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There were no surprises in Ferguson last night — not the grand jury’s decision, and not the riot that followed (I predicted both on NRO last month). Nor was there anything unexpected in the pitiful display of bellyaching by some in the media about the “flawed process” that produced an outcome other than the one they desired.
For all the time it took to reach their decision, my sense is that it wasn’t even a close case for the grand jurors. Either Darren Wilson was in legitimate fear for his life when he shot Michael Brown or he wasn’t. There was abundant evidence to suggest he was and very little that he wasn’t. The evidence proved the only criminal in the fatal encounter was Michael Brown, the not-so-gentle giant.
So, given that a violent reaction to the grand jury’s decision was widely anticipated, certainly among the police, how did things go out of control so quickly? Yes, the police had been planning and training for weeks, but so had the rioters (and I distinguish the rioters from the peaceful protesters). The police couldn’t be everywhere, so it didn’t take long for those bent on destruction to take advantage of the fact that officers were thinly spread.
Still, I was surprised to see police cars vandalized and burned last night. One of the elementary rules in dealing with hostile crowds is that you don’t leave the police cars unattended. They make too rich of a target for people hoping to star in a YouTube video. If you can’t park them in a secure location, you leave behind a sufficient number of officers (and it doesn’t take many) to deter anyone who might have malicious intent. The sight of a burning police car sends the message that the authorities are impotent, which only leads to further rioting.
The rioters will be back out tonight. And why wouldn’t they be? Let’s hope the police learned some things from last night’s events and are more effective in their response to tonight’s.