I was appalled by Jeffrey Toobin’s analysis of the decision of the grand jury in the Darren Wilson indictment hearings. Toobin, a legal analyst for CNN is a former prosecutor as well as defense attorney. The reason the DA, Robert McCulloch, did not prosecute Darren Wilson during the hearings was because, Toobin says, he could not have convinced a trial jury that Wilson was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, even of involuntary manslaughter, the least of the possible charges. What good is an indictment—which is based on probable cause—Toobin would have us believe if there is no or little chance of winning at a trial?
So for Toobin, and who knows how many other extraordinary legal minds, it’s win or don’t bother. The legal proceedings in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting death were all a game, to be won or lost. For Toobin, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, the grand jury investigation was on the level of a good law school exam question where the best possible answer would be: too much conflicting evidence for an indictment of the shooter.
I wonder if Mr. Toobin realizes that he just may have advanced the already open season of late by police and George Zimmerman-vigilante types on black males in America. I wonder if Toobin sees any bias in his own analysis, probably an unconscious bias, that the lives of ghetto black males are simply not worth the effort of the criminal justice system to determine why an unarmed eighteen year old boy was shot seven times. If there is no bias then Toobin is alienated from his own emotions, characteristic of a super rational technocratic personality.
Of course, we never hear from media lawyers like Mr. Toobin that America’s love affair with guns and violence could be part of the problem. His perspective of the Michael Brown shooting is amazingly shortsighted. Given the large size of the media audience he has, I see his analysis of the case as doing much more harm than good.
Probable cause, hence an indictment of Officer Wilson, should have been a no-brainer for a prosecutor and a well-informed grand jury. Mr. McCulloch’s job was to inform the grand jury of the likelihood of a crime, not to convict beyond a reasonable doubt. Everyone agreed, even Wilson, on the facts of the case: an unarmed male was shot seven times with one shot to the head, killing him. Then Brown’s body was left for four hours on the streets of Ferguson, MO before it was scooped up by the police and coroner’s office.
What we are seeing in this critically important event in contemporary America is the triumph of detached rational analysis from the real world, if not just common sense itself. Jeffrey Toobin’s law school education, and maybe Mr. McCulloch’s also, is lacking in what can only be called a humanistic perspective. They both miss the forest through the trees, the forest being the murderous and totally unnecessary taking of a life.
One wonders whether law schools in general overwhelmingly emphasize to students how to win cases regardless of the consequences to the individuals involved or to society in general. I would not feel exactly elated today if I had been one of Jeffrey Toobin’s law school professors, especially if I had recommended him for academic honors. But maybe the fault is in the law school itself or law schools as such.
Richard Sahn is a professor of Sociology and a regular contributor to The Contrary Perspective.