US earmarks $4.7 mn to improve police relations

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WASHINGTON: The US government announced Thursday a $4.7-million program to shore up police-community relations in the wake of the police killing of an unarmed black teenager in Missouri.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the initiative would aim to combat distrust between police departments and the public.

“The events in Ferguson reminded us that we cannot allow tensions, which are present in so many neighborhoods across America, to go unresolved,” Holder said in a statement.

“As law enforcement leaders, each of us has an essential obligation – and a unique opportunity – to ensure fairness, eliminate bias, and build community engagement.”


The fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer on August 9 in the St Louis, Missouri suburb of Ferguson led to nightly protests that at times turned violent.

It also prompted a national debate about race and law enforcement, and demands that the officer involved, Darren Wilson, be put on trial for murder.

The Justice Department, which Holder heads, said the so-called National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice would provide training on “bias reduction and procedural fairness” with a focus on five pilot sites around the nation.

Many African-Americans feel they are victims of unfair racial profiling by law enforcement agencies, half a century after the civil rights movement and the end of official segregation.

Holder has previously announced a civil rights investigation into Brown’s death.

Earlier Thursday, the St Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Wilson has appeared for the first time before a grand jury that is looking into Brown’s death.

It quoted “a source with knowledge of the investigation” as saying that Wilson was “cooperative” as he testified for almost four hours on Tuesday.

Wilson has been on administrative leave and out of public view since the shooting.

Police claim Brown was shot after a struggle with Wilson, less than a half-hour after the college-bound youth allegedly stole a box of cigars from a convenience store.

But some witnesses in Ferguson — a suburb of 21,000 with an African-American majority and an overwhelmingly white police department and town council — say Brown had put his hands up to surrender when he was shot at least six times.

AFP

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