In the days since police in Ferguson, Mo., named Darren Wilson as the officer who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, a small, quiet counter-protest, taking place mostly online, has arisen far from the angry, noisy nightly protests roiling Ferguson.
Two Facebook groups supporting Wilson have appeared. Between them, they had nearly 41,000 "Likes" as of Tuesday evening. Supporters also created a GoFundMe.com group aimed at raising $100,000 for Wilson's family. "We stand behind Officer Darren Wilson and his family during this trying time in their lives," a statement on the site said. One donor, who identified herself as Nancy Lawson, pledged $20 and wrote, "Thank you, officer Wilson, for risking your life so we can live in a safe world. I am praying for you."
The site's administrators said they ultimately disabled comments on the site in an attempt "to stop the negative comments." As of Tuesday, four days after police identified Wilson as the officer involved in the Aug. 9 shooting, about 850 donors had pledged more than $32,000.
On Facebook, a commenter who identified himself as Mike Allgire said, "As a retired police officer, I would have shot him also." Allgire added, "The police are not out there to see who can wipe who, but to keep the peace. With a person the size of Mr. Brown, there is no doubt I would have taken the same action. Police officers have an old saying; 'I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by six.' "
One Facebook site, "I Support Officer Wilson," posted a statement Tuesday that said: "The death of Michael Brown is a tragic event. We all must deal with this in our own personal way. However, throughout this trying time, we must remember the men and women of law enforcement are neighbors, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. Law enforcement officers are a part of the very fabric of our communities we ask them to protect. In times like this, they, too, need to know that the community is behind the work they do for us and that we in the community appreciate all their countless hours of service."
A grand jury was scheduled to begin hearing evidence Wednesday to determine whether Wilson should be charged in Brown's death, but it's unclear how long that may take, said Ed Magee, spokesman for St. Louis County's prosecuting attorney. Magee said Tuesday that local investigators had interviewed Wilson and that he would be "offered the opportunity" to testify before the grand jury. The Justice Department is conducting a separate civil rights investigation, which also could result in charges.
Wilson's supporters gathered Sunday in a St. Louis sports bar — Ferguson is a northwestern suburb of St. Louis — to raise money for the family. "This isn't just about Darren Wilson," one of the organizers, Lawrence LaMontagne, told the International Business Times. "It's about all the first responders and how they've been villainized." LaMontagne, who works in law enforcement, added, "Of course we feel bad for both parties; our hearts go out to the families. But these people have families, too."
At a demonstration earlier, about 150 Wilson supporters cheered and a stack of dark blue T-shirts bearing a police badge and the slogan "Officer Darren Wilson — I stand by you," sold out at $7 apiece.
"He was doing his job," Kaycee Reinisch, 57, told London's Guardian. "And now because of public uproar in Ferguson, he is being victimized."
The demonstration was initially silent, but protesters began cheering as passing cars honked horns. In contrast to the mostly African-American protesters in Ferguson, all but one of the St. Louis demonstrators were white, the Guardian reported. The protest unfolded outside the headquarters of KSDK, a local television news station that had broadcast images of Wilson's home. The station later removed the footage from its website and apologized. Gannett Co. Inc. owns KSDK and publishes USA Today.
Wilson, 28, a six-year police veteran who had no previous complaints against him, is on paid leave and in seclusion.
Contributing: Associated Press