Ferguson protesters say Obama needs to take charge

FERGUSON, Mo. — Protesters clashing with police over the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager say President Obama needs to do more to solve the racially charged conflict.

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Obama has already dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate why Michael Brown died at the hands of a police officer who shot him six times. Obama also addressed the issue in careful language on Monday.

This has not satisfied protesters who see the shooting as symptomatic of a broader culture of intimidation and civil rights violations by law enforcement. They want the president to make a personal visit to give national recognition to what they see as a grievous incident of racial injustice and to rein in the combative police protests in response to the protests.

Steven Wash, a 26-year-old from Ferguson, said Obama needs to come to his community “ASAP.”

“He needs to come down here and stop all this and bring all this to justice,” he said early Wednesday morning after a standoff with police, who waved riot batons and shot tear gas to shoo protesters away from the commercial strip where they had marched for hours.

As the police became more aggressive in their tactics, some of the protesters, who are predominantly black, began to voice more frustration with Obama.

“F--k the White House. I’m never voting again. Another disenfranchised black male,” said Tef Poe, 27.

“He needs to touch down and calm this s--t down,” he said about what he wants Obama to do.

Some protesters said they saw a disconnect between Obama’s concern over Israel’s aggressive response to the restive Palestinian population in Gaza and what they see as his relative cool response to the street battles in Ferguson.

“Y’all don’t need Gaza when you got Ferguson,” said Malik Rhasaan as he watched riot police charge and fire tear gas at a group of young black male protesters. “Obama won’t visit this s--t.

“They bump their toe with Israel, they send them $1 billion,” he said of Palestinians, who have received $5 billion in U.S. assistance since the mid-1990s, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The scene at West Florissant Avenue, where angry residents of Ferguson have gathered for ten nights in a row, at times resembles a military offensive.

Police equipped with assault rifles and wearing military helmets and fatigues were escorted by a green armored personnel carrier and a helicopter that hovered overhead. On at least one occasion they charged the crowd, pointing their weapons at the chests of reporters and protesters, after a few plastic water bottles were launched in their direction.

Rhasaan said Obama needs to get more personally involved.

“He says something about everything else. If this was happening in any other country, we’d be occupying this country right now,” he said. “I think most people feel that way.”

Carey Jenkins said he would like Obama to “come on the ground” in Ferguson, give voice to the protesters’ grievances, and push for federal charges against Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown.

He said the president should press local and state officials “to allow us to have free assembly without the fear and intimidation of a police presence and National Guard with rifles out.”

Jenkins said he traveled to Ferguson from Milwaukee because of concern about what kind of future his 17-year-old son would have as a black male in the United States.

Richard B. Muhammad, editor-in-chief of The Final Call, the official paper of the Nation of Islam, said Obama could do more to draw the nation’s attention to racial injustice.

“The more that the president can use his leadership ability, the more he can use his role as the father of the house, so to speak of the nation, the more he can help people understand the deep-rooted causes for what we are seeing,” he said.

Obama interrupted his two-week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to address the civil unrest sparked by Brown’s death. But he was careful not to take sides in the conflict and did not condemn what many protesters in Ferguson are calling police brutality.

"I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed," he said. "When they're conducting an investigation, I've got to make sure that I don't look like I'm putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other."

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told Politico that it wouldn't be appropriate for Obama to speak up "emotionally" in the middle of the Justice Department's investigation into Brown's death. 

An official told The Hill on Wednesday that although an Obama visit to Ferguson could take place in the future, it would right now divert resources to security.

Holder is due to arrive in Missouri Wednesday. He pledged in an op-ed to conduct a full, fair and independent investigation and to find out “exactly what happened” in the shooting.

Brown’s grandfather, Les McSpadden, has requested a meeting with Obama and said on MSNBC that the time has come for “my president to step forward.”

Protests over Brown’s death have spread to cities across the country, including New York and Washington.

This story was updated at 10:24 a.m.

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