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Blunt In Middle Of Fight Over Dietary Guidelines, Environmental Concerns

By Chuck Raasch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt is in the middle of a fight over the government’s dietary guidelines, which are slated to be updated this year.

House and Senate spending bills working their way through Congress have recently been altered to include language saying that a government committee’s consumption recommendations for Americans went too far afield from the science of nutrition in suggesting that plant-based foods are better for the environment than red meat.

Blunt and at least 28 Senate Republican colleagues, along with Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, have expressed concerns about the recommendations made by the committee of outside advisers, which spent months considering the changes.

Blunt, R-Mo., shepherded a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill out of committee last month with a rider saying new diet recommendations should be based “only on a preponderance of nutritional and scientific evidence.” Two House appropriations bills have similar language.

Blunt and the 29 other senators signed a letter in March challenging the “scientific integrity of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations to remove ‘lean meat’ from the statement of a healthy dietary pattern.”

The letter also expressed strong concerns that the committee, comprising outside experts pulled together by the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, was “going beyond its purview of nutrition and health research to include topics such as sustainability.”

Blunt said: “The proposed dietary guidelines would expand the advisory committee’s scope well beyond the statute and well beyond dietary guidelines and nutrition into unrelated issues, which is not the job of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.”

A coalition of health and nutrition groups disagrees. The group — ranging from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the Center for Science in the Public Interest — called the language in the appropriations bills “a ham-fisted attempt on the part of powerful special interests, led by the meat industry, to have politicians meddle in the government’s nutrition advice.”

Many of the signers of the March letter represent beef-producing states in the Midwest and West. They complained that the committee was ignoring “scientific evidence that shows the role of lean red meats as part of a healthy diet.”

Missouri Democrats have pointed out that Blunt’s wife, Abigail, lobbies for the Kraft Heinz Co. A subsidiary, Oscar Mayer, is a top producer of processed meat. Missouri Democratic Party spokesman Chris Hayden said it was a “wildly inappropriate conflict of interest” for Blunt to spearhead support of red meat in the new diet debates.

Sen. Blunt said his position “represents a widely held, bipartisan viewpoint, and it’s also included in two House appropriation bills.”

Recently merged Kraft Heinz reported that what was then known as Kraft Foods spent $300,000 on lobbying on the dietary guidelines and other issues the first three months of 2015, but said that Abigail Blunt did not lobby the Senate.

“Our company’s objective is to help ensure the” recommendations “are science-based and within the jurisdiction of the guidelines,” said Basil Maglaris, director of corporate affairs for Kraft Heinz.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she agreed with Blunt that a healthy diet and agricultural sustainability should not be co-mingled.

“The environmental concerns — obviously there is a place for that — but I don’t think that mixing the two makes much sense,” McCaskill said. But she said she is opposed to attaching the restricting language on appropriations bills, saying it was symptomatic of a larger trend by Republicans to retreat from “earmark” reforms and attach unrelated legislation to spending bills.

Photo: Should the government continue to support red meat — or at least support it less? stu_spivack/Flickr 

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk Says Single Sen. Lindsey Graham A ‘Bro With No Ho’

By Chuck Raasch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Social media erupted Thursday when a microphone at a routine Senate Appropriations Committee meeting caught Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk joking that colleague Lindsey Graham was a “bro with no ho.”

The reference by Kirk, a Republican, was to the unmarried Graham’s observation that if elected president, he’d have “rotating” first ladies. The South Carolina Republican senator recently announced he was seeking the Republican nomination for president.

On an audio of the exchange with an unknown colleague, while other senators were voting during a Thursday morning session, Kirk can be heard saying: “I’ve been joking with Lindsey. Did you see that? He’s going to have a rotating first lady. He’s a bro with no ho.”

Kirk’s spokeswoman, Danielle Varallo, said the remark “was just a joke between two friends.”

But social media sites soon opined and linked to it. Huffington Post posted the audio. Politico and other post-a-minute sites jumped on it, too.

