ST. LOUIS — Rebecca comes into my office and sternly says, “There is a pro-Darren Wilson rally on Chippewa and Hampton.” The look on her face says “There is no way that is happening in our neighborhood and going unpunished.” I stop what I am writing and we bolt for the car.
The rally turned out to be a fundraising benefit for Darren Wilson, the Ferguson policeman responsible for the death of Mike Brown. The location is a police hangout called Barney’s Pub, situated in the Lindenwood Park area of Saint Louis. Lindenwood Park is a working-class area, with a population that is 91.2 percent white.
When we arrived, there was an inebriated crowd of about 40-50 in matching blue shirts showing support for Wilson, and about 4 of them were holding signs for traffic to see. The pro-Wilson rally attendees are 100 percent white in ethnicity. There is a counter-protest across the street of only about 8 protesters, yet the tiny crowd is ethnically diverse.
When Rebecca and I arrived, one of the Wilson supporters was on “our” side of the street and trying to debate with the protestors. I asked him to leave. He replied, “I can stand where I want.” I agreed, but explained to him that he is obviously trying to create a hostile situation. He threatened, “Maybe I should show you what an asshole you are being.” Again, I asked him to leave and he complied. However, his overt hostility was representative of the crowd across the street.
The vitriol was surprising. These are police officers screaming “Go back to Ferguson, you f*****s” at us and tugging at their genitals in a sexual manner.
Our crowd was growing thanks to social media. Supporters of the counter-protest were regularly swinging by to drop off water, snacks, and ice cream pops. While diverse, the majority was African American.
The drivers honking for the pro-Wilson crowd (and making lewd gestures at us) were 100 percent white…with no exception. Most were late 30s or older and almost all were driving luxury cars, SUVs, and a noticeably high concentration of heavy duty trucks.
I am from European ancestry, myself. Both sides of my family came from Ireland. The reality of my skin tone was sinking in, and I will be honest…I was embarrassed. I am sure that the makeup of our diverse (and sober) counter-protest has had more direct action training than the pro-Wilson folks. However, I would imagine that police officers would have been trained not to scream racist, homophobic, and classist comments at 50 people holding rolling cameras.
As the protesters chanted “I AM MIKE BROWN,” the police party screamed “THEN YOU ARE DEAD.”
As the protestors chanted “HANDS UP, DONT SHOOT,” the police party smiled broadly and chanted “HANDS UP, SHOOT.”
Racism is a reality that is often denied. FACT: a white male without a college degree has an easier time finding a middle class job than a black male with a degree. FACT: the average woman worker in the U.S. earns 23 percent less than her male counterpart (with comparable training and experience). FACT: the average Hispanic woman working in the USA makes 55 cents for every $1 earned by a white male in a comparable job classification.
These statistics cut like a knife when I watch white males across the street point to the Target store and shout to African American protesters to “go fill out an application and get off welfare”.
The pro-Wilson folks continue screaming with unintelligible rage-soaked insults, and the protestors stoically chant in unison. Eventually, the drunken police began breaking their folding tables and chairs down and move inside.
We have won the street.
What have we won? 50 young African Americans have been reinforced in the knowledge that working together creates power. 50 white cops and families learned that holding positions of authority, at a cop bar, in a predominantly white neighborhood, shouting vitriol…is still not a safe enough place for unchecked power.
As the defeated drunks are folding up their outdoor furniture, a solo cop crosses the street and asks to address the congregation. He says he is a Saint Louis County cop, and he sincerely apologizes for the “racist, ignorant, and offensive” actions made by the attendees of the pro-Wilson rally. Tensions are calmed, and it is time for the victors to go to dinner.
Critics claim the murder of Mike Brown was not racially motivated. Those critics are ignorant of Saint Louis politics. When you witness a white cop tugging at his genitals and screaming “f****t” or “monkey” at complete strangers with a darker skin tone…you realize that specific criticism holds no water in my town.
Photo: The casket of Michael Brown at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, August 25, before his funeral. Brown, who is black, was unarmed when he was shot in Ferguson, Missouri., Aug. 9 by Officer Darren Wilson, who is white. Protesters took to the streets of the St. Louis suburb night after night, calling for change and drawing national attention to issues surrounding race and policing. Richard Perry/New York Times/AP Pool