In the weeks following Mike Brown’s untimely death at the hands of a Ferguson, Missouri police officer, supporters of the slain teenager and his family have rallied together to demand justice for his death. Thousands flocked to Ferguson to rally and hold town halls, and even those unable to make a trip to the Midwestern city have initiated social media campaign, taken to their local media to express their disdain over the incident and even made t-shirts with the phrase “Hands up, don’t shoot!” in honor of the recent high school graduate who reportedly had his hands up and pleaded with officers not to shoot him during the final seconds of his life.
But now a new group of supporters has emerged—and they haven’t rallied together to support the family of Mike Brown, but, instead, are supporting their own—Darren Wilson, the police officer who allegedly shot and killed the young man. In a show of unity and camaraderie, some members of the Ferguson Police force have been seen wearing a new accessory—elastic bracelets, which read: I am Darren Wilson.
And while tensions are still high in the town, just miles away from St. Louis, many see the bracelets as offensive and insensitive. Many were up in arms after several officers were seen wearing the bracelet at pro-Mike Brown protests. This prompted an official letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, asking Ferguson PD to ban its officers from wearing the statement piece while on duty.
“We write to confirm our understanding that you will prohibit Ferguson Police Department officers from wearing “I am Darren Wilson” bracelets while in uniform and on duty,” the letter says. “We write to also confirm our understanding that you will ensure that other municipal police agencies prohibit their officers from wearing these bracelets while working in Ferguson.”
The letter, written by Christy Lopez, deputy chief in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, goes on to explain how the accessory “upset and agitated people” and for that reason shouldn’t be worn by those working to keep peace at rallies and demonstrations.
Noting police officers have freedom of expression and should be able to exercise such rights, Lopez says, “police officers forfeit such right while on duty and in uniform, “police departments can and should closely regulate officers’ professional appearance and behavior, particularly where, as here, the expressive accessory itself is exacerbating an already tense atmosphere between law enforcement and residents in Ferguson. These bracelets reinforce the very ‘us versus them’ mentality that many residents of Ferguson believe exists.”
In a city, still trying to repair itself after Brown’s tragic death, residents of Ferguson say trying to stay afloat after the August 9th shooting has been difficult, “Every citizen in the Ferguson is a victim,” said Andy Wurm a Ferguson resident and business owner. He contiunes, “their property values are going down. Our business is down 60, 70 percent. I love what I do, but it’s harder and harder to get up and do what I do every day.”
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson released a video Thursday, to mixed reactions, apologizing for Brown’s death and for the four hours his post-mortem body laid on the ground.