A small note to add to the many pained, angry reactions to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. We have the numbers on how segregated the city is—and how unrepresentative its leadership—but if you want a close look at citizen-government estrangement in action, just watch the first several minutes of Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s defensive, scolding press conference. There’s a serious question of whether he postponed his announcement until primetime to make a point, even though delaying until nightfall made a tense situation even riskier. But the really striking element of McCulloch’s remarks is their repeated slaps at the reaction Michael Brown’s death has generated in the press and among the public. McCulloch tried to denigrate the latter through several sneering references to “social media”—but that’s just his contemptuous word for public debate.
The truth is, McCulloch’s job was to deliver the news about the grand jury’s decision. It was not to scold the people of Ferguson, or the American people for that matter, for having understandably suspicious reactions to this case. I’d add, given the horrific treatment of reporters during the last Ferguson protests, that local officials in that community are in no position to lecture on media ethics. But that was the attitude of McCulloch during his moment in the national spotlight, and it says so much about the civic rot in Ferguson. Citizens are not children to be scolded. When they are doubtful, worried, frightened, or angry—or all of the above—that’s when they most crucially need respect and straight talk from their public servants. Tonight’s reprimanding lecture from of McCulloch revealed his belief that he owes the residents of Ferguson no such thing. It spoke volumes.