CLAYTON — St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell is running for US Senate in Missouri.

Bell, who grew up in north St. Louis County, became the county’s first black prosecuting attorney in 2018 after defeating seven-term incumbent Robert McCulloch.

The Democrat said in his announcement video, “We need leaders who try to help, unlike Josh Hawley, who’s in a rush to be famous.”

He criticized Hawley as divisive while touting his own work in Ferguson, where protests over Brown’s death helped spark the national Black Lives Matter movement.

Bell, who now lives in Clayton, lived two blocks from the Ferguson Police Department in 2014.

As an angry crowd began to surround officers barricaded in the police parking lot the day after unarmed, Black 18-year-old Brown’s shooting, Bell and a small group of other Black leaders got in the middle and urged calm.

Bell at the time worked as a municipal judge and attorney, and his father was a police officer. He has said he understood both sides.

“Ferguson was a turning point for me,” Bell told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “When the city, the region, the country seemed like it was ready to explode, I helped calm tensions between police and protesters.”

Civil rights leaders and Brown’s parents had hoped that Bell, the county’s first Black prosecutor, would see things differently.

But Bell in 2020 said another five-month re-investigation by his office did not find enough evidence to charge Wilson. He called on Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature to revise laws that offer protection against prosecution for police officers that regular citizens aren’t afforded.

Bell will face Democrat Lucas Kunce in next year’s August primary. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Kunce has already secured some early endorsements from labor unions representing firefighters, asbestos workers, and bricklayers.

Kunce declined direct comment on Bell’s entrance into the race.

“We expect whoever emerges from the messy (Democratic) primary to be the darling of the woke left and raise tens of millions of dollars to try and buy this seat from Missourians,” Hawley’s campaign said in a statement, adding the primary will be about “ending girls sports and being soft on crime.”

If elected, Bell would be among the first, if not the only, person of color elected to statewide office in Missouri, although Democrats face slim odds in the now Republican-dominated state.

Earlier this year, Republican state Treasurer Vivek Malek became the first person of color to hold office, after he was appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson. Malek, who was born in India, is also running for election in 2024.

Missouri, a swing state a generation ago, has moved decidedly to the right over the past decade. Every statewide elected official in Missouri is now a Republican.

Bell said he’s been written off before. No one expected him to defeat McCulloch.

“Not only did we win but we won big,” Bell said. “I’m not afraid of a tough fight.”