One of the many questions I had watching the developments in Ferguson, MO unfold last night was why on earth did prosecutor Robert McCulloch decide to delay and release the grand jury’s decision? As it turns out, CNN has written an entire piece asking -- and trying to address -- this very question.
Common sense teaches us that waiting until nightfall to release the verdict, which gives crowds additional time to assemble and expand under the cover of darkness, is a bad idea. This totally avoidable, arbitrary decision is almost certainly one of the reasons why Ferguson erupted into mass demonstrations and destruction last night, despite the president’s strong urgings for protestors in Ferguson to remain peaceful.
But perhaps prosecutors understand these kinds of situations better than I do:
Initially, prosecutors were expected to give law enforcement 48 hours' notice from when the grand jury made its decision to when the announcement was made. But that clearly didn't happen Monday, since the decision and the announcement came on the same day.
But there may have been advantages in keeping the decision secret for hours -- most businesses are closed and there's less traffic.
"Now, I can understand, maybe he wanted to make sure that all students had left school or that everyone had cleared out," said community activist John Gaskin, referrring to McCulloch. "But he could have easily made this (announcement) tomorrow morning."
Also, chilly nighttime weather can sometimes deter violence -- though Ferguson's near-freezing temperatures overnight didn't stop agitators from looting businesses and setting dozens of buildings and cars on fire.
Indeed, if the decision was issued at (say) 6:00 AM, could the chaos have been controlled, or perhaps even avoided? We’ll never know.
There is, of course, no ‘good time’ to release a decision like this, especially when the verdict is perceived by many as a miscarriage of justice. But doing so at 8:00 PM CT seems like a terrible, terrible decision. And one that could have, and should have, been avoided.
UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, the crew over at Morning Joe were also scratching their heads this morning about the timing of the Ferguson decision. “This was totally foreseeable,” the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson said on the program. "This was an awful way to do it."