Updated: 12:18 p.m. | The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and two of her colleagues are calling on the Justice Department to probe deeply into the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, co-signed a letter Monday evening addressed to Attorney General Eric. H. Holder Jr., with Judiciary ranking member John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and the Democratic lawmaker who represents the Ferguson area, Rep. William Lacy Clay.
The letter acknowledged and expressed gratitude for the DOJ investigation already underway regarding the incident, in which a Ferguson policeman shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Police have said the teen tried to take an officer's gun, but at least one witness said the teen was shot without cause.
"The St. Louis County Police Department, which is currently investigating the shooting, claims that the shooting occurred after Mr. Brown assaulted the officer and the two men struggled for the officer's gun," the members wrote, "but local community members have expressed strong skepticism and outrage about this explanation. According to one eye witness account, several shots hit Mr. Brown as he attempted to flee with his hands in the air ... More broadly, press reports suggest that Mr. Brown's shooting may be symptomatic of larger racial tensions in Ferguson."
The members of the CBC are also urging the Justice Department to conduct a complete, stand-alone investigation into the shooting, as the current DOJ probe is intended to only, according to a Monday statement from Holder , "supplement, rather than supplant, the inquiry by local authorities."
"We ask the Department to dedicate sufficient resources to investigate the legal and civil rights ramifications of the shooting and surrounding circumstances," they wrote. "We urge the Department to examine both the facts of the specific incident as well as the potential for any pattern or practice of police misconduct by the Ferguson Police Department.
"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 in the past year, which Congressman Clay has asked the Department of Justice to investigate," they continued. "Second, only the federal government has the resources, the experience, and the independence to give this case the close scrutiny that the citizens of Ferguson and the greater St. Louis area deserve."
Other members of Congress weighed in as well:
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, in a statement on the shooting, said: "Everyone deserves a transparent understanding of what happened here. I am fully supportive of County Executive Charlie Dooley and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar calling for DOJ and the FBI to take a careful, open review of the events that led to this tragedy for everyone involved.”
Missouri's junior senator, Democrat Claire McCaskill, said in a statement: “As a mother, I grieve for this child and his family. I pray that the wonderful, hardworking, and God-loving people of Ferguson will find peace and patience as we wait for the results of what will be numerous and thorough investigations of what happened. I, like so many other Missourians, will not be satisfied until we have a complete and transparent understanding of all the facts and circumstances that led to this young man’s death.”
The shooting of Brown — who was bound for college at the end of the summer — is reminiscent of the circumstances surrounding the shooting of another black and unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, by a neighborhood watch coordinator, George Zimmerman, in Florida in 2012. Zimmerman claimed self-defense and gave an account suggesting that Martin was threatening him. Others described an interaction that would not have warranted gunshots.
The letter requests that further correspondence on the issue be directed to Conyers in his capacity as the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel.
Read the full letter to Holder on the Brown matter here