“They are saying it’s murder because a white officer killed a black man,” said Karen Kennedy, who attended the rally with her daughter Katie. “I don’t know where that comes from. This is about two men and the events that unfolded between them. We don’t have the facts yet.”
The crowd was almost entirely white, and had organized through a Facebook group called “Support Darren Wilson.” Though the group has been active online since shortly after the Aug. 9 shooting, raising several hundred thousand dollars on Wilson’s behalf, this was the first significant public event. Some held signs outside the pub saying “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” or “Law Enforcement Officer Wife.” Passers-by were asked to honk in a show of support. Many did.
The event was held in the parking lot of Barney’s Sports Pub, a watering hole popular with police officers. Many police attended, but few seemed to have a personal connection with Wilson, and were instead concerned about giving a fellow officer the benefit of the doubt.
“I don’t know him. The people here don’t know him, but law enforcement is family,” pub owner Rhea Rodebaugh said. “The poor guy is in hiding. He was doing his job. People who become police officers, they do it because they love it.”
The rally was organized in part by a woman who stood before reporters wearing aviators and a ballcap, reading a statement of support. She refused to give her name. She also criticized media coverage of the case, calling it “unethical.” Since the shooting, Wilson, 28, has not appeared or spoken publicly, nor have any of his family members.
Attendees ate hot dogs and purchased $20 fundraising T-shirts depicting a police badge on the front. The shirts were printed with the words, “Officer Darren Wilson. We Stand By You. 8-9-14.”
A counter protest evolved slowly across the street from the Wilson support rally, growing from two young women to a group of 20 by 6 p.m. — seven hours after the rally started.
Signs read “Heroes Aren’t Murderers.” Motorists began driving by and honking in support of people on both sides of the road, largely dividing along racial lines.
At one point, a motorist raced up in a bright yellow car, braked abruptly in the middle of the street, danced, and flipped off the pro-Wilson people. She threw a juice can at them before pulling away.
“You are disgusting!” screamed one protester at the Wilson supporters.
The person who started the counter-protest, Nakarla Rimson, said they began with two people, and that as people drove by, they parked their cars and joined them. It was hard to keep things peaceful, but she tried to tell people to “allow everyone to have their opinion.”
Tempers flared on the other side of the street, too, with some people screaming and making rude gestures of their own. By 8 p.m., the pro-Wilson organizers had moved their tables and chairs inside.
“We are trying to get everyone inside to calm things down,” said one of the organizers, who declined to give her name.