Bradley Wilson started as a beat cop right out of high school. He was raised in a middle-class white neighborhood in St. Louis. While his school was integrated, he was a part of the segregated white community in his school, church and neighborhood. His father Herbert Wilson was a white supremacist but while he sympathized with the KKK he did not join openly. Herbert told his son Bradley of the time when he was eight that Bradley’s grandfather took him to a lynching, where a Black man was killed for disrespecting a White man. He shared this memory with pride. Bradley was conflicted about his thought about his dad’s experience, though he did not share his concerns with his dad. Bradley was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s and the media was exposing the heinousness of these types of incidents. Bradley was conflicted because, he respected his father who was a great provider for his family, was a devout Southern Baptist deacon in their church and was faithful to Bradley’s mother. Bradley’s mother was a homemaker and never worked outside of the home. She was totally submissive to her husband and doted on her children. He wanted his father’s approval but he had to weigh this approval against the societal consciousness of equality.
In his last year of high school, Bradley was partnered with a Black boy as a lab partner in his science class. The two of them got along quite well. He hid this from his dad until one day his dad caught him talking to the Black boy afterschool on the steps of the school. Terrified of what his dad might do, Bradley confessed to the partnership when he got home. Herbert Wilson raged throughout dinner. He went to the school the very next day and insisted that Bradley be given another partner. Bradley was somewhat embarrassed because he really started liking the Black boy and didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but it was something that couldn’t be avoided.
Bradley joined the St. Louis Police Academy right out of high school. Still confused about his proper interactions with Black people, he straddled the fence between his family tradition of bigotry and the new paradigm that all people were the same and worthy of respect. But Bradley was put in the worst neighborhoods in St. Louis and the Black models he was exposed to were deplorable. Sure he came across a few “good Black people”, but they were just “different” and not characteristic of the Black race overall, the way he saw things anyway.
Bradley had a keen profiling sense and was almost clairvoyant in knowing who was engaged in criminal activity and who was not. This keen ability got him promoted up the ranks. As the years progressed so did the paradigm shift with regard to the role Black people played in city government and department management.
One year before the Burton killing, a Black man was killed by a White police officer in error and the police officer was caught red handed in planting a weapon on the Black man. The remnant racist superiors in the St. Louis chain of command were also found guilty in their attempts to cover up the tragedy. The United States Justice Department came down hard and the house needed to be cleaned. As a result ten St. Louis Police Department officials and policemen were fired with no pension. Two were convicted and were serving time.
Bradley was selected as Lieutenant in the restructure, because he had a record clean of power abuses, was able to interact cordially with his Black coworkers and was able to maintain a professional demeanor. Bradley was thrilled about this promotion however, with the Justice Department breathing down the neck of the St. Louis PD, he was afraid that the history of his dad’s exploits would surface and sink his career. While Bradley did not demonstrate any overtly “racist” tendencies, he wanted to securely cover any hint of residual racism that remained due to his upbringing, so he toed what appeared to be the "politically correct" line without question.