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A Headline That Raises Concerns

Sep 1, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 47 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Sometimes it’s the little things that draw your attention. The other morning (August 20), for example, The Scrapbook noticed a subordinate headline for the main story on the front page of the Washington Post, about the racial confrontations in Ferguson, Missouri: “County prosecutor’s past raises concerns.” 

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Jamilah Nasheed

This, thought The Scrapbook, is a new and surprising, perhaps even disturbing, element. Is the county prosecutor notorious for covering up police misconduct? Was he ever, himself, on the wrong side of the law? Is he widely reviled in Ferguson’s black community? Did he once write a college dissertation on Jefferson Davis?

So The Scrapbook quickly devoured the front page, where the county prosecutor was quoted as saying that a grand jury would begin hearing evidence on the shooting death of Michael Brown. No mention, however, of the prosecutor’s “past,” and so it was on to page A6. There the story continued at some extended length—mostly a rehash of the previous night’s events—until about two-thirds of the way through: “On Tuesday,” reported the Post, “even before the grand jury heard evidence about the shooting, it was obvious that there was enormous political pressure on prosecutors in this case.”

That seemed obvious enough! Here was a police shooting of a black man by a white officer, days and nights of marching and rioting and high emotion, the presence of media from around the globe, the imminent arrival of the attorney general, and public comment from the president. Of course there was “enormous political pressure” on the local prosecutor. But what about the “past” that “raises concerns” on the front page of the Washington Post?

Well, it turns out that “St. Louis County’s chief executive and other [unidentified] local black leaders have said they believe the county prosecutor is not fit to handle the case.” Not fit? Why is that? “Because,” the Post explains, the prosecutor’s “father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty when the prosecutor was 12 years old. [The prosecutor] is white. The man who shot his father was black.”

And that’s it: When the county prosecutor was a boy, his policeman-father was shot and killed in the line of duty by a gunman. No mention, of course, of the circumstances that led to the father’s death, no mention of the fate of his killer—and no mention of any instances where the prosecutor’s tragic background might have influenced his official conduct. Nevertheless, the Washington Post felt obliged to “raise concerns” about his “past”—on its front page, no less—and whether the prosecutor is “fit” to handle this high-profile case.

The prosecutor, whose name is Robert McCulloch, has said that his father’s killing will not (in the words of the Post) “affect his judgment” about Ferguson; nor has the governor of Missouri asked him to recuse himself. And that is as it should be. There is no reported evidence of official misconduct by this prosecutor, and no record of any complaint that McCulloch is not “fit” to do the job he was elected to do. Except, of course, from those unidentified “local black leaders” the Post was pleased to quote. 

Assuming, of course, that the “leaders” exist, the Post might wish to ask them whether they believe that only ex-felons are qualified to prosecute accused felons, or if the killing of one’s policeman-father in childhood should disqualify anybody seeking to serve the public.

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