3 Things Darren Wilson Supporters Don't Understand About Ferguson

Source: USA Today via YouTube

There's an emerging counter-movement to support the officer who — with six bullets — allegedly perpetrated the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

Despite reports of local police abusing protesters and threatening to kill reporters in the midst of violent clashes over the weekend in Ferguson, Mo., a Support Darren Wilson Facebook page with more than 30,000 "likes" and counting asks people across the country to send aid to St. Louis-area police, to Wilson and to his family. According to the Guardian, more than 150 of Wilson's supporters attended a so-called "peaceful rally" on Sunday. The attendees, almost all of whom were white, said they believe Wilson was simply "doing his job" and is being "victimized" by people who are "too quick to play the race card."

It doesn't help claims of 'playing the race card' that Darren Wilson's primary Facebook support group is overflowing with highly racist and offensive posts. But whether they'd like to believe it or not, the pro-Wilson camp should actually be rallying with the Brown protesters instead, because they share more values with Brown protesters than they might otherwise assume.


Image CreditSupport Darren Wilson via Facebook


Image Credit: Support Darren Wilson via Facebook

It's clear that Wilson's supporters harbor concern about a public servant having to sequester himself, with his career and livelihood on the line, during what has become a national outcry for his arrest and arraignment. Pro-Wilson organizers launched a GoFundMe campaign shortly after Sunday's rally, which has so far raised more than $20,000.

At the same time, there's a glaring lack of acknowledgment that a young person died because of Wilson's actions, and that a shroud of secrecy has undermined both the public trust in the police and in the values of due process — an overall outcome that both sides should be able to agree is upsetting and undesirable.

Justice and fairness swing both ways, which is all the more reason why the people who "Support Darren Wilson" should actually be supporting the Brown protesters across the city.

Distrust between blacks and majority-white police forces hurts everyone.


Image Credit: Associated Press

It'd be disingenuous to accuse blacks of "playing the race card" when race does ultimately play a factor in the community's attitudes toward the police — a tenuous relationship strained by prejudice and abuses of power that dates back to before the civil rights movement. It was activists who pressured police forces to begin integrating and to better represent the racial and ethnic makeups of the communities officers are sworn to "serve and protect." 

In Ferguson, this has become the exception rather than the rule. As noted by Vox and based on reporting by the Los Angeles Times, the St. Louis suburb is 67% black, and its police force is 94% white. With such lopsided representation, it's much more likely that white residents can rely upon their police officers to understand their cultural norms and modes of self-expression — characteristics often making the difference between a peaceful or violent interaction.

This type of conflict erodes much-needed trust and cooperation between officers and civilians, something crucial to effective community policing, notes a 2010 Department of Justice report . Black citizens, too, want to trust that their police officers will serve and protect them, not kill them with impunity.

It should go without saying that a community that trusts its police is a safer community for both civilians and police officers.

Increased police accountability and transparency helps both the officers and the communities they serve.


Image Credit: Associated Press

There's still been no clear explanation for Wilson's use of lethal force, prompting Brown's supporters to decry what they perceive as a violation of the constitutional rights of an unarmed teen. More transparency from authorities would bolster public confidence and ensure that everyone, including the Obama administration, is confident the investigation is being handled with integrity.

Both officers and civilians benefit from clear, public systems of accountability for police activity and use of force. For officers who sometimes feel the need to use force, it helps protect livelihoods and careers during situations in which they may have been following proper protocol — especially when there are accusations of excessive force or racial profiling. For civilians, such transparency would allow them to better question the overall activities and trends of their community's police, fostering a partnership that creates trust on both sides.

Unfortunately, Ferguson authorities have not demonstrated any willingness to be transparent or accountable during the investigation, or in previous situations. The Daily Beast reported that Ferguson cops severely beat an African-American during a 2009 investigation, despite a case of mistaken identity in the arrest. Mic's Matt Connolly noted that this report, along with the Washington Post's analysis of highly disproportionate law enforcement on blacks in Ferguson, "sheds light on simmering problems that came to a head in the protests and ensuing crackdown following Brown's death." 

Solutions aren't one size fits all, but there are many good places to build common ground to address the unique needs of each community. One such example, highlighted in a 2008 presentation prepared for the Bureau of Justice Statistics by researchers at American University, entails increasing public access to data and information on law enforcement activities. 

If people came together to ensure their law enforcement officials act responsibly and transparently, abuses of power might not be as easy to perpetrate.

The right to peaceful assembly should be enjoyed — without police interference.


Image Credit: Associated Press

The 100 or so rallying to support Wilson on Sunday assembled without much apparent molestation from local police. But the "other side" has, on the whole, peacefully gathered in solidarity with Brown and his family, only to encounter militarized police officer instead.

Indeed, their voices and concerns have been lumped in with looters in an attempt to cast racist aspersions on the people as violent and irrational — something Wilson's supporters also imply when they position their rally as a "peaceful" one to counter Brown's supporters.


Image Credit: Support Darren Wilson via Facebook

It's a perception routinely created through mainstream media coverage and even in interpersonal interactions, when outrage, anger and even sadness are emotional facets of a generations-long struggle for equity and inclusion. We're nowhere near being in a post-racial society if white Americans and black Americans who peacefully protest don't receive the same public regard or lack of interference from law enforcement. 

Yet in Ferguson, there's an opportunity now to work across racial and cultural lines to unify in the name of repairing and rebuilding a community despite an intensely racist past. Maybe Wilson's protesters could start by extending the proverbial olive branch, acknowledging that even in these highly polarized circumstances, the common goals of due process, consensus building, transparency and trust are values both white and black community-member can get behind.