Demonstrators rally to support police, Ferguson's mayor amid uncertain future
About 75 police and Ferguson supporters demonstrated outside the city's Police Department Sunday afternoon, protesting against hostility toward police and calls for the city’s mayor to resign.
The rally came just days after two police officers from the St. Louis County and Webster Groves departments were shot and injured while policing a protest in Ferguson; a suspect was arrested Sunday.
The mostly white crowd cheered when police vehicles drove by and held signs that read "All Lives Matter" and "Love Unites, Hate Divides.” At times they chanted phrases, including "We Back the Badge" and "Mayor Knowles and FPD, You’re Exactly What We Need."
James Knowles III recently said he would not step down as mayor, following a scathing Justice Department report that accused Ferguson officers of targeting black residents and policing for revenue. Some protesters have called for Knowles' resignation and the disbanding of the Ferguson Police Department, something Attorney General Eric Holder said the Department of Justice would explore if necessary. In a separate report, the Justice Department found no civil rights violations by former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.
Longtime Ferguson resident Lynda Kempland carried a sign that read “Stay Strong, Mayor Knowles. Ferguson Loves You.” As one of the organizers of the rally, Kempland said many people are “trying to railroad" Knowles, despite changes he's trying to make. She said many are criticizing city police for the number of tickets the city issues.
“You can twist a statistic any which way you want to,” Kempland said. “I do think there’s stereotyping and profiling, (but) I don’t think Ferguson is the king of all that … I’m not saying I totally disagree with the DOJ report, but I do disagree with some of it and I do think it was a retaliation to some extent because they couldn’t nail Wilson for something.”
A volunteer with the "I Love Ferguson" committee and city resident, Ruffina Farrokh Anklesaria said the DOJ report failed to highlight that the city’s revenue from tickets is well below Missouri’s 30 percent cap. She said it was time for the city to "heal and get back to a normal life."
“These things happen everywhere, but now they are all jumping on the bandwagon on Ferguson for all their ills to be fought right here, and that is unfair,” she said. “We fought a hard battle here. Racism is a big problem. We’ve done what we could. It went through the courts. All I know is we the residents want peace returned to our community. We want the circus to finish."
Some in the crowd worried that the added scrutiny would prevent Ferguson police from doing their jobs.
“I don’t want a weak police department. I don’t want a police department that is afraid to police because anything that they do is going to be scrutinized,” said Ferguson resident Karen Halliburton. “I don’t want any careless mistakes, but I don’t want you just to be afraid now because you’re not being respected and that you are now afraid that you are going to be ambushed because people are going to be against you.”
Halliburton, who is black, said Michael Brown's death hit her on a personal level and that as a longtime Ferguson resident, she had seen police in the past harass black residents. But Ferguson's future, she said, shouldn't be a "white versus black thing."
“There’s some people in the police department that made some bad decisions, but I also think that on the other hand, there is some protesting and destruction that did not need to happen,” she said. “The people who live in Ferguson want justice done, but we also want to be able to come home and not go past buildings that are destitute and feel like we are living in Iran or something because buildings are burnt.”
St. Louis area resident Eddie Trueman, a Darren Wilson supporter, said more communication is needed between those who believe Wilson was justified in shooting Brown and those who feel he wasn't.
"Both sides are not communicating well, because everybody seems to have planted their feet down and have not really wanted to listen to anything but their views," he said. "Maybe instead of one side or the other doing the talking, maybe we need some more listening by all parties involved.”
Rally organizer Kempland agreed, saying Ferguson could one day bridge the divide and be a "model for the U.S." - if violence stops.
“I don’t (want to) feel like I’m living in Beirut; I’m living in the USA,” she said. “If (the protesters) want to make an impact, they need to do it a little more civilly, as far as I’m concerned, and make sure they’re not violent, or up in your face screaming obscenities."
But that tension between Ferguson supporters and protesters was keenly evident on Sunday. At one point, a few Ferguson police officers brought a cooler of water bottles out to the police supporters, which led to a confrontation with demonstrators and supporters that spilled into South Florissant Road. Pro-police supporter Blake Ashey and protester Meldon Moffitt, both of Ferguson, also exchanged words.
“Not all police officers are guilty,” Ashey said.
“They all guilty. Don’t you know the code of conduct? They support each other doing wrong,” Moffitt said. “Anytime you support a cop for killing a kid, you’re racist.”
But longtime Ferguson resident Kenneth Wheat said there are "good officers” who “don’t deserve to be yelled at or threatened because they protect us and they serve us.” As a black man, Wheat said he has been targeted in municipalities other than Ferguson and knows racial profiling exists everywhere. But he said not all police stops are wrong.
“It’s also up to us as African Americans to have our papers together, to have our car insurance, to have our licenses, to have the right plates," he said. "We can't pin this all on the police forces. We have to take some responsibility for it. … If you get pulled over and you have a warrant and your plates aren’t right, you can’t yell injustice when you’re still in the wrong.”
Wheat said there are many other black residents who feel like he does.
“We’re hearing from a lot of African Americans, but most of them are not from here (and) a lot of them are protesters," Wheat said. "I would like to see more African Americans come out here and really express how they feel, and until that happens I think it’s going to be a tough road.”