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Far from Missouri, Baltimore readies for Ferguson ruling

Rev. Al Sharpton gave the guest sermon at Macedonia Baptist Church of Baltimore City on the occasion of its 140th anniversary.
Rev. Al Sharpton gave the guest sermon at Macedonia Baptist Church of Baltimore City on the occasion of its 140th anniversary. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun)

As the nation waited to see whether a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer would be charged in the killing of an unarmed black teen, criticism arose Sunday in Baltimore and around the nation about how the investigation is being handled.

Speaking at McKeldin Square near the Inner Harbor, the Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference condemned Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon for declaring a state of emergency in advance of a grand jury decision, saying it has created an "atmosphere of fear" and will infringe on the rights of Ferguson protesters who "have the right to be angry."

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Meanwhile, a lawyer for Brown's family criticized the way prosecutors have handled the grand jury process, which has dragged on longer than many expected.

The attorney, Benjamin Crump, told ABC's "This Week" program it was the first time in his 20-year legal career that a prosecutor had not recommended charges to a grand jury hearing a case.

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He asked why authorities "can't come in and recommend charges right now based on the probable cause," a reference to witnesses who said Brown had his hands up in the air, signaling surrender, when the officer shot him. Supporters of the officer, Darren Wilson, say he shot Brown in self-defense.

It appeared that the St. Louis suburb, which has become a flashpoint for U.S. race relations since Wilson killed Brown on Aug. 9, would have to wait until at least Monday and perhaps longer for an announcement from the grand jury.

The 12-member grand jury was to resume meeting behind closed doors on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing an unidentified St. Louis County official.

There have been nightly rallies and a high-profile law enforcement presence in Ferguson, and in Baltimore, some community members prepared for a protest.

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Sharon Black, of the Peoples Power Assembly, and Witherspoon brought a dozen people to McKeldin Square to call for a "massive protest" following the grand jury's decision.

"As a country, we have the opportunity to do the right thing," Witherspoon said. "But if we do the wrong thing, the citizens must be out on the street."

The National Guard will back up law enforcement in Ferguson if the protests turn violent. Baltimore police did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday night on how they plan to handle any local protests.

In another Baltimore neighborhood Sunday, the Rev. Al Sharpton spoke on the issue and called members of a church to action.

Sharpton spent the morning at Macedonia Baptist Church in West Baltimore as a guest speaker for the church's 140th anniversary service. He told the packed pews that he was able to attend because the grand jury in Ferguson had continued its deliberations into Monday.

He said he had promised Brown's parents that he would be with them when the grand jury returned with a verdict, and that he planned to be in Missouri on Monday. He left the church even before Sunday's service had ended.

But during a 40-minute sermon, Sharpton told the congregation of about 500 that "we worship this morning at a time of real crisis and concern," noting both the passing of former Washington Mayor and City Council member Marion Barry early Sunday and the events in Ferguson.

"The challenge is to us," he said. "What are we going to do about it?"

He told congregants to "stir up the gift" God gave them and use it regardless of income and obstacles. His sermon drew parallels between Old Testament portayals of the Israelites being led into the "promised land" and African-American slaves and civil rights activists, who carved out a path to freedom for blacks today.

Sharpton, along with Macedonia Baptist Church's pastor, the Rev. Darron D. McKinney Sr., and other black leaders had met with President Barack Obama on Thursday, just before the president's speech on immigration, Sharpton said. Neither Sharpton nor McKinney elaborated on what the meeting was about during the service.

McKinney on Sunday prayed for activists in Ferguson who he said were fighting for "equality."

"We pray for those standing on the front lines of Ferguson," he said. "We pray no matter the resolution that God stands in their midst."

In a speech Saturday night at Morgan State University, Louis Farrakhan predicted violence in Ferguson this week and castigated black leaders — from fellow preachers to the president — for trying to pacify protesters who have a right to express outrage over police brutality.

"They know an explosion is going to come," the Nation of Islam leader said to cheers from the more than 2,000 people crowding the university's Murphy Fine Arts Center. "You leaders are the worst."

"Tonight in Ferguson everyone is on edge. White folks ain't never been on edge after they've killed a black man. Tonight they're on edge. So on edge that our president has come out from behind the curtain to ask black young people, 'cool it,'" Farrakhan said.

St. Louis County prosecutors have said the grand jury's decision will be announced at a news conference, but the date, time and location remain unknown. Crump said he expected to get about six hours notice before an announcement.

In anticipation of the announcement, barriers were erected over the weekend around the courthouse where the jury meets, and traffic restrictions were imposed on some nearby roads. The streets were largely empty of people on Sunday during torrential rain.

Two people were arrested outside Ferguson police headquarters late Saturday — an activist from Chicago who has been detained during protests three times since Wednesday and a man identified as a Washington, D.C.-based reporter.

Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, told demonstrators Saturday night they should remain peaceful whatever the grand jury decides.

Baltimore Sun reporter Doug Donovan and Reuters contributed to this article.

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