Holder: Law enforcement should seek to reduce tensions, not heighten them

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Attorney General Eric Holder has told police in Ferguson, Mo., he is  “deeply concerned” over the “deployment of military equipment and vehicles” by officers responding to protests there.

“At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message,” Holder said.

He said the Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office would provide assistance for local authorities to help maintain crowd control “without relying on unnecessary extreme displays of force.”

“The law enforcement response to these demonstrations must seek to reduce tensions, not heighten them,” Holder said. “Those who peacefully gather to express sympathy for the family of Michael Brown must have their rights respected at all times.”

“The scenes playing out in the streets of Ferguson over the last several nights cannot continue,” Holder added.

Holder's statement joins a growing chorus of officials in Washington expressing concern over the militarization of police forces following the unrest in Ferguson, which was prompted by the shooting of an unarmed black teenager. 

Earlier Thursday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) warned of a “systemic problem with today’s law enforcement” in an op-ed for TIME magazine, saying scenes in the St. Louis suburb “resemble war more than traditional police action.” 

President Obama also expressed concern in a statement earlier Thursday, saying there was “no excuse” for the use of excessive force by police. Overnight, more than a dozen people, including two reporters, were arrested in the clashes, where police fired smoke bombs and tear gas into crowds of protestors.

Holder, who is with the president on Martha's Vineyard, said that journalists “must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told.”

The attorney general also said that the Justice Department had “already conducted interviews with eyewitnesses on the scene” when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by police. 

“Our review will take time to conduct, but it will be thorough and fair,” Holder said.