Kirk, who faces a tough re-election in 2016, is no stranger to verbal kerfuffles. This spring, he was criticized for saying black neighborhoods of Illinois “are the ones we drive faster through.” He was trying to explain the need for economic development and touting his ideas to for that and his anti-gang policies to help poor neighborhoods, but some criticized the remarks as racially insensitive.

Earlier he sparked commentary when he had compared the abortion debate to slavery. Critics took after him during the Homeland Security debate for saying Democrats opposing provisions of funding of the department should have coffins put outside their offices to depict the danger they were putting Americans in.

Dan Pfeiffer, former senior communications adviser for President Barack Obama, noted the online buzz over the comments and tweeted: “Checked three times to make sure this wasn’t an @TheOnion headline. New GOP slogan: We’re even worse than you thought.”

Photo: Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), via

Senate Debates 18 Amendments To Keystone Pipeline Bill

By Chuch Raasch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Senate debated on Wednesday 18 amendments to the Keystone XL Pipeline Bill, more than it considered on all bills debated in all of 2014.

It’s a new day in the Senate under Republican control of “the world’s most deliberative body.”

Many of the Keystone amendments were offered by Democrats and have virtually no chance of passing. Republicans say their return to “regular order” will be far more tolerant to such amendments than what was allowed under former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and that Wednesday proved their point.

Republicans, with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo) taking a lead, long complained that Reid stifled legislation to protect his fellow Democrats from unpopular votes and President Barack Obama from having to take stands on tough issues.

But Reid’s deputy leader, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), said Wednesday’s debate was possible only because, unlike the Republicans when they were in the minority last year, his party has decided to be the “constructive minority” and not gum up Senate procedural works with constant threats of filibusters and other parliamentary delaying tactics.

No matter who gets the blame or credit, the early result is more wide-ranging debate on high-profile issues such as Keystone. Some of the amendments offered have been aimed more at making political points or getting fellow senators on record than on getting changes into law, but Blunt said that was not all bad.

Senators, he said, have a right to bring forth legislation they think is important and to try to persuade other senators to take a position on it. Until the past six years, he said, the Senate traditionally was “the place where national issues had an opportunity to be discussed.”

Blunt will spearhead legislation, after the Keystone XL pipeline, that illustrates how divisions will continue to play out. Republicans will push a vote on House-passed legislation to cut off funding of Obama’s controversial executive order easing deportation on millions of people who have illegally entered the country.

Blunt and other Republicans think Obama’s actions represent both bad policy and executive overreach. But his side needs six Democrats to go along to allow a final vote, and the math is on the Democrats’ side. On Tuesday, 41 Democrats — including Durbin and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) —  signed a letter essentially saying they would oppose the House-passed bill, meaning that as it stands now Blunt is short of the magic 60 to proceed. But that reality won’t stop debate on the issue.

Blunt said Republicans would push it, anyway, both to try to persuade enough Democrats to come over to the GOP side, and to get senators on the record.

Including himself, less than two years before the 2016 election, when his Missouri term is up.

“People deserve to know,” said Blunt.

Durbin, who was just re-elected, is pushing legislation to consolidate into one independent office all federal food-safety programs, which he said are now under the purview of 30 offices in 15 scattered federal agencies. He’s tried several times to get this legislation passed since 1999, and Republicans now running the Senate are unlikely to go along with legislation establishing another federal agency.

But Durbin said he believed his legislation, which Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has introduced in the House, would actually save money by trimming overlaps. Durbin said that if his bill got wide debate he may be able to persuade fiscally conservative Republicans to go along.

Durbin and DeLauro used a federal version of the chicken and the egg to illustrate their case for reform. Starting with the chicken, they said, and depending on whether the egg is freshly laid or long processed, as many as 30 federal offices in those 15 agencies — ranging from the Department of Agriculture to the Food and Drug Administration — are part of the regulatory scramble.

“They are stumbling over one another, handing off eggs and broken eggs and fried eggs,” Durbin said.

With the amendment process opened up, Durbin has a better chance of making that case on the Senate floor by offering his bill as an amendment to another.

