Can a Criminal Justice Advocate Unseat Ferguson’s Lead Prosecutor? Wesley Bell Will Try

On Tuesday, voters in St. Louis County will choose between Robert McCulloch, who was sharply criticized for his handling of the Michael Brown shooting, and Mr. Bell, a reform-minded challenger.

Comments: 59

  1. McCulloch clearly put his thumb on the scale during the Wilson's grand jury hearing. He actually called Wilson to the stand and let him tell his side of the story without robust cross-examination! That NEVER happens with citizens accused of crimes at a GJ hearing. This is why people have no faith that a District Attorney's Office can oversee a GJ hearing involving an officer - or officers - from the local police department.

  2. @Harry There is typically no cross examination in a grand jury testimony but dont let get in the way your rant

  3. @Harry, And who in the Obama administration put their thumbs on the scale? After all, the feds went over this with a microscope and reached the same conclusion as McCulloch: No charges should be filed. We need to get over Michael Brown, but not Ferguson. The two are distinct. Michael Brown, according to both physical evidence and eyewitnesses, was a thug who robbed a store, then threatened the cop who stopped him. That's why no charges were filed after the case was examined to exhaustion by both state and federal authorities. Ferguson, however, is endemic of a region steeped in racism, where Brown's body sat in the street for hours, like a dog. That was inexcusable, and it's a large part of the reason why riots broke out. It's a fair question: Would they have done that if the body was white? There's also the issue of two-bit towns soaking poor black folks for money via unaffordable fines for petty offenses. These are the real issues, not a strong-arm robber who mixed it up with a cop and lost. John Crawford III. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Walter Scott. These, and plenty of others, are the ones over whom we should grieve. Michael Brown doesn't belong in the same sentence as them.

  4. @August West - Thank you August West. That was extremely well-said. Your last paragraph is particularly telling. Most people in St. Louis agree with your assessment.

  5. After the travesty of the Michael Brown case it's time to ring Robert McCullogh's Bell (pun intended with apologies). McCullough could have, and should have, made a statement that "Black Lives Matter" and put a chill on the rash of police violence against African-Americans. Instead, he chose to collaborate with the police and set a sad, almost criminal example, that they have a "Get Out of Jail" free card. The litany of deaths that followed from Freddie Gray and Tamir Rice and on and on makes McCullogh's behavior all the more reprehensible. He should be defeated.

  6. @Paul Wortman, How, exactly, did McCulloch "collaborate with police?" The mere fact that McCulloch, as is the case with every prosecutor in America, relied on police to gather evidence doesn't get us there. Did the Department of Justice, also, "collaborate with police?" After all, the feds, like McCulloch, filed no charges. Prosecutors have a duty to appear fair. If McCulloch had issued some kind of "Black Lives Matter" statement in the midst of the chaos, that only would have made things worse. I think McCulloch should have recused himself in the interests of promoting civic order--he's somewhat a lightning rod figure in St. Louis. But once he took the case, he handled it well. Michael Brown is not Tamir Rice is not Eric Garner is not Freddie Gray is not Walter Scott. Brown stands apart from these others in that there is physical evidence showing that he was threatening a cop and there are witnesses who said the same thing. Rice, Garner, Gray and Scott were all senselessly killed by cops, their deaths entirely preventable. Just because you're black and got shot by a cop doesn't mean you're a martyr. Sometimes folks invite their own demises, and to lump Michael Brown in with folks who were provably killed for silly reasons, or no reason at all, is a disservice to justice and racial harmony.

  7. @Paul Wortman.....except Michael Brown's death wasn't 'police violence'. It was a cop fighting for his life against a guy that was trying to wrestle his gun away from him.

  8. @Honor senior Perhaps it's the other way around and police have trouble with blacks.

  9. The lead sentence of this story is very much in error: no, not everyone knows what happened in Ferguson. I want to make clear that there are many well documented cases when police or others have wrongly shot or otherwise mistreated people, with people of color disproportionately victimized. And a DOJ report showed clearly the existence of systemic racism in Ferguson, and a callous indifference of the authorities to Michael Brown's death. But the DOJ investigation into Brown's shooting, which is the most complete and authoritative one we have, shows that most of what is commonly believed-- that Brown did not present a credible threat to Wilson, that Brown had his hands up ("Don't shoot") -- is almost certainly wrong. It is unfortunate that the NYT obfuscates rather than clarifies this.

