The grand jury records regarding Ferguson may remain sealed if there is no indictment of Darren Wilson. Although the prosecutor took the rare step of arranging for the recording of the preceding, there is no guarantee that the information will be available to the public.
In a statement issued today from the St. Louis County director of administration, Paul Fox, it was explained that the judge will have to first see the records before she can approve them for release. He continued by stating the court will need to balance the need for confidentiality with any need for the public disclosure of the records.
Before the proceedings, Prosecutor Bob McCulloch promised to record and transcribe the grand jury proceedings. He also indicated he wished to release them to the public if there is no indictment and the judge grants permission. The action was promised as a way to gain trust, although at this time, the town is on edge while the court awaits the decision.
Originally, Ferguson community organizers and officials anticipated a decision on Saturday. When the day ended, the grand jury announced plans to reconvene on Monday. The delays and anticipation appear unwelcome as tension increases and officials brace for protests and violence, especially if deliberations end with no indictment.
The possibility that grand jury records may remain sealed feeds an atmosphere already poisoned with distrust in Ferguson. Most peopled asked do not believe an indictment is possible and believe the system is stacked against them.
Early in the proceedings, McCulloch faced pressure to recuse himself and place another prosecutor in charge of the case. McCulloch is white and has ties to the police force. He also failed to bring charges in other cases where officers shot black citizens, making community members believe he would never take the current case seriously.
The previous militarized response to protesters still remains fresh in the memories of the community as well. Great St. Mark’s Family Church agreed to be a safe haven for anyone needing medical assistance or shelter. The congregation also emphasizes peaceful marches and avoiding violence at all costs—no matter what the grand jury concludes.
Civil engagement increased in Ferguson after the shooting and community leaders started teaching peaceful protest tactics. People remain tense not only wondering about the response to the verdict, but who could be shot by the police next.
Even if there is an indictment, there are concerns that a long trial will continue to fan the flames and Ferguson could explode once again. Anthony Gray, attorney for Michael Brown’s family, explained, “There is just a level of distrust over the whole process and those that are involved in the process and I think that is adding a level of anxiety to this whole situation that doesn’t have to be necessary had they done things differently in the beginning.”
Being denied information may increase resentment in an area where people already feel unsafe and underrepresented. If the grand jury records remain sealed without an indictment, it will likely continue to feed the grievances.
By Jocelyn Mackie
Photo by Ken Lund – Flickr License