Within a few short hours of the announcement that no charges were being filed by a grand jury, the juiciest and most controversial nuggets from the evidence brought against former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson were already spreading around the Twittersphere.
Wilson had just escaped prosecution, but the statements he made to the grand jury were immediately subject to public scrutiny. So was the testimony of the many witnesses, a close study of which has proven that the "Hands Up Don't Shoot" account of events was based on bad information.
For all the criticism that St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch faced in that case, releasing the evidence to the public without delay was an exercise in transparency.
Yet in New York City, the grand jury's decision not to charge officers for the death of Eric Garner was handled in the diametrically opposite way. A judge ruled in March not to release any evidence associated with the case. To this day, no one really knows why no one was charged in the death, which was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner—and captured on video.
Today, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed an appeal to that ruling, citing the public's interest in transparency, especially during a time where seemingly every other day there is a widely reported case of police officers killing someone of color.
In its appeal, the NYCLU wrote: "The question at the heart of this case is whether government secrecy should prevail over the public's interest in a factually grounded debate among an informed electorate and their representatives about one of the most controversial public policy issues of the day, or whether such secrecy serves only to further erode the public's fraying confidence in New York's criminal justice system."
The appeal name drops locations that have come to represent what it calls an "unprecedented national conversation" about use of force tactics that disproportionately affect communities of color. Ferguson, Cleveland, South Carolina, and even Baltimore, which has seen considerable unrest within the last week and a half, are mentioned.
“Across the country people are coming together to protest the failure of our criminal justice system to value black lives,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman in a statement about the need for appeal.
In the original ruling, the judge said petitioners failed to establish a “compelling and particularized need” to release the evidence.
New York statutes, the judge noted, ban the sharing of evidence presented to grand juries, though he noted the ban is in some cases subject to the court's discretion, when that "compelling and particularized need" mentioned above can be proven. Otherwise, he said, there is a "presumption of confidentiality" to the proceedings of the grand jury.
The NYCLU, in its appeal, underscores why it says the Garner case fits that criteria, due to the international attention the case and the protests that followed the non-indictment drew.
"National political figures—including the President and the Attorney General of the United States—have acknowledged that the Garner grand jury decision posed an unprecedented challenge to police-community relations and faith in the criminal justice system," reads the appeal.
"And yet without disclosure of the grand jury minutes the participants in such discussions remain completely without knowledge about how or why the grand jury reached the decision that it did."
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.