Group Burns Rams Gear, Boycotts Team Over Players' Hands Up Gesture
With the televisions at Gators South Beer and Wine Garden in Imperial set to anything but the Rams game on Sunday, Cathy Brown of St. Charles was tossing two Rams hats into a fire pit out on the bar's back patio.
"They are on their way to burning," she said, lobbing a Santa hat bearing a Rams logo on the pile. "Good-bye."
Brown was one of at least two dozen people who came to the bar to burn their Rams gear, as part of an event organized by a group of supporters of former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson and law enforcement.
The "We Are Darren Wilson" Facebook group is calling for a boycott of the Rams' games after several players made "hands up" gestures at last week's game, seemingly adopting a pose used by supporters of Michael Brown and referencing the belief that Brown had his hands up when he was fatally shot by Wilson on August 9.
"The Rams players came out and showed what they believed in; we're going to show what we believe in, and support Darren Wilson," said Gators South employee Chrissy Endsley.
Brown said the Rams players should have been professionals and kept their personal opinions on Brown's death to themselves.
"I think what they did was slap the police officers in the face," she said. "I personally think what they did was wrong, so I endorse wholeheartedly burning Rams stuff."
Chris Hosp of Collinsville, Ill., also called the gestures a "slap in the face." The wife of a police officer, she said she was "disgusted" by the Rams players' actions and wanted to show it by bringing a t-shirt, a sweatshirt and a Rams flag to the event.
"It motivated me," she said. "I brought stuff so that a message could be sent back to the Rams that we do not support this."
Hosp's and Brown's views were echoed last week by the St. Louis Police Officers Association, which released a statement saying it was "profoundly disappointed" and called the gesture "tasteless, offensive and inflammatory" toward officers.
"Now that the evidence is in and Officer Wilson's account has been verified by physical and ballistic evidence as well as eye-witness testimony, which led the grand jury to conclude that no probable cause existed that Wilson engaged in any wrongdoing, it is unthinkable that hometown athletes would so publicly perpetuate a narrative that has been disproven over-and-over again," the statement attributed to business manager Jeff Roorda.
Roorda called for the players to be disciplined and for an apology. However, St. Louis County Police and Rams management publicly disagree over whether an apology was made, and the NFL declined to take action, noting, "We respect and understand the concerns of all individuals who have expressed views on this tragic situation."
A spokeswoman for the organizing "We Are Darren Wilson" Facebook group, who declined to be identified, said it was necessary to show Rams management how many people feel about their decision not to act. She said the group aims to be a voice for law enforcement officers who cannot publicly speak for themselves.
In contrast, the Ethical Society of Police, which says it represents black police officers in St. Louis, called the Rams players' actions "commendable."
But Paul Eaton of Piedmont disagreed, as he tossed a Rams sweatshirt onto the fire pit, and said the Rams players "had no business" taking such a stand.
"All they were doing was stirring up trouble, causing problems," he said. "They just made race relations worse than what it could be. Instead of healing, they're making it worse. I don't support the Rams anymore. I'll never have anything to do with the Rams anymore. As far as I'm concerned, they can leave St. Louis."
Gators South's owner John McWherter said he found it unfair that some police were reprimanded for wearing bracelets supporting Wilson, but Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson could take photos with protesters and the Rams players could make a public display without consequence.
"No repercussions, something's gotta give somewhere along the road," he said. "They gotta make up their minds; it can't just be one side or the other. The 'hands in the air stuff'...keep that separate especially in sports."