Since The St. Louis American began recognizing a Person of the Year, only once – in the locally historic year of 2014 – did we recognize a group of people rather than a person. At the end of 2014, protestors were still organized in the streets in Ferguson, rallying against the police killing of Michael Brown, the police response to their protests, and the region’s approach to criminal justice that made those misdeeds possible – and, indeed, defensible in the eyes of many people. We recognized their courage and focus on justice by naming Ferguson protestors collectively as our 2014 Person of the Year.
In 2018, we are recognizing many of those same people once again – but also many others who did not protest in Ferguson – in a new collective recognition for 2018 Person of the Year. For this year we believe that the most important local positive newsmaker was the coalition that elected Wesley Bell as St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, crushing incumbent Bob McCulloch in the Democratic primary by more than 24,000 votes, 56 percent to 43 percent.
This coalition includes Bell himself, given that the candidate obviously is the most critical person in a campaign. But his election would not have been possible without a disciplined campaign staff, support from progressive groups (local and national) eager to hand Ferguson villain Bob McCulloch a whipping, St. Louis County voters of all types weary of seeing the region equated with backwards racism and clueless white privilege – and those pesky Ferguson protestors, who moved their activism decisively from the street to the ballot box.
Kayla Reed of WokeVoterSTL and Action STL was a Ferguson protestor who played a pivotal role in the grass-roots effort behind Bell. In The American she described the coalition’s work registering North County high school seniors to vote, educating voters on the role of the prosecutor, and talking about cash bail, pre-trial detention, sentencing and diversion programs “so that voters understood all that was at stake with this election.” In the last two weeks of the campaign, the coalition hired 23 canvassers and knocked on 7,000 North County doors. Its partnership with Color Of Change PAC – a national political action committee dedicated to electing progressive prosecutors – resulted in over 50,000 text messages sent and over 2,000 calls made on Election Day.
Other activist groups that worked hard to elect Bell include Missouri Faith Voices and the Organization for Black Struggle. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, which does not endorse candidates, made an unprecedented effort to educate the public on McCulloch’s record of holding people with misdemeanor offenses who could not post cash bail and the meager results of the diversion program for drug offenders that he initiated after Ferguson. And, as our columnist Mike Jones wrote, “Bell’s winning strategy had to include substantial numbers of white voters, whom he attracted without diluting his commitment to criminal justice reform or running away from the black community.”
We recognize the coalition that elected Bell, which includes the candidate, rather than Bell himself because all of his hard work in reforming a disgraceful prosecutor’s office starts now. As Mike Jones wrote, “Bell is now positioned to implement life-changing reforms to St. Louis County’s criminal justice system and has the potential to provide national leadership to this existential issue for black Americans.” And as Kayla Reed urged, “Now it’s time for Wesley to turn those campaign promises into reality and usher in an era of criminal justice reform.”