On their morning of August 5, near the stretch of West Florissant Avenue where hundreds protested the shooting death of Michael Brown four years ago, seasoned activists and newer volunteers poured each other mimosas. The grassroots community group Action St. Louis had converted a vacant storefront into a canvassing office for its campaign to oust Bob McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor who declined to charge Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Brown.
As part of its final #ByeBob push, the organization had invited the community to brunch. In the small kitchen space, cooks prepped food in aluminum serving trays, while volunteers unfurled eight large folding tables for guests in the front room. The back wall was a chalkboard covered in signatures, hashtags, encouragements, and political slogans.
By noon, the voice of Atlanta rapper Rich the Kid floated out of a speaker balanced on a metal chair near the windows. And groups of black community members, mostly women, were seated at the tables drinking, chatting casually, and alternating between flipping through pages of call lists or scribbling down to-do lists. Everyone bobbed their heads to the signature “New Freezer” beat.
The playlist switched to Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s single, “Apesh*t,” and a table of black women shimmied in their seats. “How y’all know this is what I wanted to listen to? Foreal, this my song right here,” said a woman in a blue-and-white-striped jumpsuit to no one in particular. The room laughed. If it weren’t for the call lists and canvassing materials, you might’ve thought the gathering was just friends hanging out. Here was a group of young black people volunteering their time to work on a political campaign—and they were having fun.
McCulloch, who has been in office since 1991, gained national prominence in 2014 during the investigation of Wilson. Protesters and many legal experts criticized McCulloch’s handling of that case, accusing the prosecutor of sabotaging any chance at an indictment by refusing to appoint a special prosecutor and handing the case over to a grand jury before the police investigation had concluded. Among local activists, he is known for harsh treatment of protesters. In the best-known example, McCulloch asked a judge to “make an example” of Joshua Williams, who was sentenced in 2015 to eight years in prison on arson charges that stemmed from a demonstration in December 2014.