  10. @SC, You wrote exactly what I was thinking. This "story," from the first sentence to the slanted use of adjectives throughout, is beneath--far beneath--any kind of journalistic standard that should be associated with NYT. It reads like it was written by a high school student. One example. With zero attribution, the paper states, as fact, that the race is competitive. Says who? Any polls bear that out (I haven't been able to find a single one)? What we have here is a candidate who sounds like a fine person who is running against one of the longest lasting and most popular elected officeholders in the St. Louis region. Has the paper taken complete leave of its senses? Does objectivity--or even the appearance thereof--matter at all anymore? How does this "story," an edited transcript of an interview with a candidate, increase public understanding of the issues and the electoral dynamics? Come on, man. Black people and poor folk are getting a raw deal in this country, but "stuff" like this in NYT isn't going to change a darn thing. If you want to read a more professional job, try this:

  11. @SC No, The Times did a good job. Here are the facts -- "Based on several eyewitness accounts, many protesters adopted “Hands up, don’t shoot!” as a rallying cry. "However, investigators from the Justice Department found that many of those witnesses were not credible. Brown likely did not have his hands up when Wilson shot and killed him, investigators concluded." Don't use the facts, don't be surprised if you're ignored.

  12. Callous indifference to the death of a criminal by the police? How about the callous indifference by community to the police shot at or killed in the line of duty? When was the last time they got a street riot? How many times would YOU have to be shot at before you became “callous?”

  13. Agreed that McCulloch should have appointed a special prosecutor. But many, if not most, of the challenger's criticisms are flimsy. Transparency? McCulloch released transcripts of grand jury proceedings in the Brown case. How often does any prosecutor, anywhere, do that, especially in cases where no one has been indicted? Some have criticized McCulloch for not being aggressive enough in grand jury proceedings. Folks are free to have their own opinions, of course, but they couldn't have educated opinions if McCulloch hadn't released transcripts in the first place. There are plenty of reasons to not like McCulloch--he's not much on restorative justice, he's behind the times on non-violent drug offenses--but his handling of the Ferguson case isn't one. Note, also, the Department of Justice under Obama reached the same conclusion as McCulloch: No charges were merited. What should McCulloch have done, file unprovable charges? That's what the St. Louis city prosecutor did in the case of the dope dealer who was killed after running from cops. All that did was incite civil unrest. It isn't McCulloch's fault that Ferguson and other small towns around St. Louis that shouldn't exist in the first place survive on excessive fines and punishment for petty offenses that are levied on poor black folks. That's the fault of municipalities, municipal courts and the state legislature that allows it to continue and thus perpetuates baked-in racism.

  14. The only travesty in the Brown case was the treatment of the police by the media and the public. Brown was a thug who put himself on the receiving end of a bullet by threatening the police. BLM is just another radical left astroturf organization trying to undermine law and order in the country.

  15. @QED Mr. Brown (RIP) had just beaten up a store clerk -- All the "outrage" does not change reality -- violent criminals can be of any race, including African-American. Last week, a 25-member SWAT team was needed to non-violently arrest a gun-toting thug, across the street. Honest people have had it, frankly.

  16. It wasn't justice. It was a prosecutor institutionalizing racism and giving Ferguson cops the green light to commit murder of non-whites. Harsh words for Robert McCulloch. But to him, black lives just don't really matter. This is his legacy.

  17. Even Obama’s Justice Department did not bring charges against the officer. If you defend the indefensible, you lose credibility in the next case. Police put their lives on the line everyday. A LEO is killed every few days. Unarmed white men are shot at twice the rate of unarmed black men.

  18. @Ed Michael Brown was a thug begging for trouble. That much is proven. Since we don't have video recordings, but we know he was a thug begging for trouble, then we would certainly believe in this case the policeman who has been widely condemned and criticized most likely for protecting his own life and doing his job. Now there are many, too many cases of black men and boys who did little or nothing wrong and were killed by police or by civilians such as the case of Trayvon Martin. Those cases are horrible injustices. This case was an injustice to the policeman if you draw from facts, not wherever you are drawing your conclusions from.

