Editor’s Note: Jeffrey Toobin is a senior legal analyst for CNN and author of “The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Jeffrey Toobin says prosecutor's choice to announce grand jury decision at night was clueless
He says deliberations ended at lunchtime, announcing at night was needlessly provocative
Crowd control harder at night. Plus McCulloch's tone was icy, insensitive, divisive, he says
Toobin: Violence ensued. Verdict on McCulloch's decision on timing is clear, devastating
The grand jury has made its decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown last August in Ferguson, Missouri. But another verdict became clear last night, too. The decision by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch to announce the decision at 8:30 p.m. CT was foolish and dangerous.
Here’s the thing about that time of night: it’s dark. Anyone – anyone! – should have known that the decision in the Brown case would have been controversial. A decision not to indict, which was always possible, even likely, would have been sure to attract protests, even violence. Crowd control is always more difficult in the dark.
The grand jury’s deliberations concluded around lunchtime on Monday. It would have been simple to make the announcement while it was still daytime. Still, McCulloch said that he would not announce the grand jury’s decision until 8 p.m. CT.
At a news conference in the late afternoon, Gov. Jay Nixon was asked about this nighttime announcement. In an answer that was consistent with his generally clueless performance throughout this crisis, Nixon said the decision to announce the decision at night was made solely by McCulloch. In other words, don’t ask him! He’s only the governor!
McCulloch started his announcement late, and he was not finished until around 9 p.m., local time. His tone was icy and divisive. His sympathy for the Brown family was perfunctory. He seemed more angry at the news media than about the death of a young man.
The predictable reaction ensued. Protests began, some of them violent. Police responded with tear gas. Fires burned. Cars were destroyed. Gunshots were heard. The full scale of the damage was difficult to assess last night.
The ultimate verdict on the grand jury’s decision is up to history at this point. But the verdict on McCulloch opting to announce the decision at night is clear – and devastating.