Police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, are now prohibited from wearing “I Am Darren Wilson” wristbands while on duty after officials decided the wristbands only promote the “us versus them” mentality that is plaguing African-American communities across the U.S.
The Department of Justice told police in St. Louis County on Friday that they should not be wearing the wristbands while on duty nor should they be removing their nametags as a form of support for Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown multiple times in August.
Supporters who are wearing the bands are pushing for Wilson not to face any charges for the killing of the unarmed Black teen.
A grand jury is still sifting through evidence to determine if Wilson should be charged with a criminal offense.
Meanwhile, the FBI has launched a separate civil rights investigation.
Christy Lopez, deputy chief of the special litigation section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, sent a letter to Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson on Friday explaining why it was so important that the wristbands not be worn by officers and that all officers keep their nametags on.
According to Lopez, it all comes back to being transparent while trying to work with the community instead of against it.
“These bracelets reinforce the very ‘us versus them’ mentality that many residents of Ferguson believe exists,” Lopez wrote in the letter.
Lopez went on to explain that knowing the name of the officer a citizen is dealing with is an “obvious” right and the police need to respect that.
“Sometimes, things are just so obvious that we feel like we can recommend a change right away,” Lopez said. “In a democracy, people need to know who their police are.”
According to posts on social media, officers from other departments who have been assisting with the unrest in Ferguson have also been taking off their nametags.
While officers claimed it was to protect themselves from threats and personalized insults, Lopez’s letter clearly explained that it is only an action that will continue to fuel mistrust in the communities that officers serve.
“Officers wearing name plates while in uniform is a basic component of transparency and accountability,” the letter said. “It is a near-universal requirement of sound policing practices and required under some state laws. Allowing officers to remain anonymous when they interact with the public contributes to mistrust and undermines accountability.”
The backlash has come more than a month after officers first started ditching their nametags.
Police officers stopped wearing their nametags during the protests back in August, which made it impossible for citizens to identify which officers were responsible for certain actions.
One officer without a nameplate was caught on camera threatening to shoot members of the press if they did not put their cameras away.
The decision to require officers to ditch the “I Am Darren Wilson” wristbands and start wearing their nameplates again comes shortly after the Ferguson police chief issued a public apology to Brown’s family and the people of the Ferguson.