Thursday, August 9, 2018

Bob McCulloch’s Defeat: When Justice Rolls down like a Mighty Stream

Four years ago, a good friend, mused about the death of Mike Brown and the protests aimed at his killer, Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson.

“Maybe Mike died for a reason,’ she told me. “Maybe there’s a bigger meaning to all of this.”

At the time, seething from the mounting injustice in the so-called investigation of the officer, I didn’t want to hear her. Reason was blocked by images of an over aggressive, militarized police force gassing, tasing and brutalizing protesters. As time passed, my journalistic mind wouldn’t allow me to ignore St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s bodacious efforts to ignore evidence and influence the grand jury impaneled to indict Wilson.


I couldn’t overlook the fact that Wilson was never ordered to write a police report.  His story seemed incredulous at best. Supposedly, after ordering Mike Brown and a friend to get off the street, Brown became irate and tussled with Wilson while he sat in his police car. Wilson said Brown reached for his gun, which discharged. Mike, who was shot in the hand, took off running. Mike, who was wounded, ran more than 100 feet away from Wilson. Apparently, Mike decided the hand wound was insignificant, so he stopped, turned around and ran into more blazing, hot bullets from Wilson’s gun.

I cry B.S.! The only rational explanation for the shooting was that Mike had the audacity to disregard Wilson’s orders, tussle with him and take off running. What was more than obvious to me, was that Wilson, probably angry and insulted, decided to exact a bit of street justice in the heat of the moment.

Days after the shooting, police released a video of Mike Brown allegedly assaulting a neighborhood liquor store owner and “stealing” a pack of Cigarillos. The video was offered to the public as evidence of Mike’s violent behavior.

Turns out, it was doctored. Police left out a portion of the video that seemed to indicate Mike’s attempt to trade a bag of marijuana for the cigarillos. Jason Pollock, director of "Stranger Fruit," an independent film that chronicled the shooting and case against Wilson, said the edited film was critical in defining Brown’s guilt. Had the footage been released in its entirety, Pollock told CNN, “it would've altered the narrative that Brown was shot after robbing the store.” Instead, Pollock continued, investigators lied “to make Mike look bad, so they put out half a video to destroy his character in his death."

McCulloch’s father, a K-9 police officer, was killed by black men at the Pruitt-Igoe Housing Complex in the 1960s. Several of his relatives has worked for the St. Louis police department. McCulloch, throughout his 27-years in public office, has never prosecuted an officer-involved shooting to the point of an actual indictment. Because of his loyalty to police and his own personal experience, a special prosecutor should have been assigned to the incendiary, highly controversial case. Instead, McCulloch decided to go the grand jury route, which critics say was intentionally designed to exonerate Wilson. 

McCulloch once told reporters, “Ever since I saw my father pull on that blue uniform and go to work . . . I know that the true police officers always have been and always will be the heroes of this nation.” In an interview with St. Louis Magazine one year after Mike’s death, McCulloch asserted “there’s nothing wrong with bias. It just depends on how it manifests itself.” 

Well, his bias manifested greatly in the Darren Wilson case.   

Somehow, the witnesses, including a group of white contractors who said Brown had surrendered and had his hands in the air as Wilson emptied his gun into him, were deemed suspect or unreliable. Somehow, Wilson and his attorney were allowed the unprecedented opportunity to listen to all the grand jury witness’s testimony before offering his version of events. McCulloch failed to get an indictment against Wilson and some voters never forgot or forgave him.

Call it poetic justice, but this week, four years, almost to the day of Mike Brown’s death, voters sent Bob McCulloch packing. A virtual unknown, under-funded, black candidate, Wesley Bell, a Ferguson City Council member, beat McCulloch with nearly 57 percent of the vote. Because there’s no Republican challenger, Bell presumably has a lock on the office.

The election, to me, serves as a sweet referendum on injustice. It’s a sign that perseverance, tenacity and focus can pay off in the long run. It’s an affirmation to the hundreds of protesters who were maligned, mistreated, jailed and brutalized for standing on the side of justice. St. Louis, which garnered the world’s attention after Mike’s death, has once again offered a template for redressing systematic injustice.

Bell’s campaign promises include criminal justice reform and fundamentally changing “the culture" of the prosecutor's office. posted an article detailing how prosecutors are the driving force behind mass incarcerations. Prosecutors, who are enormously powerful in our criminal justice system, are given huge discretion as to who gets prosecuted, or not, and when grand juries should be used for indictments. Since more than 90 percent of criminal convictions are resolved through plea agreements, the article asserts, “prosecutors and defendants — not judges and juries — have almost all the say in the great majority of cases that result in incarceration or some other punishment.

The “ByeBob” hashtag floating around the Twitter-Verse lately has much bigger implications than just St. Louis.  Despite the pro-cop, no-matter-what-they-do, “Blue Lives Matters” rhetoric exploited mostly by the conservative crowd, McCulloch’s defeat indicates that all kinds of people-not just “Black Lives Matter” protesters and black people-are fed up with systematic injustices. From their graves, Travon Martin, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and so many others whose killers were either exonerated by the criminal justice system or were brutally slain by irresponsible police officers, can still impact elections in this country.

I find myself reflecting on my friend's observation about the meaning of Mike Brown's death. Perhaps, in retrospect, she was right. Mike's death still has meaning even four years after he left us. 

Wesley Bell’s victory is a sign that giants can be toppled, wrongs can be righted and justice-as Dr. Martin Luther King so eloquently stated-“can roll down “like water and “righteousness like a mighty stream.”