Two rallies, one racial divide over Ferguson shooting

FERGUSON Mo. Sat Aug 23, 2014 8:42pm EDT

1 of 5. Sondra Fifer (C) confronts demonstrators supporting Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson during a rally in St. Louis, Missouri August 23, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Joshua Lott

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FERGUSON Mo. (Reuters) - As the crow flies the two rallies held Saturday afternoon over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white policeman were about 10 miles (16 km) apart, but the racial divide that separated them made that distance seem infinitely greater.

In Ferguson, a crowd of around 500 people marched under a blistering Missouri August sun to protest the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown two weeks ago by Darren Wilson, on a route that took them almost to within sight of where Brown died.

Meanwhile, supporters gathered at Barney's Sports Pub well south to rally for Wilson, the officer who shot Brown dead. Some 70 people attended at the rally's peak in the dark, low-ceiling bar with dart boards, pool table and an old cigarette machine.

The stark difference between the two events was their racial composition. The crowd at Barney's, which is frequented by police officers and firemen, was entirely white, while the marchers in Ferguson were mostly black.

The killing of Brown on Aug. 9 has sparked sometimes violent protests, laying bare long-lingering racial tensions in the United States and prompting international condemnation of the clashes between police and demonstrators. On Saturday the differences that separate some in the black and white communities and their current moods were on full display.

The rally at Barney's was peaceful, but participants expressed anger at the way Officer Wilson and the police force have been treated since Brown's death. This is a community that has been on the defensive after Brown's death, and one that on Saturday sought to make its voice heard.

Many participants would not give their full names, citing a fear of death threats. Others expressed anger at media coverage of the fatal shooting.

"An officer that has abided by the law has been tried and found guilty without the evidence," said Laura, 48, who carried a placard on the sidewalk in front of the bar that read, "It's not about black or white, it's about rule of law."

'WE'VE GOT YOUR BACK'

Navy blue T-shirts were on sale to raise money for Wilson's family reading "Darren Wilson I stand by you."

"We are here to support you, officer Wilson, and we've got your back," said St. Louis resident Mark Rodebaugh whose wife's family owns the bar. "He has been vilified in the news but his story is coming out."

Early in the day Sandra Fifer, an African American woman, drove up and disrupted the gathering. Walking among Wilson supporters, Fifer, who came alone, shouted "Why are the police not shooting on you?"

Although the rally up in Ferguson was mostly black, there were plenty of white protesters among the largely quiet and somber crowd. They included St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar, who marched at the head of the rally alongside Ron Johnson, the black Highway Patrol officer who has been in charge of policing efforts here for over a week.

Among the white protesters was Jennifer McCoy, a 48-year-old lawyer who lives in the St. Louis area and attended with her daughter Blair, 10.

"The segregation in St. Louis has been a pressure cooker for so long I'm surprised that protests over a shooting haven't happened sooner," McCoy said. "So I'm here to show my support."

The mood among the black participants varied. Nicki Taylor, 33, a nurse, was grim faced and determined.

"I'm tired of the injustice that is being inflicted on our young black men," she said. "I'm going to keep doing this until Officer Wilson goes to jail for the execution of a young unarmed black man."

But there were also those like Robbie Bailey, 47, who works for General Motors and spoke of a need for America to recognize its racial problems and police tactics but also said he was praying for Officer Wilson's family.

"Both families are going through a really hard situation right now," he said. "The problems we have are much bigger than two men. They're much bigger than one community."

"We're talking about the entire system and America needs to acknowledge the problem so we can fix it," he added.

(Reporting by Nick Carey and Edward McAllister; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker)

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