FERGUSON, Missouri (AP) – Anxiety and speculation mounted Sunday as residents of Ferguson awaited a decision by a grand jury on whether to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black 18-year-old.
More than three-and-a-half months have passed since police Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown after a confrontation in the middle of a street in the St Louis suburb. The shooting triggered riots and looting, and police responded with armored vehicles and tear gas. The incident reignited debate over how police deal with young black men, and drew attention to racial tensions simmering in US communities four decades after the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Two-thirds of Ferguson’s residents are black but the police force is almost entirely white.
Many in the St Louis area thought a grand jury decision on whether to charge Wilson with a crime would be announced Sunday, based partly on a stepped-up police presence in the preceding days, including the setting up of barricades around the justice centre where the panel was meeting.
The grand jurors met Friday but apparently didn’t reach a decision, and they were widely expected to reconvene on Monday, though there was no official confirmation of that. Grand juries, composed of regular citizens, determine only whether probable cause exists to indict a suspect. If the jury indicts Wilson, a separate trial will be held to decide whether to convict or acquit him.
Protesting on Sunday night, Reggie Cunningham said he doubted Wilson will be indicted and it seemed authorities were delaying an announcement “to spin this in the most positive way possible.”
“The more that they drag this out, the angrier people are going to be,” said Cunningham, 30, of St Louis.
During church services, some pastors encouraged their flocks not to fret.
At the predominantly black Greater Grace Church in Ferguson, the pastor, Bishop LO Jones, referred to the pending grand jury decision briefly.
“Everybody stand to your feet and tell somebody, ‘Don’t be afraid. God is still in control,”’ Jones said as church members repeated after him.
As they wait, some people have continued daily protests, while speculation has grown that the delays are intentional.
“People feel like it’s been engineered, so that the results wouldn’t come out until after the election and until the weather got cold, and it would be more difficult to protest,” said Susan McGraugh, supervisor of the Criminal Defence Clinic at the Saint Louis University School of Law. “It’s really adding fuel to the fire.”