After the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, the nation erupted. Protests grew around St. Louis. Those protests redoubled after a grand jury refused to indict Wilson.
Robert McCulloch was the prosecutor that failed to bring charges against Darren Wilson. His 28-year tenure in that office is coming to an end, however, thanks to Wesley Bell.
I think we have just witnessed the biggest criminal justice victory in years!!!
Wesley Bell is the new St. Louis County Prosecutor and has ousted one of the most problematic prosecutors in America.
So proud of you @Bell4STL.
Grateful to every volunteer & donor. pic.twitter.com/481lLdSqDY
— Shaun King (@shaunking) August 8, 2018
Bell is an African-American lawyer who has, in the past, served both as a judge and prosecutor. He took 57 percent of the vote, handily defeating McCulloch. He ran for prosecutor on a platform of criminal justice reform, including a pledge to fundamentally change the culture of the prosecutor’s office.
“People say, ‘well you shocked the world.’ No. We shocked the world,” Bell said to supporters Tuesday.
“I don’t believe in campaign promises. I believe in promises. So when we say we are going to expand diversionary programs, it’s going to happen. When we say we are going to reform the cash bail program, it’s going to happen.”
This was the first time McCulloch faced voters since his failure to indict Darren Wilson. The long shadow cast by the tragedy in Ferguson was certainly a factor in Bell’s victory.
“Obviously Ferguson defined this election,” St. Louis University political science professor Ken Warren told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Bell made his name through Ferguson, and [McCulloch] tarnished his name through his handling of Ferguson.”
Warren, like most political observers, gave Bell little chance given McCulloch’s long tenure and fundraising advantage.
“I’m in total disbelief,” said Warren.
Bell, who has been serving as a city councilman in Ferguson, acknowledged the role the slaying of Brown had in this campaign. “Out of tragedy, comes opportunity. … I’m a product of that evolution.”
Bell said he’d have handled Wilson’s case differently, and would appoint a special prosecutor in all police shooting cases going forward. This would combat the natural tendency of prosecutors to support police.
“If you tell me, ‘Hey your friend just committed a crime,’ it’s just natural that you’re just going to doubt it,” he said.
There is no Republican challenger for Bell to face in the fall, making him effectively the new St. Louis County prosecutor.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.