U.S. Rep. John Lewis has now called for Pres. Obama to "militarize" the Missouri National Guard in order to protect protestors in Ferguson, Mo., where tensions between the community and police have been inflamed since the shooting death of an unarmed teenager on Saturday.
“My own feeling is that President Obama should use the authority of his office to declare martial law. Federalize the Missouri National Guard to protect people as they protest,” said Lewis -- a Civil Rights icon and longtime lawmaker for Georgia's 5th congressional district -- during an appearance on MSNBC.
Michael Brown, 18, was shot on Aug. 9. Ferguson police said the shooting followed an alleged assault of an officer, though multiple eyewitness accounts dispute this. Police have since declined to provide additional details, including the officer's name, while the investigation continues.
Brown's death has drawn widespread public scrutiny, and protests have continued daily since last weekend -- including looting and the arrests of journalists.
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On MSNBC, Lewis focused on the town's militarized police response. "To have a city that is majority African-American and only three African-Americans on the police force? Or to have local police officers referring to protestors as animals? Or to have people dress in military garment and pointing rifles directly at the protestors -- that is only going to incite people," he said.
Lewis elaborated on his stance in an emailed statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
“The death of Michael Brown is a grave tragedy the community of Ferguson, Missouri should not have to bear. How many more young men of color will be killed before we realize that we have a problem in America? We are permitting the incarceration and shooting of thousands of black and brown boys in their formative years who might have become great artists, leaders, scientists, or lawyers if we had offered them our support instead of our suspicion.
“It is a shame and a disgrace that a city with a significant African American population has only three representatives from that community on the police force. What kind of a police department is it that would refer to the people it should be trying to protect as animals? It is unbelievable that these ideas could run rampant in 2014. This is not 1940 or 1950 in America, but today it is hard to see the difference.
“This is not China or Russia or Syria. This is America, and in this country we have a right to protest in a peaceful, orderly non-violent fashion, and the press should be free to cover these protests without fear. The police should not interfere in the exercise of these constitutional rights. If people are not allowed to express their dissatisfaction through peaceful protest, they will find other means to make their voices heard.
“This is a good time to consider the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who said that “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.” I am glad the federal government will make an independent investigation of these matters.
“I urge every agency, every department, every community, every official and every person involved in this conflict to allow the whole truth to emerge so that peace–true peace and real justice will be the result. “My prayers are with the family of Michael Brown who lost their hope for a better future, with the city of Ferguson which has become the crucible of this conflict, and my prayers are for this nation still struggling with the scars and stains of racial discrimination, wanton violence, and flagrant injustice.”