“Yes, it is a new Senate in terms of amendments,” Durbin said, “but it is working because the Democrats have not stopped the train.”

Photo: via Flickr

Under New Bill, States Would Report Police-Triggered Deaths To Attorney General

By Chuck Raasch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Spurred by the Ferguson shooting and other recent cases of deadly encounters involving police, Congress in its final hours of work for the year passed legislation requiring states to report deaths of people arrested or detained by police to the attorney general.

The measure requires states that receive federal aid for crime control, law enforcement assistance and other programs to report on a quarterly basis the death of anyone in police custody. It imposes penalties for states that don’t comply. It also requires the Justice Department to use the information to come up with proposals to reduce the number of such deaths.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) referred to a Wall Street Journal story last week that concluded it was virtually impossible to come up with the number of people who died in police custody. The Journal report said it identified at least 550 deaths among 105 of the nation’s top police agencies from 2007-2012 that were not reported in the FBI database, and that there is wide disparity between several federal agencies that try to keep track of such deaths.

“It seems like such a simple matter to require adequate information to be collected,” Durbin said in a speech Thursday on the Senate floor.

The House passed the measure last year but the Senate did not take it up until late Wednesday, when it was passed through a unanimous consent agreement. It now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature.

On Aug. 9, Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, 18. A St. Louis County grand jury did not indict Wilson, and the Department of Justice is conducting a civil rights investigation of the shooting. It is also probing the death Eric Garner, who died while police in New York were trying to arrest him.

Both cases have prompted demonstrations around the country, including a walkout by congressional staffers today. About 150 gathered briefly on the steps leading to the east entrance of the Capitol. After a short prayer, they held their hands aloft in silence, reminiscent of the “hands up”action taken by demonstrators in Ferguson and elsewhere.

AFP Photo/Jim Watson

Obama’s Role In Ferguson Is Complicated

By Chuck Raasch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The morning after the St. Louis County grand jury decided to not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, reporters traveling on Air Force One with President Barack Obama to a Chicago speech on immigration had a question they came back to repeatedly in ensuing days:

Would the president go to Ferguson?

That possibility was “under consideration,” deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said, and it would be re-evaluated “when things calm down a little bit.”

As in all things Ferguson-related, the definition of “calm down a little bit” is subjective and evolving. So far, that presidential visit has not come, but White House press secretary Josh Earnest continues to say it’s a possibility.

But the questions about where and when Obama should weigh in, and what he should say about race and policing, persist. As the first African-American president, Obama confronts expectations that are different from any previous president.

The nation’s focus now has turned to New York City, where a grand jury on Wednesday did not indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, prompting new protests and fresh questions about how Obama should react.

As has been his practice since the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson by Wilson, Obama has sought to nationalize the conversation, portraying both deaths as symptomatic of larger problems of race and power. He has avoided personalizing the controversies to his own experience, as he did in the Trayvon Martin shooting. He has tried to thread a needle between being proactive while not appearing to influence ongoing Justice Department civil rights probes of the Brown and Garner deaths.

But some keep urging a Ferguson trip. A week after the grand jury decision in the Wilson case, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called Ferguson a “tipping point” and urged Obama to go to Ferguson to “define the crisis and the remedy of what happened in the (grand jury) report,” according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

What could Obama say that would make a difference, and would saying it in Ferguson or New York make any difference, symbolically?

As a man whose 2008 hope and change campaign was built on the potential of becoming the nation’s first black president, Obama is often looked to for reassurance in poor and minority communities that are “outside the circle of opportunity,” said Donna Brazile, a political strategist and commentator with ties to top White House officials.

“If there was anyone else in the Oval Office, this responsibility would have been outsourced,” she said of the discussions around Ferguson. “In many ways, he’s unique. But in some ways, that could be a drawback to what’s happening in Ferguson and other communities that lie outside the circle of opportunity.”

Brazile said she advised the White House that going to Ferguson would be a no-win situation given the open Justice Department investigation.

