An Open Letter to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch

Image of Bob McCulloch via Slate

All week long I have been scratching my head trying to understand your announcement of the Grand Jury decision Monday night.

I listened closely that evening as you spent nearly 30 minutes describing the grand jury process, its decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, and the evidence and rationale behind the decision. Then you, much like Pilate, turned the decision for response over to the crowd and washed your hands of any additional responsibility. Except that the choice you gave them was really no choice at all.

Ferguson and the greater St. Louis region were shaped by nearly a century of zoning, housing, transportation, bankingand policing policies designed to protect white privilege and corporate interests (as Richard Rothstein of Economic Policy Institute shows in his excellent article). Racial tensions existed well before August 9, when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death. His lifeless and uncovered black body -- left in the street for nearly four hours -- spoke volumes about justice and equity to a community already in conflict with white authorities.

Then on Monday, November 24, more than three months after the shooting, you stood before the media and announced that the evidence did not support an indictment. And to prove that you had done everything by the book, you buried the public with thousands and thousands of pages of grand jury transcripts, witness interviews, forensic and other reports, and more than 100 photos. Arguably, you discharged your responsibilities as prosecuting attorney and carried out the letter of the law. But did you carry out the spirit of the law, ensuring justice not just for the accused, but also for the entire community?

That is why I am left scratching my head.

The Monday night press conference could have been so much more than an announcement about the grand jury decision and an opportunity for you to defend your actions and rail at your critics. This could have been your moment, as part of the St. Louis County administration, to lay out a proposal for moving toward real justice and equity in the region. Then the crowd would have been faced with a real choice: allow rage to define our actions or claim our place at the decision-making table.

As a person of faith and the leader of a faith-based organization, I can assure you with certainty that redemption is always possible. I will be joining dozens of my Gamaliel colleagues in Ferguson next week for a leadership retreat. I invite you to join us as we lay out plans to continue our work toward justice and reconciliation in St. Louis and across the country.