Spurred by Michael Brown's death, councilman ousts longtime county prosecutor

Wesley Bell’s Democratic primary upset of seven-term St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch on Tuesday all but assures him victory in November. McCulloch is the prosecutor who did not bring charges in the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014. There is no Republican candidate, reports “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Michelle Miller. 

What makes Bell’s win so stunning is that four years ago, Bell stood on the front lines of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, to quell anger after Brown’s shooting death by police officer Darren Wilson. Bell promised to deliver change to policing in his community after a grand jury found there was not enough evidence to indict Wilson.

Change came after a strategic door-knocking campaign earned him a seat on the Ferguson city council. Three years later, he’s poised to lead the most impactful crime-fighting office in the county.

“When we went into this campaign, the mindset that we have I should say was that we were going to focus on the issues,” Bell said. “We wanted to give people a reason to be inspired to go to the polls as opposed to the fear and antagonism that we see with a lot of elected officials, and that message resonated.”

Bell ran on a criminal justice reform platform, one that included devoting resources for treating addiction and mental health, curbing the revolving door of mass incarceration and moving focus from misdemeanor traffic tickets to serious crimes.

The city of Ferguson has been under a federal consent decree since 2016. In that time, the monitor dismissed all but 1,709 of the nearly 8,000 misdemeanor cases filed against citizens. For a city next door to St. Louis, now the nations’ murder capital, it’s a delicate balancing act between crime-fighting and community policing.

“Here’s the thing: we’re not going to focus our resources, our prosecutors, on non-violent, for example possessions of marijuana, misdemeanor possession. … Instead we’re going to reallocate those resources,” Bell said. “The job the prosecutor’s office is to make St. Louis County safer.”

“I’ve been practicing for 17 years. … I’ve seen the policies of this office with respect to lack of commitment to diversionary programs and the cash bail system with respect to non-violent offenders who are going to be released anyway but yet still being behind held on bonds that they can’t afford,” he said. “This is a matter of principal this is where I’m from this is my home.”

On Thursday, the anniversary of Michael Brown death, family, friends and Michael Brown Sr. paid tribute to the teen and Bell’s election outcome.

“The whole city is happy that Wesley Bell made it in. We get a chance to get a fair trial,” Brown Sr. said.

But that’s no guarantee. Though he’s criticized McCulloch’s investigation, Bell has not committed to re-opening the case. He has promised to ensure a death likes Brown’s won’t happen again.

“Ferguson brought in awareness. … What we’ve seen in the last four years is a community that is having the difficult conversations, the uncomfortable conversations which I think are important,” Bell said.

In a similar move, Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden-Head, is running for city council herself. 

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