Ferguson prepares for Grand Jurors’ decision

Last updated on December 19th, 2014 at 10:55 am

Signs displayed at Ferguson protests (Photo Credit: Jamelle Bouie)

Signs displayed at Ferguson protests (Photo Credit: Jamelle Bouie)

A lot has been going on in Ferguson as they (along with the nation) await a grand jury’s decision on whether to indict Darren Wilson, the White Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, who was Black and unarmed.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency ahead of the announcement of findings from the federal and St. Louis County investigations into the death of Michael Brown, according to an executive order.

“Regardless of the outcomes of the federal and state criminal investigations, there is the possibility of expanded unrest,” Nixon said in the order scheduled to expire in 30 days unless extended. “The state of Missouri will be prepared to appropriately respond to any reaction to these announcements.”

Gov. Nixon also announced the formation of a special commission on Ferguson, according to a local St. Louis TV station. Nixon announced the members in the hopes that it will help to calm tensions in the wake of the grand jury decision in the Brown case. The governor said the commission will include “business, education, public safety leaders and everyday citizens” who will tackle the “issues” that came about in the last few months.

In scarier news, some suburban St. Louis gun dealers have been doing brisk business, particularly among first-time buyers.

Metro Shooting Supplies, in an area near the city’s main airport, reports selling two to three times more weapons than usual in recent weeks (an average of 30 to 50 guns each day), while the jury prepares to conclude its three-month review of the case that sparked looting and weeks of sometimes-violent protests in August.

Protest leaders say they are preparing for non-violent demonstrations after the grand jury’s decision is announced, but they also acknowledge the risk of more unrest if the panel decides not to issue criminal charges against Wilson.

Other gun dealers say their sales spikes are comparable to the increases seen soon after Brown’s death on Aug. 9.

“I’ve probably sold more guns this past month than all of last year,” said County Guns owner Adam Weinstein, who fended off looters last summer at his storefront on West Florissant Avenue, the roadway that was the scene of many nightly protests.

Weinstein stood guard over his business with an assault rifle and pistol.

The store has since moved out of Ferguson, in part because of concerns about potential further violence. First-time gun owners account for about 60% of his recent customers.
The St. Louis County Police Department reports a sharp increase in the number of concealed-carry permits issued since Brown’s death compared with a year ago.

From May through July, the county issued fewer permits compared with 2013, records show. But from Aug. 1 through Nov. 12, officials issued 600 more permits, including more than twice as many in October as a year earlier.

Fifty-three more permits were issued in the first eight business days of November than in all of November 2013.

“It would be naive to say the increase has not been driven by concern over the grand jury decision,” said police spokesman Brian Schellman.

At the Ferguson Wal-Mart, one of more than a dozen stores attacked the night after Brown’s death, managers have removed ammunition from shelves as a precaution.

The move to make the ammo less visible apparently did not deter customers. A manager said Monday that the store had sold most of its supply of bullets.

Seven men and five women are making the crucial decision behind closed doors at the St. Louis County Courthouse, where they’ve been meeting since August.

The panel has heard only from the prosecutor and witnesses. Grand jury testimony, which does not allow participation by the defense, serves only to determine whether there’s enough evidence to indict Wilson on criminal charges in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

The charges Wilson could face include involuntary manslaughter or even murder.

The grand jury is 75% White, which closely reflects the makeup of St. Louis County, but not Ferguson, where two-thirds of the residents are Black.

Grand jury testimony is usually conducted in great secrecy. However, if there is no indictment, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch said he would make the rare move of releasing transcripts and audio recordings of the proceedings.

There’s no specific date for when the grand jury might finish its work.