“Support Daren Wilson.”
These three words emblazoned at the top of the GoFundMe website in support of the Ferguson, Mo, cop who gunned down Michael Brown said it all. In the span of less than 48 hours, nearly 5,000 donations were received and the site got tens of thousands of Facebook looks and tweets. The fund’s beleaguered sponsors pleaded for patience while they tried to respond to the flood of emails that poured in supporting Wilson. The organizers announced triumphantly that they’d raised three times more than their goal.
This was no surprise. The instant Wilson was fingered as the person who shot Brown, the money train rolled into high gear complete with rallies, counterdemonstrations, badge signing parties and pitches to Americans to flash blue lights on their front porches to demonstrate support for Wilson. This was a virtual carbon copy of the campaign two years ago organized to rally round Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman begged, scammed and conned his way to soaking thousands of donors out of cash to bankroll his defense and much more. But as with Wilson, no one squawked about the funds or bothered to ask just where the money was going and for what it was being used. It didn’t really matter. With Wilson, as with Zimmerman, the money is not the issue or concern. It’s the men, their actions and their victims that drive this zeal. The Zimmerman funders unabashedly cheered him on. They railed that he, not Martin, was the victim of public and media bias and deserved all the support he could get. The sentiment is no different for Wilson from his legion of cheerleaders.
The mix of fear, loathing and unreconstructed bigotry are certainly elements in the financial and moral boost for Wilson. But there’s more to it than that. A Huff Post/YouGov poll on public attitudes toward the GI Joe, heavy-handed police action in Ferguson found that less than 40 percent of whites said that police use lethal force too frequently and only 40 percent of whites said they did not trust the justice system to investigate police killings. Blacks expressed far less trust of the justice system and support for the use of lethal force. Despite the unsurprising greater skepticism among blacks about police killings and the fairness of the justice system, public attitudes toward the police are a far different matter. In a Gallup survey that measured overall confidence in law enforcement, police topped out among the three highest-rated institutions out of 17 tested in terms of whites’ confidence, behind only the military and small business. Confidence in the police among blacks, though lower on the scale, still ranked seventh on the list.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, support for police soared. Big and small municipal police departments were egged on by a compliant Congress which passed section 1033 of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act and, with grants from the Department of Homeland Security, grabbed at the Pentagon’s give away of a dizzying array of battlefield weapons, armor and vehicles. Civil libertarians frantically sounded the alarm that the rush to boost police firepower ignited a frightening expansion of virtually unchecked power in which law enforcement agencies, under the guise of fighting terrorism, had an intrusive license to indefinitely detain US citizens, target US citizens, arrest witnesses for recording police actions, use GPS to track a person’s every move, and use surveillance drones for domestic spying. Aside from the protest of the civil liberties and civil rights groups, and some congressional Democrats, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, there has been no mass outcry against any of these national security state measures.
The longstanding police love fest is nowhere more evident than in the near impossibility of convicting cops that overuse deadly force. On the rare occasions that charges are brought against officers for using deadly force, juries are loath to convict. Despite overwhelming evidence that police actually do profile minorities, lie, cheat and even commit crimes, jurors still are far more likely to believe the testimony of police and prosecution witnesses than witnesses, defendants, or even the victims, especially minority victims.
This is not solely a product of the deep-seated conditioning of the public to respect and even revere authority in order to maintain a lawful and orderly society. Generations have firmly believed that police are the solid line between peace and anarchy in society and anything less than iron-clad public and institutional allegiance to that authority is fraught with peril. To those critics who question that authority, police officials have a standard retort: When your house is broken into or you are the victim of a mugger, who do you call?
Wilson is the beneficiary of the aura of tradition, respect and dependence that police engender in Americans. This ensures that the men and women like him who horribly abuse their authority will always have the cheers of countless people. n
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author, political analyst and a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media and weekly co-host of “The Al Sharpton Show” on American Urban Radio Network. He is also the host of the weekly “Hutchinson Report” on KTYM 1460 AM in Los Angeles, and KPFK 90.7 FM and the Pacifica Radio Network. Follow Earl on Twitter at http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson.