WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder spoke in very personal terms Wednesday about his own interactions with police.
In Missouri to talk with officials and community members about the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Department officer Darren Wilson and the subsequent unrest in the community, Holder said, “I am the Attorney General of the United States. But I am also a black man,” detailing multiples times when he had “humiliating” experiences after being stopped by police.
After arriving in St. Louis on Wednesday, one of Holder’s first stops was to speak with community members at St. Louis Community College.
In addition to talking there about his personal experience, he spoke about what he wanted to see happen next, saying, “We are starting here a good dialogue. But the reality is the dialogue is not enough. We need concrete action to change things in this country.”
Excerpts of Holder’s remarks provided by the Department of Justice:
“The eyes of the nation and the world are watching Ferguson right now. The world is watching because the issues raised by the shooting of Michael Brown predate this incident. This is something that has a history to it and and the history simmers beneath the surface in more communities than just Ferguson.
“We have seen a great deal of progress over the years. But we also see problems and these problems stem from mistrust and mutual suspicion.
“I just had the opportunity to sit down with some wonderful young people and to hear them talk about the mistrust they have at a young age. These are young people and already they are concerned about potential interactions they might have with the police.
“I understand that mistrust. I am the Attorney General of the United States. But I am also a black man. I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding. Pulled over…. ‘Let me search your car’… Go through the trunk of my car, look under the seats and all this kind of stuff. I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.
“I think about my time in Georgetown - a nice neighborhood of Washington - and I am running to a picture movie at about 8 o’clock at night. I am running with my cousin. Police car comes driving up, flashes his lights, yells ‘where you going? Hold it!’ I say ‘Woah, I’m going to a movie.’ Now my cousin started mouthing off. I’m like, ‘This is not where we want to go. Keep quiet.’ I’m angry and upset. 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. I was a federal prosecutor. I worked at the United States Department of Justice. So I’ve confronted this myself.
“We are starting here a good dialogue. But the reality is the dialogue is not enough. We need concrete action to change things in this country. That’s what I have been trying to do. That’s what the President has been trying to do. We have a very active Civil Rights Division. I am proud of what these men and women have done. As they write about the legacy of the Obama administration, a lot of it is going to be about what the Civil Rights Division has done.
“So this interaction must occur. This dialogue is important. But it can’t simply be that we have a conversation that begins based on what happens on August 9, and ends sometime in December, and nothing happens. As I was just telling these young people, change is possible. The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the Attorney general of the United States. This country is capable of change. But change doesn’t happen by itself.
“So let’s start here. Let’s do the work today.”