On Wednesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a message from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to the people of Ferguson, Mo., in which the nation's top law enforcement officer committed the "full resources" of the Department of Justice in investigating the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
But the most important part of his message had nothing to do with justice. It was about trust.
"Good law enforcement requires forging bonds of trust between the police and the public. This trust is all-important, but it is also fragile," Mr. Holder wrote.
In visiting Ferguson on Wednesday, Mr. Holder made this case personal, perhaps bringing a level of trust to the local African-American community that doesn't have much faith in the efforts of St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch or Gov. Jay Nixon.
This editorial page has had its disagreements with Mr. McCulloch. And we have a 23-year history of feuding with Mr. Nixon. But we have questioned their judgments, not their integrity.
What Mr. Holder and the Department of Justice can bring to the Michael Brown/Darren Wilson case is a backup on judgment calls. He doesn't need to take over the case; the DOJ's parallel investigation ultimately should ease concerns over the county's investigation.
But Mr. Holder's involvement is important. This case is part of a larger effort, one in which Mr. Holder is using his office to further the cause of civil rights for African-Americans and other minorities. In the past couple of years, he has significantly increased DOJ's involvement in local cases of questionable police shootings. Mr. Holder is also pressing voting rights lawsuits across the county that directly challenge Chief Justice John Roberts' errant view that the era of racial discrimination in the United States is over.
Ferguson is our nation's wakeup call that Judge Roberts and his head-in-the-sand Supreme Court majority not only got the law wrong last year in the Shelby County v. Holder case about the Voting Rights Act, but that they are dangerously out of touch about the challenges that continue to face African-Americans in a political structure still stacked against them.
The Shelby County decision overturned section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required some Southern states with a history of racism to receive Department of Justice approval before changing voting laws. Since then, several of those states have passed restrictive photo voter identification measures intended to make it harder for traditional Democratic constituencies — African-Americans, disabled voters, some seniors and college students — to exercise their constitutional rights.
Despite the roadblocks caused by the court's ruling, Mr. Holder is pushing back, aggressively seeking to protect voting rights in multiple venues.
"People should understand that there's steel here," Mr. Holder told the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin in February. "I am resolved to oppose any attempts to try to roll back the clock … to try to make it more difficult for people to exercise the most fundamental American right."
In Missouri, Republicans have been trying for several years to diminish that right by passing unnecessary voter ID laws. Thankfully, the courts have stood in the way. But it doesn't take much parsing of words to understand the dynamic that is at play.
Just Tuesday, Matt Wills, the executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said it was "disgusting" that some activists at the protests were registering people to vote.
"If that's not fanning the political flames, I don't know what is," Mr. Wills told Breitbart News, a strange characterization of a peaceful attempt to help people exercise their constitutional rights. "Injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy, not only is not helpful, but it doesn't help a continued conversation of justice and peace."
Meditate on that for a moment.