“If it looks like the president will place his thumb on the scale,” she said, “the investigation is completely tainted.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said a Ferguson trip has not come up in conversations he has had with Obama. Blunt said he is not sure an Obama visit would be “particularly helpful.”

But Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said she talked several times with Obama since the crisis began and that she thinks he may visit Ferguson after Justice Department probes are finished, to use it as a platform to push reforms, from encouraging more African-Americans to run for political office to toughening racial profiling laws.

“One of the things that has weighed heavily in his decision is there is a lot of stress on law enforcement when the president visits,” she said. “There are a lot of resources that must be brought to bear to ensure his security, and I think he is very sensitive to the fact that this has been a very stressful time in terms of the amount of resources that have been used in law enforcement” since the shooting.

Carol Swain, a professor of political science and professor of law at Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, Tenn., said the facts of the Ferguson shooting, as revealed in the grand jury report, might affect Obama’s willingness to come.

The report undermines the narrative by Brown supporters that the shooting was of an unarmed black man trying to surrender, Swain said. That should keep Obama at a rhetorical and physical distance, said Swain, who has written extensively on politics and race.

“I think it would be inappropriate for him, in his role as president, to interject himself into what should really be a state or local issue,” Swain said. “And given the circumstances that have come to light (in the grand jury report) this would be the wrong case to expend your political capital on.”

Brazile said too many people expect Obama to fix problems with a speech when the solutions lie in the “people and corporations and nonprofits and everything else” in local communities.

People clamoring for a Ferguson presidential trip, Brazile said, “forget the fact that they have a mayor, forget the fact that they have a governor.”

Obama has, both overtly and subtly, tried to drive home that point in his post-Ferguson rhetoric.

“What we need is a sustained conversation in which … people are talking about this honestly and then can move forward in a constructive fashion,” he said after a White House meeting with faith, civil rights and law enforcement leaders.

Ferguson, he said, “laid bare a problem that is not unique to St. Louis or that area, and is not unique to our time, and that is a simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color.”

The White House has tried to turn attention to policy, announcing $75 million in matching funds for local police departments that want to buy body cameras, part of a $263 million proposal to bolster training and other aid to local police departments.

It was illustrative of how differently Obama has responded to Ferguson versus previous racially infused moments.

In 2009, just six months into the job, he called a “beer summit” in the White House after jumping into a local arrest of Harvard scholar, author and documentary filmmaker Henry Louis Gates by a Cambridge, Mass., police officer. No charge was filed in that case, which touched off a national conversation on racial profiling.

Obama had said Cambridge police “acted stupidly” while acknowledging he didn’t have all the facts. He subsequently sat with Vice President Joe Biden, Gates and Cambridge Sgt. James Crowley for a beer and 40-minute conversation on the White House’s South Lawn, producing an image of reconciliation early in the president’s first term.

Gates and Crowley became friends. Crowley, who was later decorated as one of Cambridge’s top cops, gave Gates the handcuffs he used in the arrest.

Last year, after a jury acquitted neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman in the Florida shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, Obama again stirred a national debate when he declared that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

Post-Ferguson, Obama appears to be highly cognizant of the power of his words in these moments.

“He has weighed in, inappropriately, on other cases, just using a gut reaction,” Swain said, referring to the Gates arrest. “The fact that he is exercising a little more caution shows that there is a learning curve here, and to me that is a positive for our nation.”

But at some points, she said, Obama has appeared to want it both ways, pointing out that in the White House meeting last week, Obama was seated across the table from the polarizing Rev. Al Sharpton, who has appeared frequently in Ferguson.

“That is like a wink-wink to the radical left,” Swain said, “but it doesn’t help him with the rest of the world.”

Regardless, Swain said, the issues exposed by Ferguson are bigger than Obama.

“I don’t think the president can fix the problems,” she said. “I don’t think the Congress can fix the problems. The problems have to be fixed in the community.”

