August 10, 2015; St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The Black Lives Matter protests were reignited last summer following a series of well-publicized deaths of black men by law enforcement. A year later, the movement is still having a profound impact on the national and local conversation. While popular Democratic election candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have been trying to smooth the waters with organizers of the movement, others appear to be only further inflaming passions.
The Columbia Missouri Police Officers Association is now backpedaling after posting a controversial message on its Facebook page declaring the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death on August 9th as “Darren Wilson Day.” Last year, protests erupted for months after Wilson was not indicted by a grand jury for shooting unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.
While the original post has been deleted from the website, it had allegedly said:
“Our support for Officer Wilson has nothing to do with race or anything else other than the fact that he was thoroughly investigated, twice, once by the state of Missouri and once by President Obama’s Justice Department, and BOTH investigations found he did NOTHING wrong. He lost his job and his career. So, yes, we stand by this innocent, but persecuted, officer.”
Although the association is not affiliated with the police department, about 20 protestors assembled outside the Columbia Police Department building, a gathering that including Columbia police chief Ken Burton and Columbia Mayor Robert McDavid. The police group then posted a follow-up message an hour after the protests:
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“The CPOA’s post on Sunday regarding Darren Wilson was interpreted in a manner that was not the intended message. In an effort to resolve the confusion, the CPOA wants to say this plainly: CPOA supports Officer Darren Wilson and all law enforcement officers who endure similar situations.”
Comments on the apology post included messages of support for the association and Darren Wilson, but other Facebook users wondered why the association would post the message without considering the local and national community’s reaction. One poster wrote, “Really, really dumb. You could have had ‘Darren Wilson Day’ on the anniversary of [Wilson] being acquitted, but oh no, you just had to do it as offensively as possible on the day of the shooting.” Someone else posted, “Declaring that the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death is ‘Darren Wilson Day’ was unnecessarily inflammatory. Really poor decision.”
Mayor McDavid had similar choice words for the association’s post. In his own Facebook post, McDavid said, “Today’s Columbia MO Police Officers Association post is insensitive and divisive. Instead, our community and nation need to come together, communicate, and understand…. This is not the first time that CPOA has reflected poorly on the brave and dedicated men and women of the Columbia Police Department.”
The Columbia police department also released a statement condemning the post and distancing itself from the association, which has 165 members. The press release approved by Columbia police chief Ken Burton said, “The Columbia Police Department will not allow a statement such as this to hinder our constant efforts to open the lines of communication with all people in our community.”
Along with protesting the association’s Facebook message, the CPOA website listed on the group’s Facebook page now redirects to one that only says “Black Lives Matter,” accompanied by a message allegedly from the person behind the hack. A secondary website, which seems official, has been put up.
As a separate nonprofit unaffiliated with the official Columbia, Missouri police department, the association is free to endorse or oppose whomever it chooses. As with other supportive unions or organizations, the association “exists to serve as a unified voice for its members, to foster support of its members, to improve the safety, benefits, and other working conditions of its members.” However, as many in the community have already indicated, it’s the choice of day that the association has decided to commemorate that is completely inappropriate. Unfortunately, in purportedly attempting to support “all law enforcement officers who endure similar situations” to Darren Wilson, the association is only further alienating its officers from the community and placing its members as well as the community in further danger.—Shafaq Hasan