Tom Turner at a pro-Darren Wilson rally Sunday.
2. St. Louis sizzled Sunday, with relentless heat and crushing humidity driving nearly everyone indoors. Nearly everyone, that is, but a group of demonstrators who sweated beside a busy road for hours to say one thing: “I am Darren Wilson.”
The gathering began gaining steam in the early afternoon outside Barney’s Sports Pub in south St. Louis — a place many described as a popular police watering hole. At it’s peak, between 50 and 70 people crowded around a table as organizers said they had raised thousands of dollars for Wilson, who killed Michael Brown on Aug. 9. A brief press conference ended with the group reciting in unison, “we are Darren Wilson.”
Participants were not always anxious to talk to the media. An organizer named Mark — who said he was a police officer but declined to give his last name — explained that the point was to let Wilson know people “think he’s a good officer” and “have his back.” Many others at the rally also were reluctant to give last names and in some cases to appear in pictures. Only one man who spoke with BuzzFeed claimed any personal connection with Darren Wilson, but he did not provide his name and said only that he knew Wilson and knew that he was not a racist.
Still, many people were willing to speak about their participation. This is what they had to say:
3. “We’ll all see this in the end that it was a good shooting. You know, it was a good kill.” — Tina Morrison
Morrison, who used to live in Ferguson, said Wilson was trying to protect himself because he believed his life was in danger. “And had I been terrified for my life I would have killed him too,” she explained, adding later that “I totally believe what he did was the right thing.”
Despite ongoing conflicting reports about what happened during the shooting, many at the rally shared Morrison’s view that Brown was in some way the aggressor, and that Wilson would ultimately be vindicated.
4. “He deserves to be innocent until proven guilty.” — Sara Wilson
The call for due process was a common one at the rally, and Sara Wilson (who is not related to Darren) said almost no one is “seeking justice” for Darren. Sara Wilson added that Darren had been “crucified” before the facts had come out.
5. “It was derailed with race. Michael Brown could have been white. It didn’t matter, Darren Wilson was doing his job.” — Mary Kourik
Few, if any, at the rally believed race was a major factor in Brown’s killing. Many also believe others — protesters, the media, etc. — had incorrectly pushed race to the forefront. Kourik said that it was sad that Brown died, but that it was also sad Wilson had been treated unfairly. “I am Darren Wilson,” she said. “That could have very well been me the other day. It could have been any of us in that position.”
6. “It seems kind of one-sided. I mean the other side’s already got him convicted and he hasn’t had a say.” — Louie Puder
Many at the rally, including Puder, were frustrated by the media coverage of Brown’s death and the ensuing fallout. Puder said Brown may have been unarmed, but “he’s six foot four, 300 plus pounds, that’s a pretty lethal weapon there.”
Puder wore a blue shirt with a police-style logo printed on the front. It was common attire Sunday in St. Louis; the shirts were a fundraiser, and in the back of the bar near a pool table organizers Sunday were busy ironing logos on more shirts to meet high demand. Despite the ongoing DIY operation, the shirts still sold out, several attendees said.
7. “This is who I stand for, the people who stand for me.” — Robin Clearmountain
Clearmountain was among those at the rally who cited the danger of police work as a reason to afford officers respect. Her connection to police goes back a lifetime; according to Clearmountain, 59, her father worked as a police officer who came to St. Louis to desegregate the department. She especially lamented a lack of respect for police among younger generations.
Clearmountain, who is black and Native American, was one of two people at the rally who was not white. The other person, a black man, declined to be interviewed.
8. “We’re out here to support Darren Wilson because he don’t have a voice.” — Ed Chambers
Chambers and others at the rally said that Wilson had been driven into hiding by threats and fears for his safety. “He’s in hiding and that’s not right,” Chambers said. “That’s why we’re out here.” Chambers also agreed with others at the rally who said Brown was the aggressor. “There’s evidence showing that it’s more in support of the officer,” he said.
9. Toward the end of the day, Graham Stewart showed up with a sign with the words “end police brutality” written in large words. He stood across the street from the rally, which he called “upsetting.”
Stewart fought back tears as he described the rally across the street. “It’s really upsetting to me that this rally is taking place in my neighborhood,” he said. “It’s really upsetting to me that they seem to have the support of many of the people who live here, or who are at least driving by.” Graham went on to argue that those who are upset about Brown’s death want to make sure there’s an impartial investigation but aren’t sure that would happen under the current authorities. He added that he came out to show that not everyone in the neighborhood has a knee-jerk reaction to support police officers simply because they’re police officers.