Will justice ever come to Ferguson, Missouri?
That’s what activists are hoping this August 7. Almost four years to the day after Michael Brown was murdered, voters in and around this small Missouri city will head to the polls to decide who will be their next top prosecutor.
For decades, the St. Louis County prosecutor race barely registered on the political radar. Like most district-attorney races around the country, it tended to come and go like a passing breeze—uneventful, uninspired, with the incumbent slipping back into office, unchallenged.
But in the wake of Brown’s murder and the protest movement it helped spawn, this year’s race is a showdown between two candidates claiming competing visions of criminal justice.
On the one side is Robert McCulloch, the 67-year-old incumbent who has led the St. Louis County DA’s office since 1991. A law-and-order prosecutor with close ties to the police—his father was an officer who was shot and killed on the job—he’s alienated entire segments of his constituency, along with criminal-justice reformers from around the country.
But what has most enraged McCulloch’s critics was his failure to win in an indictment against Darren Wilson, the police officer who murdered Brown—a failure that seemed so egregiously intentional that The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank (among others) called it a “joke.”
Challenging McCulloch is Wesley Bell, a 43-year-old Ferguson resident who works as a prosecutor in the Consolidated Municipal Courts and also serves as a Ferguson City Council member. A former public defender, Bell has cast himself as a reform candidate, the progressive alternative to a deeply troubled status quo. His platform includes ending cash bail for nonviolent offenses, the death penalty, and mass incarceration and has earned him the support of influential groups like Color of Change, Democracy for America, and Shaun King’s Real Justice PAC. As King explained in an official endorsement statement. “In Ferguson, Wesley Bell emerged as a strong leader in the fight to transform our justice system.… As the St. Louis County Prosecutor, we can count on Wesley to expand this kind of critical reform work county-wide.”