The defeat of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch is long overdue. As the highest-paid elected county official, McCulloch has used this office and taxpayers’ money to abuse his authority and avenge his father’s death. This prosecutor is an absolute barrier to achieving any meaningful reforms that project fairness for all citizens and restoring confidence in system that ultimately impacts all our lives.
McCulloch’s father was killed in the line of duty as a St. Louis cop by a black man. As county prosecutor, McCulloch has taken his vengeance out on literally every African American coming through county courts with harsher sentences and an abundant use of the death penalty. He comes from a family of cops; his words and actions make it clear that he will always side with police, regardless of the evidence against them.
The role of a prosecutor is not only to find someone to prosecute for a crime. Prosecutors have extraordinary discretion to choose what gets prosecuted and how. They should really be truth seekers and embrace the truth however it prevails. We know from the hundreds of exoneration cases in the U.S. that prosecutorial criminality is pervasive. Like police departments, prosecutors are incapable of self-correction.
The world got a glimpse of McCulloch’s racism and incompetence with the handling of the grand jury in the case of the Michael Brown police killing. Local justice-seeking folks such as the Don’t Shoot Coalition questioned whether the prosecutor could be fair and called on then-Governor Jay Nixon to appoint a special prosecutor.
Legal eagles across the country took exception to how McCulloch handled the grand jury process, from witnesses to evidence. Typically, grand jury members are told the charges the prosecutor is seeking, but McCulloch’s office left the charges open-ended for the jury to decide. Neither did the office wait for the police and FBI investigations to be completed before turning the case over to the grand jury, as is customary. Grand Juror Doe is still challenging the courts to expose what went on behind closed doors.
As we approach the fourth anniversary of the Ferguson Uprising, this is a continuing reflection on all the combustible issues that captured the world’s attention in 2014. It’s also a marker to review any progress made since the killing of Michael Brown by former Ferguson cop Darren Wilson. The August 7 election for the next county prosecutor is a referendum on the region’s commitment to racial justice – an ever-festering sore of the historic, racist cancer in this country. Changing of the guard could be a real step towards judicial progress.
Wesley Bell is the only candidate running against the incumbent in the Democratic primary, and he is a worthy opponent. He is an attorney, former prosecutor and current Ferguson councilperson. Bell has a keen awareness of the court’s impact of the lives of people who find themselves facing the jaws of justice. The election of Bell is one legitimate way to write a new chapter of justice in St. Louis County courts in the post-Ferguson Uprising period. And beyond.
“Forward Through Ferguson” is the commanding report that came out of a region-wide community engagement in the aftermath of the Ferguson Uprising. Several recommendations were made for court reform and police accountability. Based upon his actions since then, it’s doubtful if McCulloch thought any were worth pursuing.
The Ferguson Commission called upon us to be “unflinching” in our approach to swift implementation of the initiatives. When we vote on August 7, let’s not flinch when we choose new leadership for St. Louis County prosecutor. Let’s assert that black lives still matter and swiftly vote for Wesley Bell.