FERGUSON, Mo. (New York Times) — Brianna West stepped before the judge as her daughter Morgan, 3, fidgeted beside her. Ms. West had waited weeks to get this case behind her, facing citations that included failure to comply with a police officer. She worried about steep fines, even jail time, on charges she felt were baseless. But the hearing brought relief.
A newly appointed judge, Donald McCullin, who like Ms. West is African-American, ordered her to spend 10 hours performing community service. “He was trying to help me,” Ms. West said, clearly surprised.
It was a starkly different scene from what Ferguson residents faced in this municipal court a year ago before the city was torn by unrest after a white police officer’s fatal shooting of a black, unarmed teenager named Michael Brown, before it became a symbol of racial inequities, before a Justice Department investigation concluded that the city unconstitutionally targeted black people for an array of fees and fines largely intended to raise revenue. The department also concluded that the shooting did not warrant criminal charges.
Yet if Judge McCullin seems a burst of fresh air for Ferguson, he is only a temporary one. Under Missouri court-retirement rules, he must step down in about eight months when he turns 75. And he is not the only change that may prove fleeting. The city just hired a new police chief and city manager — also African-Americans — to replace white officials who had overseen operations that came under scathing criticism in the Justice Department report. But they, too, are interim hires that may end in a matter of months; the new chief is merely on a leave of absence from his department in another state.