Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Passing the Hat, Ferguson Style

by Pa Rock
Missouri Citizen Journalist

There is a site on the Internet called GoFundMe that essentially helps people raise money for just about any cause.  While that site has undoubtedly done immeasurable good for a wide array of individuals seeking funds for a plethora of personal interests, it has, of late, been the focus of some angry controversy.

Until recently there were two active collections on GoFundMe seeking money in support of Officer Darren Wilson, the Ferguson policeman who shot an killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teen, a few weeks ago.   The two collections together had quickly raised nearly half a million dollars before they were suddenly and somewhat mysteriously shut down this past week.

The first account in support of Officer Wilson was supposedly started by a teenage girl in the St. Louis area who wanted to do something nice for Wilson and his family.   She thought, so the story goes, that her efforts might generate a couple of hundred dollars.  As the money started to quickly pour in - thousands of dollars - the girl panicked and began looking for an organization that could manage it for her.  Shield of Hope, a group that supports police officers in need and their families, quickly stepped up and volunteered to manage the account, but GoFundMe has a rule which prohibits accounts from switching owners, so Shield of Hope started their own collection - and then there were two.

The collections supporting Officer Wilson were temporarily halted last week while the organizers were reportedly visiting with tax attorneys.  There had apparently been some intent to spend a big portion of the money on Wilson's legal defense, but there are some questions about whether IRS rules will permit the use of "charitable" funds in court proceedings.  (And feeding lawyers may have not been the original intent of all of the donors.)

When the media began reporting that Officer Wilson, who is currently on paid leave, had people sending him money hand-over-fist - or at least money to those two accounts - the outrage was swift and sure.    Some people said that the GoFundMe accounts amounted to a reward for a lynching.  The controversy and anger grew so intense that GoFundMe felt compelled to make a statement.  The internet site said that they had personally talked to the creators of both accounts, and that neither was sponsored by a recognized hate group.  It also stressed that the site itself (GoFundMe) has no political agenda, and that there is even a collection occurring on the site in support of Michael Brown's family.

Some of the contributors to the Wilson accounts say that they want to provide Officer Wilson with a voice.  Ironically, he is still alive and has a voice - whereas Michael Brown has spoken his last.   It may be that the efforts to pile up money in support of the police officer who fired six shots into an unarmed teen is actually about providing a voice to an an angry contingent of right-wing Americans who feel that they no longer have influence and are no longer in control of their destinies.  As the black man rises in the American social order, the poor and marginalized whites feel that their status will necessarily descend.  The structure of their world began eroding during the civil rights movement of the 1960's, and the floor fell completely out from beneath them when that black family moved into the White House a few years back.  Things just quit making sense.

But, as one Wilson donor angrily told a reporter, "It's my money and I can give it to whoever I damned well please!"  Yes, ma'am, you can.  You can give every penny you have and every gun you own to Officer Wilson, but that world you so wistfully long for won't rise from your misguided generosity.  It is gone forever.

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