  19. The U.S.A. is a religious fanatic, extremely anti-Diversity and anti-Secular religious racist fascistic police-state, where most of the elections are rigged, the economic opportunities based on nepotism and religious privileged networking of richest dynasties of criminally discriminating Cabals who are only serving themselves, while the religious oligarchy legally drug, and gun Americans to death and profit"bigly" from dividing Americans and raising global havoc. Right-wingers are playing a long-term game: they appear like idiots, but in their dumb shadows lurk the Tech "Geniuses". Folks gullible ignorantly naive in "America", when-ever it comes to the recent well-calculated, A.I.s-supported ongoing U.S. American Trump-Republican and Global hyper-fascistic Nazism and how domestic and Global elections are really repeated easily rigged in bright day-lights, involving multi-national corporations, most greed-run old billionaire families and Earth's most powerful, most richest religious fundamental states. There is an old expression: Religious-brainwashed and ideological but illogically raised people too invested and benefiting to much from discriminating corruptions and racist, tribal atrocities will in majority remain fully blind to all violent gambles the Cabals play with their empty-minds up in their greedy asses. Then, Hitler's era, as now that expression is valid when it comes to Homo Sapiens in its most atrocious fundamentalists forms. Best, A.E. Projectheureka LLC;

  20. @Projectheureka LLC Why do you think it is that just about every non-White wants to immigrate here and the non-Whites already don't want to leave? They must all be masochists.

  21. @Projectheureka LLC This reads like a bunch of long pseudo-intellectual words got stuck in a food processor.

  22. By spreading the false narrative that the police are murdering black youth in cold blood, black youths are running from the police and getting shot. The blood of these black children are on the liberal media's hands.

  23. @George Orwell: You're kidding right? Any time a kid running away from the police is shot, it's on the police. You don't get to shoot people in the back, liberal media or not.

  24. George. If your running from police, there is no need to shoot because they are obviously not a threat. The cowboy mentality needs to stop. Simple solution one person on every jury votes not guilty, hang the jury engage in jury nullification which will force the politicos to act and not pay lip service to the problem.

  25. St. Louis County would be committing suicide if it elects Wesley Bell.

  26. I am a St. Louisan and active volunteer for Wesley on his campaign. He is smart, thoughtful and committed to sensible criminal justice reform that will benefit us all. His successful election would be the most important and meaningful political transition to happen here in St. Louis in my lifetime.

  27. Where is the interview with his opponent, so that uninformed readers like me can get a balanced view?

  28. @M from the article: "Mr. McCulloch, who has long enjoyed the support of the state’s political establishment, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview."

  29. As stated in the article, "Mr. McCulloch, who has long enjoyed the support of the state’s political establishment, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview." Most difficult to represent a candidate who does not want to be represented.

  30. @M From the article, "Mr. McCulloch, who has long enjoyed the support of the state’s political establishment, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview." You can't force someone to sit for an interview.

  31. Thousands of us here in St. Louis County are hoping that Mr. Bell wins--especially because of the disgraceful record of Robert McCullough. I certainly hope for Mr. Bell to win and to win BIG.

  32. The 2015 Federal Department of Justice report on the shooting, produced by the Justice Department in the Obama administration, completely exonerated the police. Inconvenient, but true.

  33. Mr. Bell's comments make a lot of sense. I have little doubt that it is time for a change. He sounds like the right person at the right time. Michael Brown made several bad choices and regrettably it cost him his life. There are better examples and reasons for this needed change in leadership without losing fair minded voters in the process.

  34. This guy Bell is badly needed in Chicago.

  35. McCulloch is a lock to be reelected. If it was a close race, an article supporting his challenger, largely based on left-wing hysteria over the valid shooting of Brown, would no doubt aid McCulloch.

  36. @Robert - Robert, it's not always "left-wing" hysteria. I am a confirmed liberal, vote straight-ticket Democratic. But I voted for Robert McCullough because I believe, after reading pages and pages of evidence and testimony, that the shooting of Michael Brown was absolutely justified.

  37. 'Everyone knows what happened in Ferguson, Mo., four years ago.' Actually no, there are really 2 versions to the story: -One is that an unarmed black man who just graduated from high school and was accepted to college was unjustifiably killed by the police. -Another is that a suspect initiated an unprovoked physical altercation at a convenience store and also had a physical altercation with the responding police officer, and tried to take the officer's gun, and the officer shot the suspect in self-defense. Wesley Bell:.....'Hey your friend just committed a crime.” The officer did not commit a crime. The grand jury reviewed the evidence presented and did not indict Officer Wilson. The U.S. Department of Justice concluded Wilson shot Brown in self-defense. This is not a crime. It is tragic that a life was lost, but again, it was not a crime. If Wesley Bell begins with the premise that a crime is committed when there is a police shooting, then this is not justice either. It must be investigated if a crime was committed, or not. In the case of Ferguson, there was indeed an investigation. Both the grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice ruled in favor of the responding officer. Just because you do not like the outcome of the investigation, does not mean that justice was not served.

