Under pressure from the Justice Department, police officials in and around Ferguson, Mo., have agreed to prohibit their forces from wearing wristbands in support of the officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
The Justice Department also directed Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson to order his officers to follow policy and wear nameplates on their uniforms after federal investigators and residents spotted some with the identifiers removed or covered up.
The ban on “I Am Darren Wilson” wristbands was confirmed Friday in a letter to Jackson from Christy Lopez, deputy chief of special litigation for the Civil Rights Division.
“These bracelets reinforce the very ‘us versus them’ mentality that many residents of Ferguson believe exists,” she wrote. She noted that the St. Louis County police chief and the superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol had also agreed to prohibit their officers from wearing the wristbands while on duty in Ferguson.
Wilson has not been charged over the Aug. 9 killing of the unarmed teen. He claimed he fired after Brown attacked him. A state grand jury is looking at the evidence and the FBI is investigating whether Brown’s civil rights were violated.
Lopez said the Justice Department was “keenly aware of the importance of individual expression of opinions, even those that some find offensive, insensitive or harmful” and 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.”