August 23, 2014;Baltimore Sun
This past weekend, an online fundraising campaign on the GoFundMe crowdfunding site on behalf of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson ended after collecting $234,910. Nearly six thousand persons donated, with an average donation of $39.81.
With the end of this GoFundMe campaign, fundraising for Wilson has been taken up by Shield of Hope, a nonprofit affiliated with a local Missouri chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. The Shield of Hope fundraising page, also on GoFundMe, offers the advantage of tax deductibility for donations due to Shield’s 501(c)(3). The Shield of Hope fundraiser, as of 6pm Eastern on Sunday, August 24th, raised an additional $133,318 toward a goal of $200,000 from 2,952 donors in just three days. In addition to the money raised through GoFundMe, Wilson supporters have also organized “Support Darren Wilson” t-shirt campaigns through Teespring.
GoFundMe took a lot of heat from critics for hosting the Support Officer Wilson campaign, in part because so many of the donations were accompanied by clearly objectionable, racially derogatory comments aimed at Mike Brown, his parents, and the population of Ferguson. (The comments function has since been disabled for both the original campaign site and the new one for donations through Shield of Hope.)
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A GoFundMe campaign site for the Michael Brown Memorial Fund has raised $232,153 from 8,061 donors as of 6pm Eastern on August 24th. The comment function has not been disabled on the GoFundMe page for Mike Brown, and our review of a couple hundred of the donations showed comments that were nearly all support and condolences for the Brown family, with no racial or ethnic slurs directed at anyone.
Some activists have added to the pushback against GoFundMe, choosing to abandon the site so long as it hosts the Wilson fundraiser. One example, a fundraiser campaign to purchase 500 Sudecon wipes (tear gas treatment packets) for Ferguson protesters, has asked donors to give through a different site instead.
The third-largest donation to the Support Darren Wilson campaign came from the Anne Arundel County, Maryland chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. The Anne Arundel Police Chief, Kevin Davis, issued a statement criticizing the donation—notable because it came the day after he appeared at a meeting of the local NAACP to discuss the meaning of Ferguson for policing.
The controversy over the Wilson fundraising raises questions about crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe. With a five percent cut of the Wilson donations, GoFundMe has a financial stake in seeing the fundraising campaigns for Officer Wilson continue, but at what ethical cost, given that so many of the Wilson donors expressed motivations rooted in extreme racial animus? Perhaps the larger question is the extent to which the GoFundMe fundraising numbers, showing more than 150 percent more money raised for the Wilson fund than the Brown fund, reflect the continuing American problem of overt racism—with crowdfunding, in this case, as the unwitting measure and instrumentality.—Rick Cohen