ST. LOUIS – On their second day of rallying in the parking lot of a dive bar here, supporters of Darren Wilson – the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown – found their theme song.
It happened when Robin Clearmountain, of St. Louis, spontaneously broke into a rendition of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” as organizers prepared to speak. At first no one joined her. But by the final chorus, everyone was sing-shouting “I won’t back down” like they meant it.
“You realize you just chose our theme song, right? You realize that, right?!” one of event’s organizers told Clearmountain afterward, beaming as he clasped her shoulders. He promptly played Petty’s original over the loudspeakers.
The fact that Clearmountain became the hero of the moment was a bit of a surprise to everyone, considering that she was one of only a few people of color at an event defending a white police officer who tipped off weeks of racial unrest when he shot and killed an unarmed black teenager.
In a city where views on police and the shooting of Brown tend to divide sharply along racial lines, Clearmountain defies stereotypes.
As much as the protesters in Ferguson distrust the police, Clearmountain loves them. “Police officers – that’s my family. I don’t care which department, what state they’re in, that’s my family,” she told msnbc, wearing a black t-shirt with “POLICE” written across the chest. “Anybody willing to take a bullet for you and not come home for you to keep you safe, that’s my family.”
The daughter of a St. Louis civil rights activist who worked with “the table-flippers and the cage-rattlers of the day” to fight segregation, she said she understands the plight of African-Americans clearly, but she has little patience for the tactics of the young people who took to the streets in the wake of Brown’s death.
“I tell these kids, if you don’t like the rules, go to law school. We need black lawyers, black judges. But this griping in the streets will get you dead. It means nothing,” she said. “You want to fight? Fight for utility rates to go down like we did back in the ’60s when I was a little kid. Fight for something that means something. Fight for getting somebody’s rent paid.”
Clearmountain is not a police officer, nor have any of her immediate family members served on the force, she said. But she has volunteered for departments in the past and was for three years the director of multicultural affairs for the police department in the St. Louis suburb of Florissant, helping an overwhelming white department attract more black officers.
As she spoke, numerous white supporters of Wilson came to thank her for showing up. One said she had hoped there would be a larger minority presence. Saturday’s rally was reportedly entirely white.
The other three-dozen or so attendees Sunday were almost uniformly white, and included many police officers or their relatives.
It’s difficult to gauge the level of support the Wilson cause has beyond the Barney’s Sports Pub parking lot. But one out of every five or six passing cars honked in support, including at least one St. Louis Metro Police cruiser and a St. Louis firetruck.
After hours of standing in the sun, the woman who organized the event stood to announce that the campaign had raised almost $374,000 in contributions, which will be used to assist Wilson’s family. The group’s Facebook page has more than 66,000 “likes.”
The woman, wearing the same uniform of mirrored aviator sunglasses and a ballcap she wore the day before, has refused to give her name to the press, out of fear of retribution. Many of the attendees would only give their name as “Darren Wilson.”
“We steadfastly believe that Officer Darren Wilson’s actions on Aug. 9 were warranted and justified. Evidence has and will continue to validate our position. We are not just supporters, we are one enormous family now,” the anonymous organizer said. “Thank you [Officer Wilson] for being an exemplary police officer. Thank you for giving us all an extended family.“
Clearmountain seemed to be loving every minute. Asked if she would have liked to see more minorities at the next pro-Wilson event, she said it didn’t really matter to her.
“I don’t care if there’s anybody who looks like me. The only people I care who look like me have this shirt on,” she said. ‘That’s who looks like me. Those are my people.”