A Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict the New York City police officer responsible for the homicide of Eric Garner sparked nationwide protests and has provoked an escalating confrontation between the NYPD and the city’s mayor. On Monday, a Reuters report indicated that a New York City judge will hear arguments over whether those sealed grand jury deliberations should be released to the public.
The groups asking for the records to be made public say they are expecting a tough legal battle in a case that has drawn the attention of U.S. President Barack Obama and his Justice Department. But, they say, it is important to show how the grand jury came to its conclusion, and possibly expose flaws in the secrecy-shrouded process.
Grand jury proceedings, which are led by the prosecutor, are secret by law. The New York Civil Liberties Union, the city’s public advocate, the Legal Aid Society and the New York Post have each filed petitions in State Supreme Court in Staten Island arguing that an exception should be made in the Garner case.
Hopefully, the judge agrees to release these records. For the nation’s protesters, some of whom apparently suffer under the delusion that there are still segregated restaurants and that storming them in protest will result in an unknowable yet desirous outcome, the release of any information that contradicts their preconceptions about the Garner case will be dismissed off hand. For the nation’s more deliberative citizens, many of whom have genuine concerns about the processes in this case, the release of that information might prove informative.
The disclosure of the deliberations in this case might either reinforce or scuttle the notion perpetuated by some of the cable news landscape’s agitators slash legal analysts that the grand jury was tainted by the introduction of too much evidence by the Staten Island prosecutor. The truth of this will be either confirmed or refuted by the release of these records. Whether or not the prosecution provided the accused with undue deference because he was a police officer, one of many living in that borough, will also be cleared up by the release of this data.
Releasing these records is not, however, a cure-all for the tension that now plague the country’s urban centers. Despite the fact that it was demonstrated a myth by the divulgence of grand jury records in Ferguson, Missouri, thousands of Americans remain firm in the conviction that Michael Brown had his hands raised in submission when he was fatally shot. Even if the protest movement’s foundational beliefs are called into question, they will not simply close shop.
For those who are capable of dispassionate debate on this issue, however, being able to peruse the grand jury’s findings will be clarifying. It would be wise for the judge to make an exception to the rule for this exceptional case and release the grand jury’s records.