U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a packed Ebenezer Baptist Church sanctuary Monday night how honored he was to be at the home where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once pastored. He said “who could have imagined 50 years ago that a black man would be the Attorney General of the United States, serving a black man as the President of the United States.” His presence at the Community Speaks Service and Forum was preceded by a meeting with event organizer Doctor Raphael Warnock, the Senior Pastor of Ebenezer; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; Atlanta Police Chief George Turner; CEO of the King Center Bernice King, and several others.
Attorney General Holder, who earlier in the day attended a cabinet meeting with President Barack Obama, flew into Atlanta to present the Administration’s plans following the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri. Earlier in the day President Barack Obama announced that he’d be asking Congress for a quarter of a billion dollars for a federal response to the civil rights upheaval in Ferguson, including improving accountability in the federal program that allows police forces to get their hands on military-style weapons. Holder said Monday night that federal guidelines would be issued aimed at ending racial profiling and ensuring fair and effective policing.
On November 24, 2014, a grand jury determined that no charges would be filed against the white police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown on August 9, 2014.
Inside Ebenezer, the crowd exploded when Holder announced that the justice department investigation into the shooting of Brown, and the probe into unconstitutional policing by officers in Ferguson “remain ongoing.” Shouts of “yes, yes, yes”, resonated throughout the building.
The U.S. Attorney General told the packed sanctuary at Ebenezer, “there can be no question that Michael Brown’s death was tragic.” Holder went on to say that “it sparked a national conversation” about various processes. All, which Holder says, “must be addressed by all Americans and in a constructive manner.”
The U.S. Attorney General said that “Dr. King would be the first to remind us that acts of destruction threaten to stifle the debate” and “impedes social progress.” Holder adding that the violence is “not consistent with the wishes of Michael Brown’s father who asked that his son be remembered peacefully.”
The Community Speaks ATL forum was meant to allow the community to voice its concerns about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere. A number of attendees lined up on both sides of the room to give requests and grievances to the U.S. Attorney General. Critics claim that enough time wasn’t given for young attendees to voice their concerns about recent events in the country.
In a powerful oratory, Aurielle Marie, founder of the group #it’sbiggerthanyou, which has organized massive rallies in Atlanta, said that the issues in Ferguson are not isolated. The 19 year old Atlanta college student said the Atlanta, Cobb County, and Union City police departments “are responsible for the murders of 92 year old Katherine Johnson, 19 year old Ariston Waiters, and thousands of other unnamed, black, undocumented, brown, queer, and trans-bodies living in Atlanta.” She said, “It is our duty to fight” adding “for our freedoms.” Marie then said, “we the students of Atlanta regard the actions of the police against black and brown people here, in Ferguson, and across this country as an extreme violation of human rights and understand it is a necessity to put an end to police brutality both here and everywhere.”
Members of Marie’s group were escorted from the sanctuary when, just minutes after the Attorney General started his speech, they stood with posters and raised fists chanting “It is our duty to fight for our freedom! We have nothing to lose but our chains.” In response Holder said, “there will be a tendency on the part of some to condemn what we just saw, but we should not. What we saw there was a genuine expression of concern and involvement.” He went on to say, “It is through that level of involvement, that level of concern, and I hope, a level of perseverance and commitment that change ultimately will come. Holder telling the protestors, “let me be clear, I ain’t mad at cha alright.” The sanctuary, again, erupted in applause.