A coalition of organizations active in the Ferguson protests called for a boycott of St. Louis area retailers during the Black Friday shopping season in response to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.
The Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition outlined details of the boycott effort, dubbed “No Justice, No Profit,” at a news conference Wednesday at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Louis.
The boycott will start Thanksgiving Day and last through Sunday, Nov. 30, organizers said, and will take place whether or not a grand jury votes to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot Brown on Aug. 9.
“The death of Michael Brown was groundless, was senseless, it was a miscarriage of Mr. Darren Wilson’s legal duty to serve and protect,” said the Rev. Spencer Lamar Booker, pastor of St. Paul AME Church. “No matter how convoluting his and others’ attempt to make a legal argument, an illegal act was committed called murder.”
Dacia Polk, of the New Black Panther Party, said the coalition wants the whole region to participate in the boycott.
“We are asking you to withdraw your participation the entire weekend,” she said. “There will not be business as usual in America while our people are being killed.”
The group of about 20 religious and community leaders then broke into a chant: “No justice, no profit.”
Booker also emphasized that organizers wanted demonstrators to be “peaceful and be respectful.”
The scope of the boycott, and breadth of support for it, was unclear.
Some organizers said the boycott effort would be targeted, excluding some businesses. And some activists who have been prominent in Ferguson protests, and were listed as members of the coalition, said they did not support a boycott at all.
Zaki Baruti, president-general of the Universal African People’s Organization and one of the coalition’s organizers, said shoppers will be encouraged to “spend within our community” when asked whether the boycott would include black-owned businesses.
Baruti would not say the coalition planned to protest at the region’s malls or high-traffic shopping centers.
“We are planning on doing a number of things, and we will have a press release to that effect,” Baruti said when asked about protests planned for the weekend.
State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said she has let members of the coalition know she thinks a boycott would be counterproductive.
“That would impact many services that my constituents rely on each and every day,” Nasheed said. “We cannot afford to lose revenue.”
Her name was among a number of people listed on a news release from the coalition calling for the boycott. Ferguson Committeewoman Patricia Bynes was another, but she said she was not part of the effort. “I have not had any time to say yes or no,” she said.
St. Louis County NAACP President Esther Haywood, whose organization was also listed, said the chapter was not involved.
“I disagree with it completely,” Haywood said. “No way would I support a boycott. It has absolutely nothing to do with anything going on in Ferguson.”
The St. Louis chapter of the NAACP was also listed, but Adolphus Pruitt, president of the chapter, said his group has not asked for authorization from the national organization to participate in the boycott.
“We support some actions they’re doing, some actions we don’t,” he said of the coalition. “There’s a lot of different folks taking a lot of different avenues. ... The goals and objectives are the same. The methodology to get there may differ from time to time.”
The lack of consensus contrasted with the coalition’s calls for unity among area leaders and groups that have formed in the wake of the Brown shooting. In addition to the boycott announcement, Booker and Baruti stressed the importance of a common message and cause as the decision from the grand jury nears.
There are 22 organizations that are part of the Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition, Baruti said, and it is working to add more.
A St. Louis County grand jury has been considering whether Wilson should face charges for the fatal shooting of the unarmed Brown, 18. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said Monday that the jury was still hearing evidence and that he didn’t expect a decision until mid- to late November.
Baruti said the boycott would go on regardless of the grand jury’s decision because it serves an “educational” purpose in changing consumers’ spending behavior.
Asked what the coalition of groups was expecting from the grand jury, Baruti said: “We’re expecting the right thing to be done.”
Booker and Baruti said the boycott was also a response to Gov. Jay Nixon’s announcement Tuesday that police would be prepared following the grand jury’s decision. “We call on Gov. Nixon and his league of police officers, as they prepare to turn our streets into a war zone, to demilitarize and de-escalate their threats,” Booker said. “Allow us to be vigilant in our First Amendment rights.”
Boycotting the area’s businesses would be “counterproductive,” said Rebecca Zoll, CEO of North County Inc., the economic development agency that represents the area. There’s no reason to hurt local businesses, she said, adding that they are not the “opposition.”
“Many of them are minority-owned, and we’re hoping that shoppers will consider using our small businesses throughout the West Florissant and South Florissant corridor,” Zoll said. “These small-business owners, they provide services for the community that the community needs. But remember, they’re also providing jobs for people in that area.”