St. Louis City, MO -- As protesters gathered once again on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri in anger over the death of a black 18-year old by a white police officer last week, another group gathered at another location about a 25-minute drive away on Sunday night. At a sports bar in St. Louis City, Lawrence LaMontagne cleared a table in the back as a woman prepared a poster that read “Support Officer Wilson.”
“This isn’t just about Darren Wilson,” he said. “It’s about all the first responders and how they’ve been villainized.”
Like many of Wilson's supporters gathered at the bar, LaMontagne works in law enforcement just outside St. Louis City.
“Of course we feel bad for both parties, out hearts go out to the families,” he said. “But these people have families too.”
By the time officials in Ferguson had identified Wilson Friday morning as the officer behind Mike Brown's death, he had left the city. The hackers group Anonymous soon released information about his address and where his children went to school, drawing outrage from Wilson's supporters. At question is whether Wilson fatally shot Brown with cause. The teenager was unarmed when he was killed.
Missouri state data shows that in Ferguson black men are disproportionately stopped and arrested by the police force. The majority-black population is served by a mostly white government. On Sunday afternoon, Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron John apologized for Brown's shooting.
The bar gathering Sunday followed another demonstration earlier that day that attracted about 150 people showing their support for Wilson, which ended an hour earlier than they had planned. LaMontagne said St. Louis law enforcement asked them to finish early, as most of their resources were being sent to Ferguson, where protesters were assembling once again, after officers used tear gas against them on Saturday for breaking a midnight curfew.
Beside a few beers and snacks laid out on the wooden table in the back corner of Barney’s Pub was a bucket for donations. The group had already raised roughly $700 for Wilson and his family, and planned to raise more later in the evening. A Facebook post announcing the bar event quickly received 539 likes on Sunday night.
“I’m here to support an officer who has been misconstrued in the media,” said Ryan Kelly, 28, who lives in St. Louis City and works in manufacturing. “I stand up for what I believe in.”