AFP Photo/Jim Watson

With Ferguson Decision Looming, Holder Issues New Police Guidance

By Chuck Raasch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

WASHINGTON — With a grand jury decision on the Ferguson shooting death of Michael Brown expected soon, the Justice Department today has released new guidelines to help “maintain public safety while safeguarding constitutional rights” of demonstrators who are preparing to gather in cities around the country after the decision is announced.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced the new guidelines in a video posted this morning on the Justice Department’s Web site. In it, Holder also exhorts protesters and police to keep the peace — to “minimize needless confrontation” — an extraordinary plea for calm before a local judiciary event from the nation’s attorney general.

Brown was shot by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, and a St. Louis County grand jury has been reviewing evidence toward a decision on whether or not to indict Wilson on criminal charges.

The new guidelines are being distributed to law enforcement associations, U.S. attorneys offices, and local law-enforcement email lists.

“It is vital to engage in planning and preparation, from evaluating protocols and training to choosing the appropriate equipment and uniforms,” Holder says to law enforcement officials in the video. “This is the hard work that is necessary to preserve the peace and maintain the public trust at all times — particularly in moments of heightened community tension.”

Holder goes on:

“Over the past few months, we’ve seen demonstrations and protests that have sought to bring attention to real and significant underlying issues involving police practices, implicit bias, and pervasive community distrust. And in most cases, these demonstrations have been both meaningful and responsible, and have brought vital issues to the attention of the public at large. Similarly, the vast majority of law enforcement officers have honorably defended their fellow citizens engaged in these peaceful protests.

“I know, from first-hand experience, that demonstrations like these have the potential to spark a sustained and positive national dialogue, to provide momentum to a necessary conversation, and to bring about critical reform.

“But history has also shown us that the most successful and enduring movements for change are those that adhere to non-aggression and nonviolence. And so I ask all those who seek to lend their voice to important causes and discussions, and who seek to elevate these vital conversations, to do so in a way that respects the gravity of their subject matter.”

Allegations that police in St. Louis County and Ferguson overreacted to demonstrators, looters and others after the Aug. 9 shooting prompted congressional hearings on whether police around the country were becoming “militarized.” President Barack Obama has ordered a review of a Department of Defense program that sends surplus military equipment to local police.

Holder’s Bureau of Justice Assistance issued the “Resource Guide for Enhancing Community Relationships and Protecting Privacy and Constitutional Rights.” It pulls together brochures, guides and other instruction material on topics like “The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement at First Amendment Events.”

Post-grand jury decision gatherings are planned for at least 100 cities around the country, according to a Web clearinghouse called the Ferguson National Response Network. According to the site, gatherings are being planned in cities from Tampa, Fla., to Batesville, Ark., to Seattle. The site includes postings on planned demonstrations in Columbia, Mo., and Carbondale, Ill.

AFP Photo/Alex Wong

Justice Department To Expand Probe In Michael Brown Shooting

By Chuck Raasch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is preparing to announce as early as Thursday that it will expand its investigation of the police shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, into a broader civil rights probe of the practices of the Ferguson Police Department.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said Wednesday night that he had met at Ferguson City Hall with two Department of Justice employees from Washington on Wednesday afternoon.

Knowles said he was surprised that a decision had been made so quickly.

“It’s surprising to me that the story was filed less than 1.5 hours after I met with them,” he said. “They told me they would report their findings to higher-ups and a decision would be made.”

“I told them honestly that we’re not hiding anything, so if someone wants to look into this, I welcome it,” Knowles said. “I have nothing to hide and neither does our city, and we will comply and participate with their investigation. I hope this will restore confidence in our police department and the city government.”

“I hope that at some point we’ll be able to tell our story and people will listen,” Knowles said.

A law enforcement official who has been briefed on the plan confirmed to the Post-Dispatch on Wednesday that the investigation will initially focus on Ferguson. The Washington Post first reported on the expanded investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, saying the investigation would also include other St. Louis County jurisdictions. But the law enforcement official who has been briefed on the plan said the civil rights investigation would cover only Ferguson.

