Area clergy and a multiracial crowd gathered inside Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday, joining hands to seek a prayerful response to civil unrest and hope for a peaceful outcome in anticipation of a grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo.
“We were trying to do two things: challenge and invite persons to participate in prayer,” said the Rev. Wallace S. Hartsfield II, an event organizer and senior pastor. “So many people from the community asked what is going to be the response. Many of the clergy were uneasy with that because we didn’t want to anticipate for exoneration or an indictment; we said we needed to have a response in spite of what of that decision will be.”
More than three months have passed since police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown after a confrontation in the middle of a street in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting triggered protests and looting, and police responded with armored vehicles and tear gas.
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 building where the panel was meeting.
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However, the grand jury met Friday but did not reach a decision. It’s expected they will reconvene on Monday, though there was no official confirmation of that.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch had said he expected a grand jury decision by mid- to late November. But that’s not ultimately in his control.
The 12-person grand jury deliberates in secret, without McCulloch, and sets its own schedule depending upon when the members are available.
It’s not uncommon for deliberations to take awhile in complex cases when, such as in the Brown shooting, self-defense is alleged or there are two widely conflicting versions of events, said Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson, who is not involved in the Ferguson case. Cole County is in central Missouri.
If jurors meet Monday, there is no guarantee they will reach a decision that day, or even this week.
“In the course of their deliberations, if one grand juror convinces the others that ‘look, we need to hear from an additional witness,’ and they all agree, the prosecutor’s got a duty to bring that witness in,” Richardson said.
When the panel reaches a decision, it will be up to McCulloch to publicize it.
During the service in Kansas City, various clergy offered prayers that sought to mend relations between the community and law enforcement; improve race relations; seek peaceful protests; and edify the city’s youth.
“We intercede on behalf of the countless hurting and helpless persons; those that are discouraged and despondent; those who are demoralized, pushed to the edges,” said the Rev. James A. Terrance Jr., senior pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Kansas City. “We celebrate, God, your imagination and creativity in fashioning us as individuals but we confess we have not always welcomed the diversity that is in our mist.”
Many congregants shouted “Amen,” while others clapped in approval.
“We pray for racial reconciliation and for the removal of hatred and hostility on the basis of pigmentation and gender and ethnicity. God touch our hearts. Cleanse us; change us so that we can look more like you,” Terrance said.
Later in the service, Hartsfield asked attendees to gather in small clusters and pray for peace and understanding. Organizers had planned a peaceful march from the church to nearby Central Park, but inclement weather postponed that until another day.
Organizers asked for residents to offer a prayer at noon each day for the situation in Ferguson.
“There is a lot of anxiety surrounding (the situation in) Ferguson, there is a lot of angst of not knowing what is going on and it is making people frustrated,” said the Rev. Marcus Halley, an associate priest at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.
The group has created #kcprayerfulresponse on Twitter to publicize their efforts and to engage others to participate. Hartsfield said their group also would involve clergy from other faiths, ethnic groups, races and genders to participate in their efforts.
“This is just the beginning of what we are going to pray for,” he said. “We are not looking for something that is going to end next week. We are looking for this to be a movement and not contingent on what verdict (grand jury decision) might come down, this is necessary no matter what.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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