Sen. McCaskill: Media Not Reporting Key Facts, Shooting of Citizens

Tuesday, 19 Aug 2014 11:01 AM

By Wanda Carruthers

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Most of the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, are law-abiding citizens, but "instigators" have infiltrated the people protesting the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, said Sen. Claire McCaskill.

"The protesters have now been invaded. And embedded among them are a group of instigators — some coming from other states — that want a confrontation with the police," the senator from Missouri said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday.

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McCaskill said the situation is pitting those protesting Brown's death by a police officer against the need for police to keep the community safe. She said it is the instigators who are posing the biggest problem for "the wonderful people of Ferguson who want to be law-abiding."

"You've got a situation where we have a clash between the First Amendment rights of protesters and the duty and obligation of law enforcement to keep those wonderful people safe. That is what you're seeing play out in front of you," she said.

McCaskill was critical of media reports of the violence and looting that has taken place in Ferguson following Brown's death on Saturday, Aug. 9. She said videos of tear gas are shown "after shots have been fired."

Shooters were aiming at "protesters and the police," and the people injured were "not being shot by the police," but by the instigators, the Missouri Democrat said.

There also was too much media attention on "confrontation," and not enough on the "healing" taking place in the community, she said, explaining there were "all kinds of things going on the ground [among ministers and community leaders], and it is not getting the coverage it deserves."

Instability has continued in the evenings in Ferguson since Brown's death. Local police originally worked to contain the unrest, but Gov. Jay Nixon called on the Missouri Highway Patrol on Thursday, Aug. 14, to oversee the situation, with Capt. Ron Johnson in charge.

As clashes continued, Nixon on Sunday then called out the National Guard to help restore order. At least two people were shot and 31 arrested Monday night in the St. Louis suburb.

While she had "confidence in local authorities" to conduct a thorough investigation, McCaskill explained that involvement by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice would add credibility to the situation. President Barack Obama announced Monday he was sending Holder to Ferguson to aid in the investigation.

"I want to make sure that with Eric Holder's visit tomorrow, that the people in the community are reassured that there is a very, very competent set of eyes looking over the shoulder of every state and local investigator in the community," she said.

McCaskill warned against rushing the investigation, saying that releasing details too early could influence witness testimony. She said "more people need to be talking about if [investigators] are doing it right."

"In a complicated scene like this, you have to take the time to make sure you've checked and double-checked your physical evidence. And you can't let that out, or all of a sudden, the witnesses are going to be parroting back what they've read, instead of what they really saw," she said.

Officials were working to find solutions so that people could protest in peace, McCaskill said, adding that an area could be designated for demonstrations.

"Maybe [we can find] a public space that's away from the business district, because I worry about the health and vibrancy of this community, too, as much as I worry about the safety and the fairness and the way they're treated," she said.

Protests could possibly be moved to a "green space" with "minimal screening" to ensure that people weren't carrying weapons, McCaskill said, indicating observation was already under way.

"Right now, there is surveillance going on. And there is a real effort to try to find the people who are actually wanting the confrontation and causing the violence, and seeing if we can't begin to be more aggressive about making arrests of those people with the guns, with the weapons, and therefore make it safe for everyone," McCaskill said.

While officials "over-policed for a few days" following Brown's death, and then "completely under-policed," McCaskill said they were now doing "what they feel they have to do to keep it safe under these dangerous circumstances with these instigators in town."

McCaskill praised Obama's "tone" in his plea for calm Monday against what he called the "small minority" undermining the peace in Ferguson. She said she had been on the phone with the president and Holder a "number of times" to discuss the situation.

Due to the high tensions in Ferguson that had no clear-cut resolution in sight, critics have called for Obama to visit the city. McCaskill said local resources were already stretched thin, given what an appearance by Obama would entail.

"A presidential visit requires a lot of security from local officials. Right now, our local officials have their hands full. It is a very bad time for a presidential visit for the practical reasons of these guys. Many of these people are not getting enough sleep. We are really taxing all the jurisdictions on the police forces. So, it's a bad idea," she said.

McCaskill said she hated to see "all these great small businesses in Ferguson suffering so terribly, because their community is being portrayed in a way that frankly is just not true," adding it remained "perfectly safe in Ferguson during the day."

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