The official would not speculate on whether the investigation could broaden to other St. Louis County departments and jurisdictions.

Brown was killed by Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. In the aftermath, amid demonstrations, looting, and violence erupted. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon eventually called in the Missouri National Guard and the Highway Patrol to help police in the aftermath. On Wednesday, Nixon removed the state of emergency declaration for Ferguson.

Two days after the shooting, the Justice Department announced it would conduct its own investigation, but Attorney General Eric Holder emphasized that it would be concurrent with any investigation by local police, not supersede it.

A St. Louis County grand jury has been hearing evidence.

The expansion into a broader civil rights investigation of the practices, procedures, and use of force by the Ferguson department would follow a pattern of the Justice Department under Holder.

The Post-Dispatch reported in the wake of the Brown shooting that since 1997, 21 law enforcement agencies around the country — starting with Pittsburgh and ranging from East Haven, Conn., to Los Angeles — have signed consent agreements to improve policing after Department of Justice investigations. But the pace of Justice probes into local police departments has accelerated under Holder.

The attorney general visited Ferguson on Aug. 20 and met with Brown’s family. He gave no hint then that he would expand the investigation.

“The eyes of the nation and the world are watching Ferguson right now,” Holder said then. “This is something that has a history to it, and the history simmers beneath the surface in more communities than just Ferguson.”

According to The Washington Post, over his five-plus years as attorney general, Holder has initiated twice the number of civil rights investigations of police departments as any of his predecessors, and that at least 34 departments are now being investigated.

On the same day that Holder announced the department’s initial investigation of the shooting, three members of Congress — including Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) — had urged him to broaden it to look for “any pattern or practice of police misconduct by the Ferguson Police Department.”

The Aug. 11 letter was also signed by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Marcia Fudge, D-(OH).

“Only the federal government has the resources, the experience, and the full independence to give this case the close scrutiny that the citizens of Ferguson and the greater St. Louis area deserve,” their letter said. “Moreover, to the extent that a pattern or practice of police misconduct may exist, such misconduct would be a clear violation of federal law,” including a statute “which makes it unlawful for state or local law enforcement officers to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”

Clay was unavailable for comment Wednesday night. His spokesman, Steven Engehlardt, said the congressman would wait to comment until after any announcement of an expanded investigation was made.

Margaret Gillerman of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

AFP Photo/Joshua Lott

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Since Brown Shooting, It’s In Been Night-And-Day In Ferguson

By Chuck Raasch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

FERGUSON, Mo. — It’s been night-and-day since Saturday’s fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.

Mostly peaceful protesters march hand-in-hand by day. At night, people splinter, defiance and lawlessness take a firmer grip, and expressions and intentions move into the shadows.

By day, calls for nonviolent protest come from black and white activists and politicians.

By night, shooting and looting have appeared.

“Night has a way of bringing a different atmosphere,” said the Rev. Damon Lynch III, who helped organize nonviolent protests after a police shooting death of a black man in Cincinnati in 2001. “People can do things under the cover of darkness that they readily don’t do during the day.”

In Cincinnati, the same pattern took hold as in Ferguson: mostly peace during the day, violence into the night. Ultimately what resulted in Cincinnati was an agreement to improve policing. Today, Lynch said, “the atmosphere is 10,000 times better, police are more accountable to the community, and the community has greater respect for police officers,” and he wishes that for Ferguson.

Lynch said Wednesday that he has watched events in Ferguson by recalling what it was like to be at the head of a march, galvanized by one death, but displaying a multitude of motivations.

“I am a proponent of nonviolent social change,” Lynch said, “and I learned that you are going to have within this group of protesters probably every kind of philosophy available.”

From “pacifists to militants to anarchists,” he said, “everyone came out of the woodwork,” even if a vast majority were peaceful. He constantly wondered how “if we are going to be peaceful but powerful, how do you keep everybody in line?”

“We just explained to them what our philosophy was and if they couldn’t abide by it they would go on and do what they wanted to do, throwing bricks and all of that sort.”

