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ST. LOUIS — To reassure the people of Ferguson, Attorney General Eric Holder reached into his own past, recalling the times he had been stopped by police officers who seemed to target him because of his race.
On a visit to the St. Louis suburb that has endured more than a week of unrest, Holder sought to build confidence in the investigation into the death of the black 18-year-old who was shot by a white officer. The trip also underscored the priority to the Obama administration of civil rights in general and the Michael Brown case in particular.
The attorney general said Wednesday that he understands why many black Americans do not trust police and that he has experienced many of the same frustrations. He described being stopped twice on the New Jersey Turnpike and accused of speeding. Police searched his car, looking through the trunk and under the seats.
“I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me,” Holder said during a meeting with about 50 community leaders at the Florissant campus of St. Louis Community College.
Once while living in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, Holder was running to catch a movie with his cousin when a squad car rolled up and flashed its lights at the pair. The officer yelled, “Where are you going? Hold it!” Holder recalled.
His cousin “started mouthing off,” and Holder urged him to be quiet.
“We negotiate the whole thing, and we walk to our movie. At the time that he stopped me, I was a federal prosecutor. I wasn’t a kid,” he said.
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Holder also met with federal officials investigating Brown’s Aug. 9 death and with Brown’s parents. Before getting briefed at the local FBI headquarters, he said he hoped the visit would “have a calming influence” on the area.
In addition, the attorney general met briefly with Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who has been in charge of security in Ferguson for nearly a week. The National Guard is also helping to keep the peace.
Asked whether he had confidence in the local investigation of the police officer, Johnson said Holder’s presence “is a guarantee on that.”
In nearby Clayton, a grand jury began hearing evidence to determine whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should be charged in Brown’s death. A spokesman for St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch said there was no timeline for the process, but it could take weeks.
Johnson said just six people were arrested at protests Wednesday night, compared to 47 the previous night.
Information provided to The Associated Press from St. Louis County showed that 163 people have been arrested in Ferguson’s protest area in the wake of Brown’s death — but only seven of those arrested are from Ferguson. The vast majority of arrests — 126 — have been for failure to disperse. Twenty-one burglary-related arrests have been made, and four people are accused of assaulting police.
Meanwhile, St. Louis police released video showing officers killing a knife-wielding man on Tuesday. The video shows the man saying, “Kill me now” as he moved toward two officers. Both fired six shot, killing the man, 25-year-old Kajieme Powell.
The incident happened in north St. Louis, about five miles from where Brown was shot. The St. Louis shooting briefly spurred a gathering of about 150 people who chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” a chant that has become common among protesters in Ferguson.