Wesley Bell watched the city of Ferguson, Missouri, erupt outside his window four years ago, after the prosecutor of St. Louis County announced that a grand jury would not bring charges against the police officer who shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.
As protesters faced off against police officers in the streets, Bell was forced to leave his home. As a black lawyer, he understood the protesters’ outrage, but he felt like the best way to fix the system would be from within. First, he ran for Ferguson City Council and won.
And on Tuesday, in a Democratic primary race, Bell beat Robert McCulloch, the prosecutor who declined to charge Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown. It was the first time that McCulloch, who had held the job for 27 years, had faced an opponent in an election since the Ferguson protests, when critics accused him of being too close to law enforcement to properly oversee the investigation into Brown’s death.
There is no Republican candidate in the November general election, so Bell, a 43-year-old defense lawyer who had served as a municipal court judge, will most likely be a lock for the prosecutor’s office.
For the activists who helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement, McCulloch’s defeat felt like a form of delayed reckoning.
“I’ll never forget how smug Bob McCulloch was when he announced the non-indictment of Darren Wilson,” tweeted DeRay Mckesson, an activist who was in Ferguson at the time of the uprising.
McCulloch, who declined to comment, has repeatedly defended his handling of the Michael Brown case. But Bell was able to tap into dissatisfaction with McCulloch over his handling of Brown’s shooting.
Bell and his supporters said that Tuesday’s victory was about more than just the Brown case. The county’s criminal justice system is still plagued by fundamental inequality, local activists said, with poor black residents often sitting in jail for days for minor traffic offenses.
“I’ve always disagreed with the approach and the philosophy of that office,” Bell said of McCulloch’s leadership in an interview Wednesday. “We ran on a platform of expanding diversion programs, reforming cash bail, treating people fairly, giving them a fair shake.”
The New York Times
Farah Stockman © 2018 The New York Times