Supporters of Officer Darren Wilson donate $235,000 for him, as of Friday afternoon
That compares with $165,000 raised for Michael Brown's family over more time
Firm conclusions for the disparity are hard to draw
Comments online reflect a variety of views on case
On the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, support for slain teenager Michael Brown has been overwhelming. On the Internet fundraising site GoFundMe, however, Officer Darren Wilson gets more of the backing.
The fundraising effort for Wilson, which began Sunday, had raised more than $235,000 from 5,900 donors as of Friday afternoon. That compares with $165,000 for Brown’s family that has flowed in over eight days from roughly the same number of contributors into a page on the same site.
The sites are peppered with comments that reveal stark contrasts in views.
“My heart breaks at this injustice,” one person wrote on the page set up to raise money for Brown’s family. “God bless you and keep you as you move forward with your lives! Thank you for the transparency of where the money will go and how that will be handled.”
Another person on that site saw a larger resonance in the killing by a white police officer of an unarmed black teenager.
“I am tired of seeing our children cut down like dogs…..” that person wrote.
It’s a different story just a few clicks away.
“I just want him and his family to know how much we care and believe he did the right thing and he is not alone in this,” someone wrote in support of Wilson.
“Every single law enforcement agency in the country should hold a fundraiser or collect $ to donate directly to this officer for his legal expenses, relocation of his family and additional living expenses,” another message said. “We are all one law enforcement family.”
Firm conclusions for the disparity in levels of support for Wilson and Brown’s family were elusive.
One limitation of comparing the amount of money raised online is that those figures do not include donations to places that also may be raising money, such as churches, said Stacy Palmer, the editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
“They may be more trusted than some of the other organizations, and in a case as explosive as this, trust is a huge issue,” she said.
On Wilson’s side, he is a police officer – a group known for vigorously taking care of its own. And it would be a mistake to ignore the fact that millions across the country do stand with Wilson and are happy to back him.
Another factor that could affect giving: Researchers have found that people are less likely to give to causes where they find the recipients somehow responsible for their plight, said Karen Winterich, an associate professor of marketing at Penn State who has studied why people donate money.
On the one hand, that could make people less likely to support Wilson if they conclude that he acted improperly – some witnesses say he shot and killed Brown even though Brown had his hands raised.
On the other hand, it could translate into diminished support for Brown’s family among people who focus on police assertions that Brown stole cigars and roughed up a convenience store employee moments before the shooting, or on reports that say he shoved the officer and wrestled for his gun.
Regardless of the reasons, both Palmer and Deborah Small, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said focusing on the donations leaves out a huge part of the story: the direct support for Brown on the street.
Protesters have vowed to force change, and some lawmakers have proposed legislation to address some of the issues raised by the shooting.
“Lots of people are supporting Brown in other ways, and these actions may be more useful than donations,” Small said.