Protesters on Black Friday: Will they reinvigorate outrage over Ferguson?

Small groups of protesters entered Wal-Mart and Target stores in the St. Louis area early on Black Friday, shouting 'No justice, no peace!'

J.B. Forbres/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP
Protesters of the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting chant slogans at the St. Louis Galleria mall on Wednesday evening, in Richmond Heights, Mo. They stayed in the mall for about 15 minutes and then left peacefully without confrontation with a large police presence.

The spike of looting, arson, and arrests that followed Monday’s non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson for killing teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., has calmed, but some remaining protesters began to target big-box stores having Black Friday sales.

Small groups of protesters entered Wal-Mart and Target stores in the St. Louis area early Friday morning, shouting “No justice, no peace!,” then they heeded pleas from security to leave.

At least in the short term, aiming songs and slogans at Americans congregating in shopping centers is a chance to draw attention to broader allegations of unequal treatment of black youths at the hands of police. Shopping mall protests are a tactic that Americans could see more of as the Christmas shopping season swings into full gear.

Such Black Friday protests could also give a sense of whether public expressions of outrage over Ferguson, which dwindled to almost zero on Thanksgiving – save what the New York Post called “a mass of angry anarchists” who marched on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – will be reinvigorated or will fade.

The Aug. 9 shooting of Mr. Brown led to weeks of sometimes-violent protests and police counteraction in and around Ferguson, as well as a prolonged and more organized series of protests that at times targeted sporting and cultural events in St. Louis.

As a 12-member grand jury concluded Monday there wasn’t enough evidence to indict Mr. Wilson for any crimes, a retail district in Ferguson was set afire, and more 300 people were arrested in Oakland, Calif., after protests devolved into civil unrest and looters targeted retail stores.

While many Americans, including President Obama, have condemned looting and arson, others say such tactics have historically been at the core of US progress. As such, Americans may yet bear witness to more demonstrations, some experts on the black experience say.

After all, “[t]he Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is inseparable from the threat of riots. The housing bill of 1968 – the most proactive civil-rights legislation on the books – is a direct response to the riots that swept American cities after King was killed,” writes Ta-Nehesi Coates, in The Atlantic.

To be sure, vows by some protesters to shut down Black Friday probably won’t do much to stem the massive tide of Americans looking for bargains. But some protests might give expression to a sense that has lingered in three months of racial tension: that no matter what the grand jurors, three of whom were black, found, the killing of Brown fit into a troubling pattern, backed up in part by statistics, that police behave differently toward young black men than young white men. This became a problem in Ferguson, where a majority-black city is policed by a nearly all-white police force.

“This is not about one boy getting shot in the street, but about the hundreds just like him who have received the same callous and racially influenced treatment,” Oakland demonstrator Gabe Johnson told the Associated Press.

In that sense, some Americans hope that such holiday protests can serve as an appeal to humanity – something that helps put alleged inequities into stark relief for Middle America.

Mr. Obama in his commentary on Ferguson urged Americans to reflect peacefully on the particular difficulties that face poor minorities, noting that “there are still problems, and communities of color aren't just making these problems up.

Before the Black Friday protests began, a group of 100 demonstrators discussed strategy after celebrating Thanksgiving in a church basement, Reuters reported.

"We are bruised but not broken," demonstrator Cathy Daniels told the wire service. "We are regrouping. We are not going to take this lying down."

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