The Ferguson Effect: Why Wesley Bell’s Primary Victory in St. Louis Matters

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By Frank Leon Roberts

On Tuesday, in what will go down as one of the most stunning political upsets in St. Louis County history,  Wesley Bell, a criminal justice reform advocate, unseated Bob McCulloch in the Democratic primary for the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s seat. McCulloch, an incumbent who has been in office for nearly three decades, is best remembered as the prosecutor responsible for overseeing the grand jury proceedings that resulted in the 2014 non-indictment of officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown. As we mark the four-year anniversary of Brown’s death this week, McCulloch’s dismissal is historic and a symbol of the power of a broader movement.

There are four important lessons from what happened on Tuesday night.

First, the story of Bell’s victory is the story of how local Black communities can use the ballot box as a tool for greater accountability. It is fair to suggest that Bell’s win was less about him and more about repudiating the legacy of McCulloch and the long history of state-sanctioned disregard for Black and brown lives. The story of McCulloch’s defeat is, in part, the story of how local communities can continue to use tragedies that are the result of state action as the catalyst for small political revolutions.

Second, Bell’s win calls into question what has become a popular talking point ahead of the 2018 midterms: the idea that Democratic candidates must remain “moderate” or “right-of-center” if they hope to be successful in the Midwest or the south. Bell’s positions such as eliminating cash bail for nonviolent offenders and opposing new mandatory minimum sentencing laws were far to the left of his more “moderate” Democratic opponent. His sizable win over McCulloch shows that Democratic candidates on the left are viable even in traditionally more conservative leaning states such as Missouri.

Third, Bell’s win is testimony to the power of grassroots social movements. Tuesday’s primary is yet more evidence of the verifiable impact of the movement for Black lives on today’s political landscape. The emergence of Bell as a candidate for St. Louis County Prosecutor must be situated in the broader historical context of how the death of Michael Brown helped galvanize a new era of organized resistance in Ferguson/St. Louis County and throughout the nation. This is not to say that such resistance was not going on long before 2014. It is simply to acknowledge that the Ferguson uprisings of 2014 marked an important tipping point in the history of local resistance in St. Louis County.

Many of the positions that Bell ran on have been central issues of concern for local organizers for years following the death of Brown. Without them, Bell’s candidacy would have been a political impossibility. McCulloch’s defeat would have been inconceivable had it not been for the work over the past four years by local Black-led resistance groups such as the Ferguson Collaborative, the Organization for Black Struggle, the St. Louis Reform Coalition, Millennial Activists United, Lost Voices Faith in Action, and Hands Up United, to name only a few. Action St. Louis, a Black millennial led organization co-founded by activist Kayla Reed in 2014, deserves special acknowledgement for its role in Bell’s victory. The organization’s #WokeVoterSTL and #ByeBob campaigns, as well as their unrelenting organizing efforts, undoubtedly played a key role in McCullough’s defeat.

Finally, the rejection of McCulloch must be viewed as being part of a broader national movement led by Black millennials, Black women, and Black queer folks to rid America of corrupt prosecutors. As I’ve written previously, the ousting of McCulloch comes after of the ousting of Anita Alvarez in Chicago and the ousting of Angela Corey in Florida. Prosecutors have the power to end mass incarceration in their communities. That’s why groups committed to reforming America’s  criminal justice system — including the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice — have invested across the country in voter education and mobilization efforts in local prosecutor races like the one in St. Louis County. Progressive prosecutors can set positive, proactive agendas that prioritize the people in their communities rather than prisons.

As we move toward the midterm elections of 2018, we would do well to pay attention to the continued influence of the movement for Black lives on local elections and on the changing face of criminal justice reform in America.

