Several black lawmakers are calling on the Justice Department to expand its investigation into the fatal shooting of an apparently unarmed black teenager by a policeman in Ferguson, Mo.
The shooting on Saturday of Michael Brown, 18, raises “potentially serious concerns" about law enforcement in St. Louis, the lawmakers said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
Brown's killing "may be part of a continuing pattern of the use of deadly force by police against unarmed African-Americans,” wrote Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Reps. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.).
Brown, who was going to start college this week, was shot after a confrontation with an officer.
Both the police department and eyewitnesses agree that the officer pulled up alongside Brown as he walked on the sidewalk, but there are conflicting accounts about what happened next, according to The St. Louis Dispatch.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said Brown “physically assaulted” the officer, pushing him back into his car and trying to take his weapon.
“There was at least one shot fired within the car. After that the officer went back, came back out of the car, he exited his vehicle, and there was a shooting that occurred where the officer in fact shot the subject, and … they were fatal injuries,” Belmar said.
Dorian Johnson, who claims to have been walking with Brown at the time of the shooting, said the officer had demanded that they get off the sidewalk. When they continued walking, he claimed the officer drove up, grabbed Brown by the neck and then shot him.
“I saw the barrel of the gun pointed at my friend,” Johnson told MSNBC. “Then I saw the fire come out of the barrel.”
The shooting has sparked protests and riots in Ferguson, a small, predominantly African-American suburb of St. Louis. Police on Monday used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds after a protest gave way to looting and violence.
Protesters gathered Tuesday morning outside the St. Louis County Justice Center, with some chanting, "hey hey, ho ho, racist cops have got to go," according to The St. Louis Dispatch.
The shooting is attracting national attention, with Holder on Monday launching a federal probe that could lead to civil rights charges.
The Justice Department’s civil rights division will be working with FBI agents from the St. Louis field office and the U.S. Attorney’s office on the investigation, Holder said.
“At every step, we will work with the local investigators, who should be prepared to complete a thorough, fair investigation in their own right. I will continue to receive regular updates on this matter in the coming days,” Holder said.
The lawmakers praised Holder’s move, but said DOJ should consider taking over the investigation. They said 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.”
“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 lawmakers wrote.
Missouri Sens. Roy Blunt (R) and Claire McCaskill (D) had also called on the Justice Department to conduct a thorough review of the case.
“Everyone deserves a transparent understanding of what happened here," said Blunt.
This story was updated at 11:47 a.m.