WASHINGTON – NAACP Washington Bureau Director and Senior Vice President for Advocacy Hilary Shelton said federal civil rights charges are in order for Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown last month in Ferguson, Mo.
Shelton also said he agrees with Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s position on the militarization of local police departments.
“I think civil rights charges are in order. I think that very well, as usual, we have to let the local governments move first. Local law enforcement is doing that now. The prosecution is gearing up,” Shelton said after a “Ferguson and Beyond” town hall meeting at Busboys and Poets last Wednesday evening.
“Information is being gathered by the Justice Department now. They are overseeing how local authorities are handling this. They will be prepared to move forward.”
Shelton stressed that pursuing civil rights charges is a tough hill to climb for Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department. Holder recently visited Ferguson to meet with local officials and the Brown family.
“The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the attorney general of the United States,” Holder said. “This country is capable of change. But change doesn’t happen by itself.”
During the panel discussion at the event, Nkechi Taifa, senior policy analyst at Open Society Foundations, pointed out that Democrats are not the only elected officials voicing their opinion on the situation in Ferguson.
Taifa mentioned that Paul addressed the conduct of law enforcement in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death.
“There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response,” Paul wrote in a TIME op-ed. “The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.”
Paul said Washington has encouraged the militarization of local police departments by providing federal dollars to help them build small armies.
“The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it,” he wrote.
PJ Media asked Shelton if he agrees with Paul’s position.
“I certainly agree with that argument. I don’t necessarily blame it on big government. It’s not the size of the government – it’s the actions of the government that makes the difference so indeed it’s about the actions of the government,” Shelton said.
“But when he talks about what’s happening with the militarization of our law enforcement entities – why in the world would we allow our government through law enforcement declare war on us? It’s our resources. We’re the taxpayers. We pay these police officers. We pay these officials that set the laws and the policies. We’re the ones under our democratic structure responsible for how it works,” he added.
Shelton recommended that Congress pass the End Racial Profiling Act, which was introduced by Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin in May 2013.
“The receipt of federal law enforcement and other funds that go to state and local governments is conditioned on their adoption of effective policies that prohibit racial profiling,” said a press release about the bill.
“The Justice Department is authorized to provide grants for the development and implementation of best policing practices, such as early warning systems, technology integration, and other management protocols that discourage profiling.”
Hollywood actor and political activist Danny Glover addressed the audience by phone.
“We have an opportunity to use this moment to mobilize,” said Glover.
The majority of his remarks were inaudible.
Glover’s publicist did not respond to a request for comment.
Barbara Arnwine, president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, hip-hop artist Jasiri X and Ron Hampton, former executive director of the National Black Police Association, also participated in the event.