Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Rewind: the announcement

"Saying to the community, we see you as an adversary, we see you as already guilty so we're going to pre-empt this with the National Guard. That was a poor play in terms of building trust in the community." — Michael Shank, George Mason University School for Conflict, Analysis and Resolution

THE TIMING of the announcement of the grand jury's decision in the Michael Brown case seemed calculated to create maximum effect and roil a community already pulsing with pent up frustration and anger. After baiting the local citizenry and watching world by teasing the announcement for a week, prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch delayed making the announcement the day it was handed down until late in the evening. At the very least, the timing was reckless.

Below are two opinion pieces from writers with more resources, experience and skill than I have. 

And FYI: a new poll commissioned by The Washington Post and ABC News was released today which found that when asked, "Do you approve or disapprove of the way the police and other local authorities have handled the protests in Ferguson?” only 28% of liberal Democrats and 51% of conservative Republicans approved. 

Decision to announce grand jury verdict at night devastating
By Jeffrey Toobin
November 25, 2014

Jeffrey Toobin is a senior legal analyst for CNN.

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. 

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 Two-Way: Breaking News from NPR
Community Activists Question Timing Of Grand Jury Announcement
By Laura Sullivan
November 25, 2014 

For weeks, Ferguson police and local leaders met with community groups and activists to work out a plan for the aftermath of the grand jury's decision whether to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

Many activists who had attended the community meetings with local officials blamed both police and the county attorney's office for fueling the unrest. They question the decision to announce the grand jury's findings at night and without much warning.

"I put what happened last night directly at their feet," said Montague Simmons, a leader of the Don't Shoot Coalition, which represents 50 organizations involved in the protests.

"We knew what would happen if they released this at night," Simmons says. "If they had given us notice, we could have been prepared and worked with our people."

He says that with enough of a heads-up, the group could have planned peaceful protests and encouraged any outliers to join them.

"They haven't been willing to be engaged with us," Simmons says. "There's no rational explanation I can offer unless this is what they wanted to happen. They treated us like a threat, not a partner. This relationship is out of balance."

The release of the grand jury decision appeared chaotic even to outsiders, as the timing shifted over several days and rumors circulated throughout the community. Previously, there were promises to Brown's family to notify them of the decision before the announcement. That promise did not appear to have been kept.

"The lack of responsiveness and accountability that we have seen [since the release] is the same lack of responsiveness and accountability we've seen all along," Simmons says.

Michael Shank, a professor at George Mason University's School for Conflict, Analysis and Resolution says Ferguson police erred early on by refusing not to use tactical, military-style weapons and gear when negotiating with protesters.

Shank, who has been following the unrest closely with colleagues and others on the ground, says releasing in the dark and after work defies explanation.

"They could have helped de-escalate this," Shank says.

"Saying to the community, we see you as an adversary, we see you as already guilty so we're going to pre-empt this with the National Guard," Shank says. "That was a poor play in terms of building trust in the community."

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