ST. LOUIS—As the tragic August 9 anniversary of the death of Mike Brown Jr. approaches, it also serves as a grim reminder of how elusive justice still remains for Black people. The family of Michael Brown Jr. and supporters gathered Sunday, August 2, in front of St. Louis county’s Buzz Westfall Justice Center demanding that former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson be arrested for shooting and killing the unarmed 18-year-old in August 2014.
His family has waited patiently for justice to be served for his death. But on July 30 approximately 10 days before the sixth anniversary of the young, Black man’s death, they were dealt another devastating blow. St. Louis county’s first Black prosecuting attorney Wesley Bell held a press conference to announce he would not be pressing charges against Mr. Wilson in a case that sparked protests and rebellion in Ferguson and cities around the country.
The decision has made Lezley McSpadden, the mother of Mike Brown Jr., more determined to fight for justice. “I must be resilient, even in the face of yet another blow. I refuse to back down and that is the lesson I learned from John Lewis’s legacy,” she told The Final Call, referring to the late civil rights leader and congressman. Ms. McSpadden said though Atty. Bell gave his final verdict, she will not back down and will continue to be steadfast and fight for justice for her son.
“Although this case represents one of the most significant moments in St. Louis’ history, the question for this office was a simple one: Could we prove beyond a reasonable doubt that when Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown he committed murder or manslaughter under Missouri law?” Atty. Bell said at the July 30 news conference. “After an independent and in-depth review of the evidence, we cannot prove that he did.”
Ms. McSpadden vehemently disagrees with that view. “What Darren Wilson did was cold and calculating. My unarmed son was shot multiple times by his assailant while running away. So how was my son a threat?” she asked. “He was shot in the top of his head as he was falling to the ground that was the shot that killed him,” she explained, referring to the autopsy report given in 2014 by forensic expert Dr. Michael Baden.
Questions on “reopening” of case
Atty. Bell said that he “re-opened” the case and conducted a five-month investigation to determine if there was enough evidence to charge the former officer with a crime committed against the teen.
In his comments, Atty. Bell recalled events in Ferguson leading up to Mike Brown Jr.’s death and the fallout. “When Michael Brown died, this community’s grief and anger exploded, and people took to the streets to protest. Shortly thereafter, the Department of Justice came into our community and documented the terrible abuse in a lengthy report that did not mince words or spare feelings. That report recounted how the police used dogs to unjustly attack our residents, how hefty fines and fees were levied on the poor, and how people of color were often arrested without probable cause or at times even any cause at all. If people across the country had questions about why people filled the streets nightly following the shooting, this report laid them bare,” he said. Atty. Bell explained his motive for “reopening” the case, although Mike Brown Jr.’s family nor the public was aware of his decision to do so. “Because of the significance of this case to this community, and because the family asked me to, I believed it was necessary to conduct a reexamination of the evidence in the case and come to our own conclusion as to whether Darren Wilson committed a crime under Missouri law when he shot Michael Brown,” said Atty. Bell.
“Our newly formed Conviction and Incident Review Unit conducted a five-month review of the evidence, examining thousands of pages of witness statements, forensic reports, and other evidence.” He said that his heart “breaks” for Mike Jr.’s parents.
“I also want to be clear that our investigation does not exonerate Darren Wilson. The question of whether we can prove a case at trial is different than clearing him of any and all wrongdoing,” he said
During the Ferguson unrest that followed the killing of Mike Brown Jr., many protestors rose and filled the streets demanding justice. Among them was a group of young activists called “Lost Voices.” They slept in tents and wherever they could in Ferguson and surrounding areas. Ebony “Ebo” Williams from Ferguson was part of this group and she expressed her disappointment with Atty. Bell’s decision.
