Social media lit up over the weekend with claims that a non-profit organization where St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch serves on the board was benefitting from a fundraiser for the legal defense of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.
Wilson shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown on August 9. McCulloch has not brought charges against Wilson, but is instead presenting the case to a grand jury.
The non-profit organization in question, BackStoppers, raises funds for the children of first responders, including police officers, who die in the line of duty. Online protestors pointed to the Backstoppers website to show that McCulloch is the non-profit’s board vice president. In fact, the site is outdated and McCulloch is the current board president.
However, a cursory look at the fundraising website indicates that it was set up by a third party and pledged to provide funds to both BackStoppers and Wilson’s legal defense. The site reported 19 sales of Darren Wilson T-shirts before the campaign ended.
The outdated information on the BackStoppers site lists St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce as board president. She is now the immediate past president of the organization, but worked over the weekend to get Backstoppers to provide an official response.
“Contrary to recent posts on social media, BackStoppers is not participating in nor has benefited from any fundraising activity involving the Ferguson matter,” BackStoppers stated Monday morning in a release provided by Joyce. “We scrutinize our contributions and if we receive funds involving the Ferguson matter, those funds would be rejected by the Board of Directors.”
Joyce told The American her office had determined that BackStoppers has received no money from the sale of these T-shirts. She said that Teespring, the site that hosted the fundraising account, would not divulge who set up this account without legal action.
“I can’t file a criminal charge against them, because they haven’t broken the law,” Joyce said.
A representative from The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, who had followed the story on Twitter, commented, “No way for non-profits to easily ‘police’ others claiming to raise funds to ‘benefit’ their cause. Scary.”
Joyce urged the public to learn a lesson from the incident.
“We need to be critical consumers of social media,” Joyce said, “and make informed decisions about what we protest.”
BackStoppers added that it currently is helping 65 families of fallen first responders, which includes 59 children. “Our mission is to provide assistance to families of police, fire and EMS officers who die in the line of duty,” BackStoppers noted. “This is and always will be our first priority.”