*Ben Carson on Friday became the first presidential candidate of either party to visit Ferguson, Missouri, including the intersection where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in August 2014.
Joined by Ferguson, Missouri’s mayor, the Republican neurosurgeon first embarked on a guided tour of the small suburb, then headed to a St. Louis airport hotel for a roundtable with activists, pastors, and politicians, according to The Washington Post.
“I heard more than one time how the thing that really inflamed the community was the fact that Michael Brown’s body laid out on the street for four hours,” said Carson, according to The Post. “I think a lot of people understood that he had done bad things, but his body didn’t have to be disrespected. I heard also that people need to learn how to respect authority.”
Carson kept the roundtable — and the tour — closed to press. According to Mayor James Knowles, who has invited all presidential contenders to Ferguson, Carson’s tour included a stop at the city’s only coffee shop, lunch at an Italian restaurant, and conversations with the people who happened by.
The mayor also tried to connect Carson with Brown’s father, though the scheduling didn’t pan out. Among the roundtable invitees were Ella Jones and Wesley Bell, two black Ferguson residents elected to city council in the wake of the Brown shooting; Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R-Mo.), the leading Republican candidate for governor, joined both the roundtable and the tour.
“At lunch, we were discussing some of the young people who protested in this community,” said Kinder, who has endorsed Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) for president. “Dr. Carson generously and graciously said that he could have been among them. From his humble beginnings on the mean streets and tough neighborhoods of Detroit, growing up in a single parent household, he could have ended up where Michael Brown ended up.”
Carson, the only black presidential candidate in either party, has alternated between praise and criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement. In a 2014 interview, he linked the decline of families and communities to “the women’s lib movement,” and just this month he wrote in USA Today that “the notion that some lives might matter less than others is meant to enrage,” which might be “distracting.” Yet in the same column — distributed at his post-Ferguson press conference — Carson wrote that “the protesters are right that racial policing issues exist.”
The most prominent Black Lives Matter activists did not make it to the Hilton Garden Inn. Carson said he was open to meeting them, though his “beef” with the movement was that it did not seem adequately concerned with lives “that are eradicated by abortions.” Some Black Lives Matter activists wanted the Department of Justice to bring a federal monitor to Ferguson, and Carson said locals had told him “was probably more hurtful than helpful to have DOJ involvement.”
Apart from that, Carson said that the activists’ concerns were well-founded. “It is very important that police are taught to be respectful of everyone,” said Carson. “One lady was talking about the fact that she woke up, her son woke up, and said: ‘There are police out there all over the place! There are armored vehicles out there!’ She went outside, a policeman was walking on the sidewalk, and she asked him: ‘What’s going on?’ He said, ‘nothing.’ That’s not respectful. We need to make sure that respect is offered in both directions.”
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