St. Louis Activists Disrupt Black Friday Shopping to Protest Michael Brown Verdict

As millions of American shoppers headed to stores in search of post-Thanksgiving bargains, scores of demonstrators interrupted Black Friday shopping in St Louis as part of a retail boycott over the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson.

The boycott, which used the hashtag #BlackOutBlackFriday on Twitter, was the latest strategy by protesters to draw attention to issues snapped into focus by Brown’s death: racism, economic inequality and police brutality in America. Monday’s grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson for killing Brown on 9 August led to days of violent protests in a number of American cities.

Beginning on Thanksgiving night, dozens of activists turned up at major retailers around the St Louis area with protest signs. They chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot!” as shoppers whizzed past in search of heavily-discounted TVs and vacuum cleaners.

The demonstrations, staged at a local Target and multiple Walmart stores, were brief and peaceful. As of mid-morning, there were no reports of arrests related to the protests. In at least one instance, protesters were ordered by police to leave, and they did so peacefully, Reuters reported. More protests were expected throughout the day on Friday.

The boycott was an extension of the Black Lives Matter campaign, meant to empower black voices by demonstrating their purchasing power.

The movement was explained in a video produced by Ryan Coogler, director of Fruitvale Station, a film recounting the story of a young black man shot dead by a white transport policeman in Oakland, California.

“This season, show your worth,” the video exhorts its viewers. “Help stop police brutality by speaking a language everyone understands. Don’t shop November 28th.”

Meanwhile, millions of Americans were reveling in Black Friday spoils, queueing for sales on Thursday evening or arriving in time to catch the early-bird specials on Friday morning.

The National Retail Federation, an industry group, estimated that 140 million Americans would shop in-store and online over the Thanksgiving weekend. The group predicted seasonal shopping sales would rise by 4.1% from the same months last year to $616.9bn.

The commercial creep of Black Friday saw stores opening as early as early Thursday evening. As many as 25.6 million US people were expected to shop on Thanksgiving day this year, the federation said. Macy’s said more than 15,000 people were lined up outside its flagship New York City store when it opened its doors at 6pm on Thanksgiving.

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