Of the many voices that have arisen out of Ferguson since the killing of Michael Brown on August 9, one has been noticeably absent: Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old black man. But his absence from the conversation has not stopped groups of fervent supporters for speaking for him.
We still don’t know what exactly happened to Brown, why Wilson shot him at least six times, setting off a wave of protests that have highlighted the deeply troubled relationship between the community and the police. Wilson has good reason not to step forward. But the police’s calculated reticence and the ambiguity over what disciplinary actions, if any, will be taken against Wilson combined with Wilson’s silence allows his supporters to step into the void and argue for him, a far more damaging result.
Just look at the GoFundMe page created by “Support Officer Darren Wilson,” an organization that has raised $129,943 from over 3,000 people in just 3 days. (A similar page supporting the family of Michael Brown has only raised $117,000 in more than twice as long.) Some supporters are fellow police officers, others are conspiracy theorists and proud racists. Comments in the donations are predictably poisonous, alluding to “race wars” and “the end of White America” and “gangbangers.” This is the America we live in: A young black man dies and thousands of people take up a collection plate for his killer.
What exactly are these people supporting? We have very few details on who Wilson is, except that he was a 28-year-old white, male police officer. We know he didn’t have any previous disciplinary infractions in his 6 years of service. Through the gift of a common name, Wilson has remained relatively anonymous, even in the age of the Internet’s all-seeing eyes. These sketchy details do not provide a strong case for someone in need of support. There are only hazy ideas of justice and “leftist media practices” and the supposedly imperiled status of being a white man in America. There is no question that Wilson’s supporters only make him look worse.
It is another facet of the problem that the entire Ferguson conflict is about, a profound lack of communication and trust between the police and the people they are employed to protect and serve. We have no choice but provide a voice for Michael Brown, because his has been forcibly silenced. But Wilson still has one, and an organization that has closed around him to protect and filter it. Letting supporters fill in Wilson’s voice is a mistake. Police accountability starts with speaking up.
Follow Margaret Eby on Twitter @margareteby.