  38. Mr. Bell seems like he has reform-minded ideas in mind that are pragmatic and are hopefully going to help the community. It also sounds like he may win. His professional experience qualifies him for the position, and with an election on deck in a city struggling with a sprialing crime problem it makes perfect sense that people want to see fresh talent and a new perspective in this position. I would vote for him. His answers focused on policies that would differ from how McCulloch operated. He didn't discuss the incident itself. With that in mind, it baffles me that the press continues to bury the results of the actual investigations here. The tone of the writing, the angle of the questioning, the editorial direction of the piece is all completely counter to what local and federal investigations uncovered in the actual sequence of events. The piece sells an idea of what happened that isn't accurate. To bring up the case without explaining what happened is disingenuous. The piece lumps McCulloch and the officer into a single actor, which is ironic because that's what Bell wants to seperate out if, god forbid, this would come up again. People come to this paper in hopes that real journalism will not succumb to the Age of Narrative. I don't think I am alone in questioning whether a lot of readers even understand the outcome of the investigation. I certainly don't understand why you would not be clear about it in a piece such as this, unless you're selling something.

  39. Wow, people in Ferguson are actually running for office instead of complaining about "the system"? Finally.

  40. Michael Brown robbed a convenience store, beat up the clerk, and then climbed into a police officer's SUV, pinning the officer under his 300+ lbs and trying to get his gun. Please, NYT - stop making this thug a poster child for police brutality. It is an insult to the memories of true victims like Eric Gardner and Walter Scott.

  41. A D.A. needs the police. If you’re in charge, what are you going to do differently?

  42. The creepiest part of this story is the first sentence: "Everyone knows what happened in Ferguson, Mo., four years ago." All you have to do is read the DOJ report to know the truth about what happened. An innocent police officer was framed for murder because he defended himself against a violent thief who attacked him after robbing a convenience store for a box of cigars. Finding out that "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" was a blatant lie is what turned millions of Americans to the right, for better or for worse. Hard to believe that NYT is STILL peddling yet another fake "cop shoots unarmed teen" story.

  43. Wesley Bell may be a great candidate but how does NYT write a story leading with Darren Wilson's shooting of Michael Brown and citing the criticisms of McCullough's handling that case without even mentioning that DOJ's independent investigation, came to the same conclusion? Eric Holder's DOJ found that there was not evidence to support indicting Officer Wilson and concluded that Michale Brown probably attacked Wilson. The lead for this story need not have been framed around the Brown shooting but given that choice, the failure to acknowledge this key fact reflects badly on NYT. In that connection, one cannot miss the fact that some of the commenters below seem not to know that DOJ exonerated the cop.

  44. The Justice Department's report on Ferguson is worth reading. It underscores the systematic and brutal racism that kept the local black population incarcerated and in poverty, leading ultimately to the shooting of Michael Brown. Here's a short version:

  45. That cop pulled up right next to Brown instead of giving himself space to get out of the car and draw down. He was asking for trouble. So stupid police tactics are the cause of an unnecessary death. Cops did the same thing with that kid in the park with a BB gun. Are they purposely putting themselves in position to be able claim mortal fear for their lives? Poor training does not even begin to explain lack of common sense.

  46. The U.S. Department of Justice conducted a thorough inquiry into Michael Brown's death and it should be clear to anyone who bothered to read the Department's report that Mr. Brown's shooting was justified. A balanced news article would have mentioned that.

  47. We are still waiting for an apology for all of the nonsense inspired in the name of that foolish kid who stole from a convenience store, menaced the clerk, punched a police officer and tried to take his gun, fled the scene and then charged back at the officer, defying repeated warnings to stop. If you do all of that, don't be surprised if you get shot. And if someone behaves like that, don't riot and burn down your own neighborhood.

