A Black Ferguson Councilman Just Won Against The Man Who Handled Michael Brown’s Case

by Joseph D. Lyons
Jeff Roberson/AP/Shutterstock

Black Lives Matter and local organizers lauded the results of the Democratic primary for St. Louis prosecutor and the victory of a criminal justice reformer from Ferguson, Missouri on Tuesday, Aug. 7. Wesley Bell beat Robert McCulloch, with St. Louis voters preferring the new face of the Ferguson city council member to the seven-term career prosecutor. Because there is no significant Republican challenger, Bell will almost certainly take up the job after November.

McCulloch's role in the decision not to prosecute the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in August 2014 brought national attention to the primary race this year. As prosecutor, McCulloch ran the grand jury that failed to deliver an indictment, and his critics believe he could have gotten one if he pushed for it.

Bell ran largely on a platform of criminal justice reform, telling The New York Times that the killing of Brown influenced his decision to run. "There’s a real need for criminal justice reform in not only St. Louis County, but around the country," Bell told The Times. "And there’s no bigger impact to effectuate that than the county prosecutor’s office."

McCulloch's handling of the Brown case not only brought national attention but also inspired local activists like Kayla Reed — who quit her job as a pharmacy technician following the killing of Brown to dedicate her time to bring change to Missouri — to try and kick him out of office.

In the early morning hours after it was announced McCulloch would be ousted, Reed tweeted, "We won. I don’t have many words but I’m so grateful. Tonight was for #MikeBrown." She also used the hashtag #ByeBob.

Reed received a shoutout from the Black Lives Matter organization, who said on Twitter that the win was a "big win for the movement. The group's account tweeted, "27 years of white supremacy was knocked to its knees tonight."

Among the changes that Bell wants to implement are a risk-based bail system (not cash) and a stronger drug treatment diversion program. He's also opposed to the death penalty, according to an ACLU survey he took.

Bell is also more likely to move for an indictment in future shootings and killings committed by police. Just this year, 613 people have been shot and killed by the police in the United States. Of those, 19 were shot and killed in the state of Missouri.

Prosecutors have a large influence over the broader criminal justice system, and criminal justice reformers say they should better mirror society at large. Currently, 95 percent of prosecutors are white and 85 percent of prosecutor races in the country are unopposed, according to the Reflective Democracy Campaign.

Bell's election could be the first of many. He told The Times that district attorney and prosecutor races have "run under the radar" but now that "people are much more aware of the impact of this office, and that’s a good thing."

For activists elsewhere, the success of Bell's primary campaign may be something to consider.