The Corner

Against Myself

My Corner post from last night has been given a new headline on the homepage: “The Prosecutor Was Right.” That wasn’t my doing and I’m not sure what I wrote easily lends itself to such a strident headline. My post was originally titled “Thoughts on tonight” and that’s all they were.

And as I was blearily trying to indicate last night, I am open to the argument that McCulloch was in fact not right. I said his critics have a point. And as I read up on the proceeding this morning, I think that point gets stronger. For those who believe Michael Brown was murdered, what they see is a prosecutor who bent over backwards for a police officer in a way he never would have for nearly any other criminal suspect in the dock. McCulloch let Wilson testify at great length. He presented the evidence comprehensively to the Grand Jury, not selectively. Here’s a pretty representative argument from the anti-McCulloch side:

I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s hardly wholly unreasonable either. If McCulloch was determined to get an indictment, this process wouldn’t have taken nearly as long.

McCulloch’s argument for doing what he did is that he wanted to be as exhaustive as possible so no one could claim he had rigged the game. Others, though not McCulloch himself, might argue that this was necessary in a lynch-mob climate in which a police officer was being convicted daily on TV and in the streets. Maybe that was a bad call. Or maybe Ferguson would be in smoldering ruins this morning no matter what. Or maybe the smoldering would come later, after Wilson was found not guilty at trial. I don’t know. 

I do know that I don’t much like arguments that the “community” is owed a trial, for reasons I suggested last night. As Andy McCarthy more ably argues below, public trials serve an important community function, but we can never let that secondary role trump the authority of their primary role: individual justice. If the grand jury decided in good faith there was no probable cause to indict, putting Wilson on trial anyway — for purposes of public education, emotional catharsis, or “social justice” is not acceptable. That is bread-and-circuses reasoning. So, again, I really don’t know if McCulloch was right. His stated reasons for the decisions he made seem plausible and defensible enough to me. But I can certainly see why he’s being second-guessed for the final outcome. 

For those who want me to be all on one side or another of this (Twitter has been an ugly place for the last twelve hours), all I can say is that I am honestly conflicted. Even in this obscenely polarizing chapter of American life, not everything is black and white. 

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