About a hundred people turned out at a rally in a St. Louis neighborhood today to voice their "unwavering support" of Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo., two weeks ago.
The speakers and many in the crowd at the cookout-style event -- complete with a classic rock soundtrack -- in the parking lot of Barney's Sports Pub, about 30 minutes' drive from Ferguson, not only voiced their support of Wilson but also anger at media coverage of the shooting and its aftermath.
The killing of Michael Brown sparked protests in Ferguson that were often peaceful but sometimes turned into angry or violent confrontations with police. The St. Louis suburb was also racked by looting, leading to the state Highway Patrol being given authority there and the National Guard being called out to try to maintain order.
Tensions seemed to ease some this week, however, and after several peaceful nights the National Guard was ordered to leave the city.
Many of the attendees at the rally today were clad in blue T-shirts with a white police shield reading "Officer Darren Wilson -- I Stand By You -- 8-9-14." Several said they were relatives of people in law enforcement, and there were some uniformed police officers also in attendance, but they remained inside the bar.
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Horns honked as cars passed the rally, where participants held signs reading, "Innocent Until Proven Guilty" and "I Don't Support a Race / I Support the TRUTH."
"Our mission is to formally declare that we share the united belief that Officer Wilson's actions on Aug. 9 were warranted and justified. And he has our unwavering support," said the organizer of the rally, who would only let herself be known publicly as "Darren Wilson."
The female speaker then accused the press of exacerbating the tensions in the area and "putting people's lives at risk."
"Stop drawing maps to houses, broadcasting in front of parties' homes, knocking on their families' doors, putting people's lives at risk. This is unethical, poor journalism and a travesty to its case," she said in a brief prepared statement.
Before the rally began, a lone African American protester burst into the parking lot and grabbed the press's attention, loudly asking why police weren't being called to break up the assembly.
"Why ain't they shooting on y'all?" Sandra Fifer of St. Louis asked. "Where are the police?
"The police should be out here, because when we congregate, they're all out here with their guns. And we're unarmed. [These people] are unarmed. Why aren't the police out here?" she said.
Several of Wilson's supporters at first tried to shout her down, but then they allowed her to speak.
"We're always looked at as criminals because of the color of our skin, and I'm sick of it. It's not right," Fifer said. "We're not allowed to stand peacefully on the corner, even at 3 [p.m.], we're called 'gangsters and thugs.'"
The woman left peacefully, and, seemingly proud that the moment hadn't turned into a larger spectacle or escalated into violence, the crowd cheered.
"Awesome. That's how it should be done," one said to applause.