Frank Leon Roberts is an activist, writer, and creator of the Black Lives Matter Syllabus


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19 thoughts on “The Ferguson Effect: Why Wesley Bell’s Primary Victory in St. Louis Matters”

  1. Jerry Waszczuk

    Black-led resistance groups such as the Ferguson Collaborative, the Organization for Black Struggle, the St. Louis Reform Coalition, Millennial Activists United, Lost Voices Faith in Action, and Hands Up United, to name only a few. Action St. Louis, a Black millennial led organization co-founded by activist Kayla Reed in 2014 and  mass incarceration in their communities are symbols of  Apartheid or evidence that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is  being ignored . 

    The other “stunning upset”  in State of Missouri primary is victory of  Republican who said that Hitler was right and . Steve West said ,  that a vast Jewish conspiracy is trying to take over the country and . Steve West won his Missouri House primary election in the 15th District by nearly 25 points.  He also says a Jewish cabal is destroying America

    https://www.jpost.com/American-Politics/Missouri-Republican-who-said-Hitler-was-right-wins-state-House-primary-564637.

     

  2. Tia Will

    Jerry

    In the article you posted, one commenter stated that she “did not see how he flew under the radar”. I do not think this is difficult to see at all. Today’s GOP, not the sane rational GOP of President Eisenhower, or that of  current thoughtful and ethical republicans is willing to accept almost anything from its candidates to maintain power. This is not to say that Dems have always acted ethically, but it is the GOP that we see rejecting both truth and a principled path of leadership today.

    1. Jeff M

      LOL.

      This is not to say that Dems have always acted ethically

      You can always find a few extremist freaks on both sides in local government positions.  But in terms of which Party is gone off the rails in extremism, the Dems take the cake.   JFK would have to be a Republican today if running for office.

      The ant-law enforcement direction of the modern Democrats is foolish and dangerous.

    2. Jerry Waszczuk

      Tia

      Black people in USA  have no support from  any party .  Black population in USA is around 45 million people and Black People   should have own  party to be properly represented. Otherwise  Black Lives Matter  on the Moon for Dems and Republicans of white and other colors .

  3. Eric Gelber

    The ant-law [sic] enforcement direction of the modern Democrats is foolish and dangerous.

    Funny. Many would say the same about the current President’s continual attacks on law enforcement–the FBI, the DOJ, the judicial system and individual judges, federal intelligence agencies, and the rule of law, generally.

    1. Jeff M

      First of all, it is disingenuous DNC hogwash to say that the President attacks law enforcement.  The President has rightly (although not eloquently) criticized the abuses of power from some of the elected officials and some of the high-ranking government employees that had been hired by the elected officials.  However, POTUS has been clear and steadfast in his support for the rank-and-file employees and officers doing their jobs.   It is a trick of the political left to attempt to form protected groups that prevent individual criticism of members of the protected groups.  But the left making a protected group out of law enforcement to attack Trump is a hoot given that the anti-law enforcement rage emanating from it.

      The funny thing, from my perspective, is the Democrat telegraphing of the public being too stupid to see this easy large bit of hypocrisy.   That the left will attempt to hammer Trump for being anti-law enforcement while the left celebrates BLM’s cop-hatred, and the ACLU’s work to knock out tough on crime DAs and judges and replace them with social justice activists.

    1. Jeff M

      The black community is much better served by the Trump agenda than by any Democrat platform at this point in time.

      It is clear to most thinking conservatives that the intense racial conflict we are experiencing today is that blacks have been sold a fake bill of goods by Democrats.  Now blacks are stuck in a difficult position of breaking those destructive tribal alliances and move to the tribe that they have been taught to hate.

      But civil rights 1.0 is over.  It has accomplished what it was intended to accomplish… the material/reasonable abolition of institutional racism.  Where we are today requires civil rights 2.0.  And that should be about the rights of individuals considering race-neutral differences that are primarily the result of differences in economic opportunity.

      White conservative working class Trump supporters and blacks in MO., have much more in common than do liberal Democrats and blacks in MO.   Democrats are terrified that blacks will figure this out because it would destroy the Democrat party.  That is why the liberal media and mob is so angry about Kanye West.

      1. Jerry Waszczuk

        And that should be about the rights of individuals considering race-neutral differences that are primarily the result of differences in economic opportunity.

