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Residents of Ferguson prepare to bury Michael Brown

Local, state and federal agents conduct investigations into his death

Residents of Ferguson, Missouri, are preparing to lay Michael Brown to rest on Monday.

The black teenager was shot multiple times by white police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. That led to ongoing protests that have at times spilled over into violence as demonstrators clashed with authorities. On Sunday, Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., requested a halt to protests on the day the family buries their son.

As the funeral gets underway, local, state and federal officials are conducting investigations into the shooting. Michael Brown Jr.’s death sparked debate on racial tensions and civil rights issues in Ferguson and across the country. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson and met with community leaders. He is overseeing the federal investigation into the shooting.

The Department of Justice is trying to determine if any civil rights violations were committed — a process that could take weeks. To win a criminal civil rights violation case against Wilson, a unanimous jury decision is required, and prosecutors will have to prove not only that the shooting was unjustified but also that it was specifically committed as a racist act.

One issue that has been in the spotlight is the difference between how whites and African-Americans feel they are treated by the legal system. A Pew Research Center survey shows that 70 percent of African-Americans feel they are treated unfairly by police, and 60 percent feel the same way about the court system.

During Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment The Week Ahead, Thomas Drayton spoke to Marc Fernich, an attorney and a professor at Brooklyn Law School, and to Adolphus Pruitt II, president of the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP.

Pruitt said the data on police stops are troubling. He said, “The numbers that relate to tracking the disparity ratios and the number of stops and encounters that African-Americans have with policemen are overwhelmingly higher than they are for everybody else.”

Fernich said, “It’s a well-known fact that there are massive disparities, particularly in the federal system, in the way particularly drug offenders are treated. And there’s tremendous momentum in Congress right now to cut mandatory minimum sentences, and Congress had taken action to remedy those disparities, which are going to go into effect this November.”

He added, “It’s a mistake to rush to judgment and to conclude that it was a civil rights case or to conclude that the shooting was or was not justified.”

Another issue spotlighted by the shooting is the increasing militarization of police forces. In light of the unrest in her state, Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, plans to hold hearings next month to examine the arming of local police departments with equipment designed for the military. President Barack Obama has ordered a review of the federal programs that are transferring military equipment to local police.

Al Jazeera’s Diane Eastabrook is in Ferguson and says residents there have witnessed their neighborhoods erupt into violence, which has been followed by uncertain calm. In recent days, people have tried to help calm tensions by posting “I Love Ferguson” signs in front of homes and businesses. And teens from the NAACP held marches with clergy, calling for better relations between the community and law enforcement officials.

“This situation is not about race, and it’s not about religion,” said protester Malik Shabazz. “It’s about human rights for everyone all over the world, not just in the United States, not just in St. Louis or the city of Ferguson but all over the world.”

Pruitt says that in order to move forward, we need to address the socioeconomic issues that are at the root of the problems. “You can’t have young men — when they leave their homes, going to work, school or play — to be stopped at will by police and be searched, questioned and have their licenses scanned. Other people don’t understand how these young men feel, because they don’t experience as many encounters.”

In Ferguson young people are using social media to express themselves. Students have started a #Fergusonsyllabus page on Twitter to share and discuss their thoughts.

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