The curfew, he said, helped calm things down. Ferguson has not done that, although Mayor James W. Knowles III and the Ferguson City Council issued a statement Wednesday asking for peaceful demonstrations during the day. It condemned “those who wish to co-opt peaceful protests and turn them into violent demonstrations … during the evening hours.”

Those same night-and-day dynamics persisted long enough in Cincinnati for the mayor to set a curfew about a week after the shooting death of Timothy Thomas, who at 19, was just a year older than Michael Brown when Thomas was shot by police trying to avoid arrest.

The relationship between Cincinnati authorities and residents of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, where Thomas was from, had been combustible long before Thomas was killed, but no action was taken “until they saw the anger spill over.” Some 15 black men had been killed by police over a few years, some unarmed, some of the killings ruled justifiable acts of defense. Two years before Thomas was killed, the ACLU had joined a lawsuit claiming police discrimination.

In Missouri, the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP in November filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging racism in hiring and firing and racial profiling in the St. Louis County Police Department.

Lynch said an “extremely effective” agreement emerged from the Cincinnati protests, including making police shooting investigations more transparent and mandating quick release of information, including the identity of the alleged shooter.

Ferguson authorities have withheld the name of the shooter, citing death threats. Lynch said that may be fueling some anger.

Photo: David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT

Justice Department Has Widened Involvement In Local Law Enforcement In Past Two Decades

By Chuck Raasch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department has intervened in cases involving more than two dozen local or state law enforcement departments over the last 20 years.

The most recent intervention is coming in the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on Saturday.

Since 1997, 21 police departments — ranging from East Haven, Connecticut, to Los Angeles — have signed consent agreements with the Justice Department to improve procedures and policies. They often have involved use of force or relationships with minority communities, according to Samuel Walker, a national authority on civil liberties, policing and criminal justice policy.

Not all Justice Department involvement goes as far as consent decrees, and the department does not announce all its investigative activities, particularly if it investigates and closes without further action.

Consent agreements or investigations reached between the Justice Department and police forces usually came after broad allegations of police misconduct or, in a few cases, where specific instances spark broader action against a police force with a history of complaints against it.

The Justice Department involvement in the Ferguson case has so far been what Attorney General Eric Holder describes as supplementary to local law enforcement investigations of the shooting.

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), and two other members of Congress on Monday called for a broader investigation than the parallel track laid by Holder.

The concurrent investigation “may be insufficient for two reasons,” Clay wrote Holder, in a letter co-signed by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), and Marcia Fudge (D-OH). “First, the St. Louis County Police Department may not be the most objective or credible body to investigate civil rights matters involving law enforcement given evidence of racial profiling by that department in the recent past, which Congressman Clay had asked the Department of Justice to investigate.

“Second, only the federal government has the resources, the experience, and the full independence to give this case the close scrutiny that the citizens of Ferguson and the greater St. Louis area deserve.”

The Missouri State Conference of the NAACP in November 2013 filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging that St. Louis County police officers racially profiled blacks in and around stores in south St. Louis County and that racism is rampant in the department’s hiring, firing and discipline.

The attorney general’s reach in cases where race and civil rights violations are potential factors grew in the 1994 Violent Crime Act that passed in the aftermath of the late Rodney King’s beating by Los Angeles police officers. The law gave the Justice Department power to bring civil suits against law enforcement agencies where a “pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers” exists that “deprives persons of rights, privileges, and immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States or by the Constitution or laws of state.”

Brown’s shooting is yet another flash point in what Walker, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, calls “an ongoing national racial crisis,” where there are constant tensions between minority communities and law enforcement.

Walker, who has written books about civil rights and law enforcement, said consent agreements signed by law enforcement agencies with DOJ have generally produced positive results.

“Generally, they have been successful in jump-starting reforms in very troubled departments,” Walker said. “The major issue in my mind is whether the reforms take hold and become institutionalized. But overall, they are our best mechanism for dealing with troubled departments, and it is far more effective than simply prosecuting officers.”

AFP Photo/Al Seib