Why did Ferguson officials wait until dark to announce the decision?

The press conference to announce the grand jury's decision in the Michael Brown case was scheduled for 8 p.m. central time. Why wait six hours to reveal the decision?

Noah Berger/AP
James Cartmill holds an American flag while protesting in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, after the announcement that a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. Several thousand protesters marched through Oakland with some shutting down freeways, looting, burning garbage and smashing windows.

Timing is everything.

With protests burning through Ferguson after the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of teenager Michael Brown, some in the media are questioning the timing of the announcement. 

Critics are wondering why officials waited until 8 p.m. Central Time (9 p.m. ET) to announce the decision that was ready by 2 in the afternoon. The announcement was followed by violent protests, local businesses being torched, looting, and rioting.

“This was totally foreseeable,” Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson told MSNBC. 

“Why in the world do you announce this thing at 9 at night?” he asked. “I’ll never understand that, especially when the decision was ready at 2 p.m.”

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin called the decision to make the announcement at that time “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,” he weighed in. “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.”

When the time for the press conference was announced, journalists took to Twitter to make predictions.

And they were right. Reaction to the announcement was immediate. 

USA Today reported:

Demonstrators taunted police, shattered windows and set fire to two St. Louis County police cars at the protest's furious peek. Scattered, intermittent gunfire was also reported.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a 1:30 a.m. CT news conference that at least a dozen buildings were set ablaze and that he had heard at least 150 gunshots, none fired by police. A police officer was shot but not seriously hurt, Belmar said.

Robinson, who said he is normally opposed to conspiracy theories, wondered if officials were hoping attention would be drawn away from the controversial decision and toward the protests — indeed, media coverage showed rioting erupting even as President Barack Obama was on live television bidding protesters to remain peaceful. 

“If you knew you were going to announce there was no indictment and you wanted to shift attention to the reaction, away from the decision itself — well, I guess this would be a way to do it,” Robinson said, according to Mediaite. “This would certainly be an awful way to do it.”

It would seem officials might have done a favor for peaceful protesters, police, and businesses by choosing a daylight hour for the announcement. 

But Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery covering Ferguson weighed in on Twitter:

And Ed Magee, a spokesman for the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office, defended the announcement timing to The New York Times, calling criticisms “unfair.”

 "There is no good time," Magee said.

"There’s no guarantee that things were going to be good no matter when you did it."

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