“I’m pretty pissed, because we all worked hard to help him get in office. We walked the streets, knocked on doors, made phone calls. We did everything for Wesley, believing he would do what he said he would do. He ran on bringing justice for Mike Brown. So, for him to not find fault with Darren Wilson and to let him get off is like a spit in the face. We got to hold him accountable!” said Ms. Williams
Tory Russel a community organizer from Ferguson was at Atty. Bell’s press conference but was escorted out after he began to verbally confront the prosecutor. He questioned the integrity of Bell’s office. “How you got police working for the prosecutor? How you got prosecutors working for the police union? It’s all a conflict of interest. Everybody in here is corrupt, everybody!” said Mr. Russel
“It’s so important that people get into these streets and apply pressure to Wesley Bell. What we know that happened is that Wesley Bell ran his campaign on a promise. The promise to reopen a case with the hope that Mike Brown’s family would get some sort of justice. It’s been six years; the community has been fighting for six years,” he continued.
“Even the way he handled the case; the family didn’t know that he was even investigating anything. So, that in itself tells us how genuine the situation was, and it wasn’t. Just because you have Black skin doesn’t mean you get a pass on bad political moves, and that was a bad political move,” said Ohun Ashe of Expect Us, another activist group.
“We need to be out here to continuously apply pressure, because this community and the family deserves the justice, and the promise that he said he was going to make, he needs to deliver that,” she added.
Anthony Shahid is a longtime activist and aide to Mike Brown Sr. He did not mince words, calling the decision by Atty. Bell another “assassination” of Mike Brown Jr. “It’s another assassination. He just assassinated Mike Brown for the third time. First Darren Wilson, then Bob McCullough and now Wesley Bell,” said Mr. Shahid. Bob McCullough was the prosecutor in 2014 whose decision to not press charges against Mr. Wilson sparked massive protests.
“There is always a boot licking negro that want to please their master. Malcolm (X) called them house niggers. They never want to upset their master. …Wilson got away with murder. He’s no better than the White boy that was in office before him,” he said of Atty. Bell.
“Wesley’s duty is to move forward with the case and let the jury decide, instead of denying due process for this case,” said Jeryl Christmas, lead attorney for Ms. McSpadden. “Neither one of them, Bob McCullough nor him would let it go to a jury. He can reopen the case if he wanted to. All this what he can’t do is a lie. It’s on him,” said Atty. Christmas
“That’s why we have to keep the pressure on him, and every place he goes he should receive pressure. He should no longer feel comfortable around us. We elected him to do the right thing and he didn’t do that. You wouldn’t know Wesley Bell existed if Mike Brown had not died. He would be a regular lawyer like anybody else. Walking around here hustling,” said Atty. Christmas.
Alicia Street of the Ferguson grassroots organization Around Level Support, and who worked closely with Atty. Bell wasn’t surprised at his decision. “I’ve been in Ferguson for the last six years and I have been helping in the election processes in Ferguson. I saw Wesley Bell be elected to council person in Ward 3 in 2015. I also have seen how he didn’t speak up when it was time to during the council meetings in Ferguson.” she said
“This decision that came out July 30 wasn’t a surprise to me. It wasn’t a shock to me because I knew that Wesley Bell ran on false hope for the parents of Mike Brown … I don’t even understand why he even reopened the case to see if he could find different evidence if he wasn’t going to do a private investigation himself,” she added.
“This goes into a lot of depth with Wesley Bell and I hope that we have learned from this situation. We can campaign, ‘ring the bell,’ but we must make sure we hold all our politicians accountable, no matter what.” said Ms. Street.
“Justice has not been served, but I must be steadfast in my fight that someone within the justice system will step up and stand with me to reopen my son’s case,” said Ms. McSpadden.
“Mr. Bell, please don’t tell us you have our backs because you got in office off the strength of our backs. So many stood up and marched with me and family and have kept marching over these last six years. So, I must do like John Lewis told me and keep fighting! I must do as Ms. Maxine Waters said, keep fighting! I owe this fight to my son Mike Mike,” she said passionately.