Thin Blue Line: Tensions over law school speech


An artist's rendering of SLU LAW

On Feb. 20, the student-led SLU Public Law Review hosted its annual symposium,  a topic of “great local interest,” according to law school dean Mike Wolff.

The topic of this year’s symposium was “Policing Post-Ferguson,” and it contentiously included St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch as its opening presenter.

SLU President Fred Pestello defended the student group’s decision to host McCulloch in an email on Feb. 9, stating, “we have committed ourselves to facilitating dialogue about race, diversity, inclusion, peace, and justice … the law school’s symposium aligns with that commitment. “

Before the event, Wolff added, “We’re hoping to have a good, spirited discussion.”

Despite these assertions from Pestello and Wolff, many members of the SLU community had reservations regarding McCulloch’s presence. Dr. Stefan Bradley stated, “A lot of people are still hurting … [T]he idea that McCulloch has been invited to speak on this particular campus, during Black History Month, is disconcerting to a lot of people.”

After an opening introduction of Dean Wolff, McCulloch gave a lengthy – and thrice interrupted – speech regarding the grand jury proceedings. In his presentation, he said he found encouraging “the collaboration between federal governments.” He also stated that the “job of the prosecutor is to see that justice is done.” Finally, McCulloch concluded by stating that his people were not wrong in their handling of the case and that the outcomes of the grand juries were “not an outcome that you like, but it’s the right outcome.”

In the three separate interruptions, around two dozen protesters registered to the event held a “trial” that found McCulloch guilty of obstruction of justice; chanted “black lives matter”; and sang “Requiem for Mike Brown,” holding gravestones of black people killed in police shootings since Aug. 9, 2014, the day Brown was killed.

McCulloch incited “boos” on a number of occasions, especially after he responded to “black lives matter” chants by saying, “I’m pretty sure all lives matter.”

Throughout most of the disturbances, McCulloch attempted to speak over the protesters. Eventually, all of the participating demonstrators were removed from the symposium by a combination of officers from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and SLU’s Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

After the event, Brendan Roediger, a professor at SLU Law, concluded that “the [student] disruption was to be expected, I’m glad it happened.”