CNN legal analyst Jeff Toobin raises an important question: Why did authorities in Ferguson wait until 8:30pm CST to announce that the grand jury had declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown? The grand jury reached a decision around lunchtime and the news went out shortly thereafter. At first, the authorities said that the results would be announced at 4pm local time, but 4pm came and went with no announcement.
It’s not like the authorities were caught off-guard. Everyone knew the decision was coming any day, and security preparations were already in place. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon had issued a state of emergency the previous Monday, in anticipation of the grand jury’s verdict.
So, what took them so long? Were they hoping to stifle protests by waiting until after dark? If so, that was a dubious decision. Everyone knew there would be protests. However, as Toobin points out, crowd control is more difficult at night.
I would add that waiting until after dark on a freezing November night is more likely to deter families with children and seniors–people who tend to have a moderating effect on protests.
Now, the St. Louis County police chief is basically dismissing all the Ferguson protesters as violent:
“I really don’t have any hesitation in telling you that I didn’t see a lot of peaceful protest out there tonight, and I’m disappointed about that,” Jon Belmar, the St. Louis County police chief, said early Tuesday at a news conference. “I’m not saying there weren’t folks out there that were out there for the right reason — I’m not saying that wasn’t the case — but I am saying that, unfortunately, this spun out of control.” [NYT]
Well, what did he expect? By announcing at night, the authorities created conditions that would specifically suppress turnout by peaceful protesters and provide cover for others intent on committing violence.
Keeping the community waiting for hours for no apparent reason was a provocation in itself.
[Photo credit: Hourglass, Creative Commons.]