That is what County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch called two African-American unarmed men gunned down and killed in the midst of a drug sting operation on the parking lot of a St Louis Jack in the Box restaurant. The 2000 shooting deaths of Ronald Beasley and Earl Murray by white undercover officers later came to be known as the “Jack in the Box” shootings.
After Beasley and Murray were killed, many in the African-American community raised concerns about why there were 21 bullets fired at a vehicle backing away from undercover cops.
In piece entitled “Anti-Community Policing,” the former publisher of The Riverfront Times, Ray Hartmann, described African-American concern directed at the Jack in the Box shootings as a “fire raging in North County”. According to Hartmann, African-American leadership wanted to know, among other things, why the police fired 21 shots at a “low-level drug dealer” and his passenger in broad daylight on the busy parking lot of a Jack In the Box. The community also wanted to know why shots were fired at a vehicle slowly backing away from the police.
Hartmann also described the frustration the African-American community had with the disinterest displayed by County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch and members of his team. For example, despite protests and requests for transparency, McCulloch and every other high-ranking county official declined to attend a news conference on the shooting. Instead his office issued a press release stating the chief of police was “not entertaining interviews.” McCulloch also initially refused to release the names of the officers involved, and he expressed no sympathy or concern about the “suspects.”
The use of the word “suspects” to describe both of the men who were killed was also concerning to the African-American community because Beasley, father of three and manager at an auto repair shop, was an innocent bystander. And yet McCulloch’s office appeared be very comfortable with hurling the slanderous and inaccurate term “suspect” at Beasley.
Fast forward 14 years, and we have yet another unarmed African American killed by another white police officer, along with unanswered questions, disinterest and arrogant disengagement by the same county prosecutor. And as a result, the North County African-American community finds itself confronting another “fire raging in North County.”
Earlier this week the office of state Senator Jamilah Nasheed issued a statement calling for a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate and prosecute the killing of Michael Brown. Chief among Senator Nasheed’s reasons was the handling of the Jack in the Box shootings by Bob McCulloch and his office.
It has been 14 years. Why should Bob McCulloch’s handling of the Jack in the Box shooting matter? How is it possibly relevant all these years later, and why does the African-American community insist upon comparing the killing of Brown to the Jack in the Box shooting?
Perhaps the relevance of a Mike Brown/Jack in the Box shooting comparison can best be distilled down to Bob McCulloch’s use of a single word to describe Ronald Beasley and Earl Murray: “bums.”
Why did McCulloch do that?
Putting aside for a moment the notion of “innocent unless and until proven guilty,” one could argue from some prosecutors’ point of view the fact that Murray had a criminal record and he had cocaine on him made him a “bum.” But how did the innocent, unarmed, working, African-American father of three and passenger hitching a ride become a dead “bum”?
The argument that many in the concerned community are making is that Bob McCulloch, when comes to a choice between protecting the reputation/careers of white police officers and searching for the truth in a case of a “police-officer-on-African-American-crime,” will choose protecting officers at the expense of fairness, decency and truth.
There are stunning similarities in how McCulloch investigated and responded to African American concerns in the killing of Mike Brown and the Jack In the Box shooting.
Initially in both cases there was a fierce refusal to release the name of the officers involved. There was also an effort to turn Mike Brown into a “bum” by allowing the release of the video tape purportedly showing Mike Brown engaged in shoplifting. McCulloch also defended the use of military style aggression and finally McCulloch, after initially refusing to humanize the pain of the loss suffered by the Brown family, was forced to bow to enormous public pressure and publically acknowledged the family’s pain.
While many people are making the connection between the Mike Brown killing and the Jack in the Box shooting, others articulate additional concerns.
Earlier this week, County Executive Charlie Dooley called on Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to remove Bob McCulloch from the Mike Brown investigation. Dooley was quoted as saying “I think Mr. McCulloch’s objectivity is in question.”
Many believe that is a more than fair observation. Local attorneys while reluctant to be identified, raised the same question: Can the son of a fallen police officer be fair and impartial in the murder investigation and the prosecution of a police officer who looks like his father on behalf of an 18-year-old who doesn’t?
Some attorneys argue that a vigorous prosecution of a white police officer accused of killing an African American “bum-i-fied” Mike Brown will put his working relationship with the police in jeopardy. Others are asking if it is even necessary to ask the local prosecutor to put his job and his career at risk with this prosecution – why not satisfy all possible concerns by bringing in a neutral prosecutor?
Concerns about the ability of Bob McCulloch to fairly, impartially and vigorously prosecute this case have erupted into protests at the office of McCulloch. Protests have been fueled in part by McCulloch’s first act in the investigation of the killing of Mike Brown.
As the first step in the prosecution and investigation of Darren Wilson, McCulloch stated that he will allow the potential defendant, officer Darren Wilson, to testify and defend himself in front of the Grand Jury. Is this an act that reveals that Bob McCulloch is impartial and is interested in a vigorous prosecution?
It doesn’t look good.
Allowing a potential defendant to plead his case in front of a jury is rarely done by a prosecutor who is seeking an indictment and is an awesome gift to any defendant. However, allowing a potential defendant who is a police officer the rare gift of pleading his murder case using any evidence admissible in front of a Grand Jury can only be interpreted as an act of solidarity to a police officer from the by the son of a fallen police officer. In the mind and heart of Bob McCulloch, this potential defendant is certainly no bum.