Of Course They Are.

What is it about politicians named “Nixon”? Are they all tone-deaf?

Several days ago, reports came out of Missouri that the Governor there was putting forces on alert in case of civil unrest when the Darren Wilson/Michael Brown grand jury revealed its decision.

Think about this.

  • A decision was expected.
  • Disappointed parties were expected to be so disappointed and upset, they’d cause civil unrest that would require a strong response from police or the National Guard.

If Darren Brown had been indicted, some of his supporters would be bitterly disappointed, but an indictment isn’t the same as a conviction. “There’s enough evidence to proceed with a conviction trial,” is a lower standard of proof than “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” There would be some hope that the prosecution would somehow fail to secure a conviction.

On the other hand, a failure to indict would mean a sure end to criminal proceedings. No prosecutor would proceed against another law enforcement official in the absence of an indictment. A return of no indictment would be more final, more upsetting, than an indictment.

One might reasonably conclude that Governor feared an upset response to a lack of an indictment.

I’m not a lawyer, and I haven’t reviewed the evidence that was presented to the grand jury. I’ve heard about some of the leaks from the testimony; I can see why some people felt an indictment was unlikely. That’s not my complaint about Gov. Nixon.

My concern is about the collective response to preparing for the worst in human behavior. In too many cases, letting someone know that you are concerned about their worst possible behavior enables that behavior. “They’re worried I might react that way. Is there some reason why I should react that way? Maybe they think I should be so upset, that behavior would be warranted.” It’s like asking a toddler with a skinned knee if they’re OK. Sometimes, if you ignore them, the toddler convinces their self that the pain isn’t too bad, but if you make a fuss, they reward your fuss with a reaction. I think the same behavior applies to mobs. People lost in the anonymity of a large crowd might not feel as responsible for their own actions and might feel emboldened to act out. They might want those around them to know that they’re as outraged as anyone else. No one gets noticed for being the calmest person in a maelstrom; it’s the most animated person who gets noticed.

If Gov. Nixon had sent more state police to the St. Louis area or had called up some National Guard units and had them do their monthly training in the Ferguson area instead of, say, the Ozarks, people might have noticed and wondered what it meant, but that’s not nearly as inflammatory as the Governor calling out the actions. Some people will take any plausible reason to stand down; others will stop giving The Man the benefit of the doubt when The Man makes their doubt about the community so blatant and explicit. Implicit beliefs can be rationalized into non-threatening views, but explicit statements have to be reacted to.

I’m sorry there were no indictments. I’m sorry there is rioting in Missouri and elsewhere tonight. Mostly, though, I’m sorry Gov. Nixon set expectations to be so low that they may have contributed to the rioting.

{edited: changed “conviction” to “trial” for accuracy.}


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