        Exactly . No African -American no White Americans , No Asian -American . Just Americans . I think we have long way to go before it will happen .  Probably another 200 years .

        1. Ross Peabody

          well, I’m sure the black community feels much better now that you white folks have laid it out in such clear and uncompromising terms.  Now that the veil is lifted, I’m sure that it will make their day to day lived experience, that you clearly understand better than they do, much easier.

        2. Jeff M

          Blame the media and those in politics that exploit group-ism for political power.

          The group-ism game is played at the political chattering class level and it infects the people that are otherwise dumbfounded in their day-to-day lives living among all the racial diversity without much consideration of skin color (but certainly of behavior).

          The funny thing is that the people that are most apt to play this game, are also the most apt to say that there is no such thing as American culture, American exceptionalism and Americanism in general.  Some of them are just wracked with self-guilt and embarrassment that they live in the greatest nation on God’s green earth… others are professional victims that perpetually blame the system for their misery… and not their own personal behavior.  But what they have in common is an interest to keep it stirred up and tribal… I think because they are fundamentally unhappy or unfulfilled and thus tribal conflict and system instability provides them some (false) dream of better things to come.

          But as more of them come out of the fog of victimhood and see that it has caused the degradation of their neighborhood, they will turn toward a more American worldview.

        3. Jeff M

          Well, I’m sure the black community feels much better now that you white liberal folks have “helped” them believe that the white man is still holding them down from becoming something like the President of the United States.

        4. Ross Peabody

          Your incisive and illuminating commentary on race relations is a revelation and really does open my eyes to how much people of color in this country could learn, if they only had the sense to get out from under the thumb of the white man and start thinking for themselves.  I can’t believe that hasn’t been clearer to them in the past!  We should syndicate your ideas and cut through the media noise that keeps them down. Can I subscribe to your newsletter?

        5. Jerry Waszczuk

          Ross:

          Maybe Black-led resistance groups such as the Ferguson Collaborative, the Organization for Black Struggle, the St. Louis Reform Coalition, Millennial Activists United, Lost Voices Faith in Action, and Hands Up United, to name only a few,  Action St. Louis, a Black millennial led organization co-founded by activist Kayla Reed in 2014 will change the course of history . Never know . I was participated in revolution in my native country Poland  against communism and communism is gone . USA is two pary system and two parties holding the power  and generally country is going strong  regardless of the nasty  political battles.

        6. Jerry Waszczuk

          Ross

          Davis is not a  Chicago or LA  or even  Sacramento to see the problems .  Looks like you are ignoring facts what happened in the past e in LA , Ferguson and  how many people dying in Chicago almost every day .

      2. Ross Peabody

        Jerry, to be clear, I’m talking to Jeff, you just had the bad luck of getting nested in the thread in a bad spot. your comments aren’t half as insulting as his

        1. Ross Peabody

          oh – Jerry.  My apologies.  sometimes tone doesn’t travel well in comments sections.  I’m assuming that you didn’t realize that I was being sarcastic.  I’m well aware of the havok that racist policies are wreaking on people of color in this country and most assuredly agree that the people speaking up loudly against it, while ridiculed and feared by some in this sleepy town, are the one’s most likely to make inroads against it and hopefully, eventually, see some change

        2. Jerry Waszczuk

          Ross

          No apologies necessary . However ,if you  look at the Inclusion Pamphlet  chart in the UC Davis Medical Center than you will understand  eventually where I am coming from . I changed title of the  UCDMC Inclusion Pamphlet to  Discrimination and Exclusion .   If  you  read  the DV’s   article about the new Rehabilitation Hospital in UCDMC area , you most likely noticed that  hundreds of families will be kicked out from their homes , thanks to  Darrel Steinberg and  new  UC Davis Chancellor Gary May who is black  .  UCDMC is   surrounded by  the  predominately blacks neighbor hoods.

          https://www.scribd.com/document/386151192/20131119-UC-DAVIS-MEDICAL-CENTER-African-Americans-Inclusion

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