Claim: Police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, have been spotted wearing wristbands that read “I am Darren Wilson.”
Example: [Collected via Twitter, September 2014]
— TheAnonMessage (@TheAnonMessage) September 24, 2014
Origins: On 9 August 2014, unarmed Ferguson, Missouri, teenager Mike Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. The incident was controversial and sparked national debate, and many online rumors circulated about both Brown and Wilson in the wake of the shooting.
In the weeks following Brown’s death, police and protesters clashed repeatedly in Ferguson. Conversations about the militarization of local police
forces were one of the multiple debates that ensued, and many of the folks participating in and following the protests claimed that Ferguson police behaved in an unnecessarily forceful fashion at public demonstrations.
On or around
One image that circulated particularly broadly showed an “I am Darren Wilson” wristband on the arm of an unidentified person. All that was visible aside from the bracelet was a wristwatch, what appeared to be a utility belt and flashlight, and a camouflage glove.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who was placed in charge of law enforcement in Ferguson during a period of civil unrest following the shooting, was asked about the wristbands.
Johnson said he'll be having a talk with the agencies of the officers who wore the "I Am Darren Wilson" wristbands. Presumably Ferguson PD.
— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) September 24, 2014
Ron Johnson says #DarrenWilson armbands r individual statements really? Police Dept is para military organization they do as told or allowed
— Lizz Brown (@lizzzbrown) September 24, 2014
While French’s tweet was interpreted as sufficient proof that “I am Darren Wilson” wristbands were being worn by officers in Ferguson, additional evidence documenting the validity of that image and interpretation was initially scant. However, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division confirmed a few days later in a letter to Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson which was made public that local residents had provided them with additional photographs showing officers wearing similar bracelets (although it was unclear whether the officers pictured worked for the Ferguson Police Department or other law enforcement agencies):
We write to confirm our understanding that you will prohibit Ferguson Police Department officers from wearing “I am Darren Wilson” bracelets while in uniform and on duty. We write also to confirm our understanding that you will ensure that other municipal police agencies prohibit their officers from wearing these bracelets while working in Ferguson. As we discussed yesterday, Ferguson residents told Department of Justice Civil Rights Division officials during our community interviews on Wednesday evening that law enforcement officers policing at protest sites in Ferguson on Tuesday were wearing these bracelets. Residents observed that these bracelets upset and agitated people. We were shown pictures of officers wearing these bracelets. It further was reported to us that some officers affirmatively displaying these bracelets had black tape over their name plates. The practice of not wearing, or obscuring, name plates violates your own department’s policies, which we advised you earlier this week when we requested that you end the practice immediately.
To be clear, the pictures do not indicate which law enforcement agencies the officers wearing these bracelets were from, and we have no other evidence confirming that Ferguson
police officers were wearing these bracelets. However, as you are all too aware, the actions of other police officers while in Ferguson can impact your community as much as the actions of your own officers. For this reason, the Department of Justice COPS office
has spoken with County Police Chief Belmar and State Highway Patrol Superintendent Colonel Ron Replogle, who have assured us that County and State law enforcement officers will be prohibited from wearing these bracelets.
We are keenly aware of the importance of individual expression of opinions, even those that some find offensive, insensitive, or harmful. We also acknowledge that the message
that many officers intend to convey by wearing these bracelets may be different than the message received by many of those who see these bracelets.
Nonetheless, there is no question that police departments can and should closely regulate
officers’ professional appearance and behavior, particularly where, as here, the expressive accessory itself is exacerbating an already tense atmosphere between law enforcement and residents in Ferguson. These bracelets reinforce the very “us versus them”
mentality that many residents of Ferguson believe exists.
Due to the strong interest in this issue, later today we will be publically releasing this
letter, as well as the letter we provided to you on Tuesday regarding officer name plates.
Last updated: 27 September 2014