St. Louis Decides Black Lives Matter In Ferguson After All
Not even my morning pot of dark roast could recharge me more than reading that Robert McCulloch's 28-year run as prosecutor for St. Louis County, Missouri, ended after Wesley Bell beat him like a pinata in the Democratic primary last night. McCullough is most known for giving Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson a pat on the head and a lollipop after he shot and killed Michael Brown, armed with blackness, in 2014. He behaved more like Wilson's defense attorney than a prosecutor. McCullough tanked the grand jury proceedings so completely it was no wonder they declined to indict. Worst of all, he likely lit the fuse that led to the weeks of unrest in Ferguson after he announced the grand jury's decision at the worst possible moment and lectured the true villains of social media and the "news cycle" that struck him as curiously obsessed with seeking justice for a teenager shot dead and left to rot in the middle of the street.
Bell, a Ferguson city councilman, admitted even some of his friends didn't think he could unseat McCullough, but once the votes were counted, Bell, 43, had smoked McCullough, 67, by a whopping 13 point margin. All I can say is it feels good.
Back when we had a department resembling justice, it released a report on the policing in Ferguson. Spoiler Alert: It was racist and the mostly black residents were terrorized and used as a perpetual revenue-generating machine. Put up a few roller coasters and you'd have a racist Disney World.
This is why Bell's victory is a major event. He's running unopposed in November, so he's certain to become the next St. Louis prosecutor. He's also black, but so is Candace Owens. What matters is that Bell plans to make some changes.
"People say, 'well you shocked the world.' No. We shocked the world," Bell said to a crowd of supporters Tuesday night.
Bell said, "I don't believe in campaign promises. I believe in promises. So when we say we are going to expand diversionary programs, it's going to happen. When we say we are going to reform the cash bail program, it's going to happen."
Bell's campaign website boasts a lot of initiatives that folks are inspired to support after seeing Ava DuVernay's documentary 13. Check this out.
Wesley Bell will decline to prosecute cases forwarded by the police that lack support by sufficient and legally obtained evidence, and promises not to "over-charge" in order to force guilty pleas.
Wesley will push for more proactive, intelligence-based, community policing and will focus prosecutorial resources to focus on the most serious crimes, including sexual assault, human trafficking, and murder.
Wesley will fundamentally change the culture of the St. Louis County Prosecutor's office to a data-driven, restorative model of justice, that seeks alternatives to incarceration.
Bell vows to also never seek the death penalty and to "resist" and fight Donald Trump's anti-immigration agenda.
St. Louis is majority black. Ferguson even more so. There was a hateful irony in the fact that a demographic majority lived under such "oppressive and abusive" conditions. Now the county has someone who will truly represent them and actively demonstrate that "black lives matter." Bell and McCullough are both the sons of police officers, and Bell is definitely someone who doesn't view the police as an occupying force but neither does he share Wilson's contempt for the residents. Bell as prosecutor could dramatically improve the lives of most who live there, who might just breathe a little easier when encountering the police. This is the revolt that the FOX News crowd snidely argued should happen instead of "riots," but an uprising at the ballot box probably terrifies them a lot more than a torched CVS.
Bell's upset win reminds me of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who recently prevailed over Joe Crowley (who I should stress is neither repulsive nor racist-killer-enabling). Both won races that people paid to pontificate about these things thought were beyond their reach. The skepticism was less a lack of faith in the insurgent candidates but perhaps too much faith in the invincibility of the establishment.
Political observers gave Bell little chance, saying that McCulloch's 28 years in office and fundraising advantage made it nearly impossible for Bell to win.
"I'm in total disbelief," St. Louis University political science professor Ken Warren said late Tuesday. Warren had predicted McCulloch would cruise to an eighth straight term, given his tenure.
"Obviously Ferguson defined this election," Warren said. "Bell made his name through Ferguson, and [McCulloch] tarnished his name through his handling of Ferguson."
Bell acknowledged in an interview that Ferguson inspired him to run for office. "Out of tragedy comes opportunity," he said. This is very true and I join black people across the nation in celebrating this opportunity and Bell's well-earned victory.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.