  48. “...Mr. McCulloch is facing his first competitive primary challenge in years from Wesley advocate of robust criminal justice reform. (There is no Republican candidate, so the winner of the primary will likely be a lock for the general election in November.)” There is no Republican? This article goes through great pain not to attach Mr. McCulloch to the Democratic Party. The article uses no Republican as opposed to mentioning Mr. McCulloch is a Democrat or he is competing against Mr. Bell in a Democratic primary. I learned a lesson in bias tonight...mine. I remember seeing Mr. McCulloch’s press conferences. I always assumed he and other Ferguson politicians were Republicans. Narrative got me!

  49. I am willing to accept the argument that Brown's death was justified. But I would be remiss in doing so with adding an important caveat: Ferguson is a broken town run by racist whites who have done everything in their power to persecute, rob, and disenfranchise the majority black populace. You can completely ignore Brown's shooting; instead, observe the pattern of racial discrimination and suppression that stretches back over a century to Ferguson's early days. The problem is still there, whether or not Brown had his hands up.

  50. Anyone who actually read the coroner's report and grand jury testimony knows the physical evidence was incontrovertible. To wit, after trying unsuccessfully to snatch officer Darren Wilson pistol, Michael Brown ran, then stopped approx 21' ahead of his pursuer, turned and charged, his body coming to rest next to Wilson's ejected shells.

  51. As the Obama Justice Department Report made clear, it was Michael Brown and the community who threatened people if they told the truth about the story. There are cases of police misconduct. This wasn't one of them.

  52. Great example of fake news. An objective journalistic piece might have noted the Feds investigated as well and declined to,prosecute officer Wilson. Given it was Obama's DOJ that's even better than a special prosecutor. As well, the hands up don't shoot narrative was debunked.

  53. It is poor reporting to say the winner of the primary has a lock on the general election unless you can also say the loser cannot mount a write-in campaign or otherwise appear on the ballot. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was presumed to have a lock on the general election after winning the primary until it was discovered that Crowley will appear on the general election ballot despite "losing" the primary. If I lived in St Louis County, I would vote for Wesley Bell. McCullough seems to have grown complacent in his role. Time for change.

  54. Anyone in their right mind who watched Robert McCulloch's press conference explaining the decision not to indict Darren Wilson would agree that he made the right decision. If an old white man (or woman) reached into a police cruiser and tried to disarm the lone officer, they would very likely be shot dead. Michael Brown's actions were the direct and entirely expected cause of his death. End of story.

  55. I wish him well. Every incumbent in America should be voted out of office.

  56. The officer was exonerated even by Obama’s Justice Department. And yet BLM continues to cite it as an example of unwarranted violence against black men. If you defend the indefensible, you lose credibility. It looks like they are arguing for the right to assault the police and the right to disregard police orders. How many people are going to lineup behind that? Pick your battles carefully.

  57. Wesley Bell would be more accurately described as a "criminal advocate" than a "criminal justice advocate". Those who claimed Michael Brown's death was murder evidently believe that police officers don't have the right to defend themselves when attacked by a violent Black criminal. That notion is racial supremacy at its most radical.

  58. Each and every municipality in America must be wholly welcoming to blacks, even the formerly most obscure and still least desirable, such as Ferguson, MO. There must be no impediments to affluent white New Yorkers finally finishing off gentrifying Harlem and Brooklyn. If all goes according to plan, someday every last poor black in Brooklyn will have moved to black-ruled Ferguson, and real estate prices in Bed-Stuy will quintuple.

  59. When Mr. McCullough was young, his father was a member of the Ferguson police force. When he was 12, his father was shot and killed at the Pruitt-Igoe housing project, one of the most dangerous projects in the country. That shooting inspired the young McCullough to one day become a police officer. But shortly after his father's death, he lost a leg to cancer. And the closest thing to police work that he could find was being a prosecutor. The Times and most of the other liberal media said that McCullough couldn't be fair in the Ferguson case because of what had happened to his father. That's like saying any child of Pat Tillman couldn't serve well in the military because his father's family had to fight the military to uncover the truth about his death. It's like saying Caroline Kennedy couldn't be ambassador to Russia because her father was shot by a Russian sympathizer. It's like saying that Martin Luther King's children have tainted views of civil rights because their father was shot by a white man. And it's like saying Bobby Kennedy's children can't fairly negotiate Middle East peace because their father was shot by a Palestinian. The cruel and indefensible attacks on McCullough deeply trouble me and no doubt explain why Mr. McCullough won't talk to the Times. Also, you should know that the Obama Justice Department, like Mr. McCullough, found no chargeable wrongdoing on the part of the officer who killed Michael Brown.