On Tuesday, August 7th, 2018, in the local St. Louis, Missouri election for St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney there was an upset and toppling of a 27-year legacy.
Both men are lawyers, well-known and are the sons of police officers. It is common knowledge Mr. Robert “Bob” McCulloch’s father was a police officer who was killed in the line of duty.
In looking at his professional record and his position as a past president of the local St. Louis chapter of Backstoppers, his allegiance to law enforcement is demonstrable. In the Summer-Fall of 2014, the entire St. Louis area saw exactly how demonstrable this allegiance is! In the murder of Michael Brown, Jr. on August 9, 2014 — two-and-a-half years after the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida — we saw another incendiary ingredient for the examination of police brutality, police interaction with people of color and results of the interaction between the black people and entities of law enforcement.
What resulted from August 9, 2014 to right now, and historically since Reconstruction after the American Civil War, wherever there is a push towards the recognizing or galvanizing of the rights of any minority in this country, the last bastion of power to be seized or accessed by a minority person is always law enforcement or politics! The fact that Wesley K. Bell unseated Bob McCulloch will not be seen as a fluke: it is equitable access to wield power and influence; to be both seen and heard.
In plain-speaking, and being a St. Louis, Missouri native, the rumbling truth of the matter regarding the behavior police departments in St. Louis Country was blown wide open with the murder of Michael Brown, Jr. The nation, not just the natives of the St. Louis, Missouri city-county area, saw exactly how police see and treat people of color — the world saw what black people residing in St. Louis deal with and navigate from the time they are old enough to be stopped by the police–which, in some cases, is as young as nine.
There would be no worthy police accountability as long as McCulloch was St. Louis County Prosecutor. This can be seen with this decision from the Grand Jury of ‘no true bill’ in indicting Darren Wilson for shooting and killing an unarmed black man under the age of twenty. This is seen with his instructions to the jury when they questioned the legal precedent regarding its application for Grand Jury instruction for this very case. The culture this legal permissiveness created is not indigenous St. Louis. It is indigenous social flora to the soil of fear and control; fear of blackness or black people, and the control black/brown people–to the point no legislative and political power could ever be granted.
Ergo: the police protect ‘us’ (white people) from the ‘undesirables’ (black/brown/indigenous people), and ‘we’ need the police to be impervious to scrutiny and above accusation. They are a tool of our survival and cannot be compromised by such things as law, equality and measured justice.
Mr. Wesley K. Bell has just upset the apple cart in St. Louis County, and people are aware! With his ceremonial swearing-in January 2019, it is proof that the city of St. Louis is about to go into a new direction–the prosecution of offenders, including the possibility of those eligible to be prosecuted regardless of profession, is now to be decided by a black man for the first time in local legal history!
However, the social docket demands his first matter of business should be opening the 2014 murder of Michael Brown, Jr. I completely agree. It is not early enough to speak about this; it is not wrong to cause a ruckus about this; it is not wrong to want this to happen. The door to actual, valid, needed accountability is open–as an elected official, Wesley Bell needs to honor and remember this.
The pack of elephants in the room remind us that while this is matter is imperative, the trickier responsibility he is going to have is the bridging of a chasm between law enforcement and black people. Furthermore, he has the challenge of being a black man, in a place of power, in a city as small as St. Louis. Also, the challenge of executing all powers of this office–without being seen as an elected tool to get Darren Wilson or lash out at the law enforcement community that he still has to build and maintain a working, cordial relationship with!
With this win, among all the celebration, I have cautious optimism. It took St. Louis County almost thirty years to get Bob McCulloch removed from office. It’s going to take at least that long to undo the stain over this elected office, and the damage to the community it is charged to serve, at this point, is incalculable. There is a documented, recorded and earned distrust between people of color and law enforcement. There are still municipalities in St. Louis County which still practice revenue generating policing. Ferguson still has not complied with the federal Consent Decree with any reasonable progress!
Bob McCulloch is part of a problem generations long and deep. It is going to outlive him. Wesley Bell has earned this victory! The community at large deserves this victory. The thing I call attention to is the commitment to the long game. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney-elect Wesley Bell should not be the stopping point for the people of St. Louis County. I am bold enough to believe it will not be.
There is still a need for police oversight. There is still a need for protesting, for disrupting the status quo and holding police or other agents of law enforcement accountable to humane and just standard. There is still much work to be done! We cannot rest on the laurels of one victory, when there are those who seek to outmaneuver or counter progress.
The goal is still equality. In that progress, those involved in matters of truth, change and law must keep that in mind — in so doing, play chess and not checkers.