie at about 8 o’clock at night. I am running with my cousin. Police car comes driving up, flashes his lights, yells ‘Where you going? Hold it!’ I say ‘Whoa, I’m going to a movie.’ Now my cousin started mouthing off. I’m like, ‘This is not where we want to go. Keep quiet.’ 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.”