In order to fully comprehend what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri, right now, one must first grasp the geography, history and demographics of the greater St. Louis area. It is a quirky yet staid metropolitan area, with traditions and animosities that date back almost two centuries. It is my native home, so I know a thing or two about it. I was born and raised in St. Louis, and I have lived in the area my entire life, so I have an acute understanding of race, politics and law enforcement in St. Louis County. The region is segregated along racial lines and has been for as long as I have been alive. North St. Louis and most of North St. Louis County are inhabited by African-Americans, while the rest of the Missouri side of the metropolis is mainly white. In the 1950s and ‘60s I grew up in white South St. Louis County, an area which is still overwhelmingly white. There are some pockets of black residents on the near south side, but very few are allowed into the exclusively white conclaves of West County and St. Louis Hills. There are some notable exceptions, of course (University City comes to mind), but for the most part whites and blacks do not live in the same neighborhoods. On the east side of the Mississippi River it’s pretty much the same—East St. Louis is entirely black, while the rest of the Illinois suburbs are mostly white. In a region where racial lines are hard-and-fast, and the white suburban cops are known for their quick tempers and low tolerance levels, the killing of an unarmed black kid by a white cop was a tragedy waiting to happen. Hence the current mess in Ferguson, a predominantly black suburb patrolled by a predominantly white police force.
What’s worse, St. Louis County has now taken over the investigation, and it is being headed by a notoriously hard-nosed prosecutor named Bob McCulloch. McCulloch is a right-wing “law-and-order” middle-aged white guy who always sides with the cops in any disputed arrest or shooting. This is because McCulloch has a very large and nasty chip on his shoulder. His father, a St. Louis cop, was shot and killed in the line of duty by a black man. Subsequently, his convictions of African-Americans have been spectacularly disproportionate to the black/white population ratio of St. Louis County. Moreover, to my knowledge, in the entire time of McCulloch’s reign no St. Louis County cop has been indicted, convicted or suspended of any wrongdoing, large or small. This is some incredible record. And, I can assure you from personal experience, that it is NOT because St. Louis County cops are angelic, righteous, incorruptible, and unbiased enforcers of the law.
So be forewarned. The cop who killed Michael Brown is not going to be charged with murder in St. Louis County. Don’t be fooled by McCulloch’s public promises of a fair and honest investigation. He owns the coroner’s office and the medical examiner. He can twist the evidence any way he wants. He has the cops’ backs, and cops can do no wrong.
That explains the police thuggery we’ve seen in Ferguson. Citizens are being smoke-bombed and tear-gassed even when peacefully protesting. News reporters are being arrested and having their cameras smashed. Bystanders attempting to record police misconduct are being harassed. Like bullies who have been emboldened by years of official facilitation, the St. Louis County police do not feel constrained by the demands of decency, much less local statutes.
It’s a good thing the FBI and the Brown family are conducting their own independent investigations. Their discoveries will differ in significant ways from the St. Louis County investigation. Take it from someone who knows the terrain.