Through a steady drizzle, hundreds of activists marched down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile and blocked the entrances to some of the main drag’s highest-end stores during a Black Friday morning protest of the fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke.
The entrances to Apple, Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic, Neiman Marcus, Tiffany, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Disney Store and Brooks Brothers were all blocked by protesters. However, entrances to other stores, often next door, were unimpeded and operations appeared normal.
Inside the wood-paneled Ralph Lauren store, Frank Sinatra Christmas songs played as a handful of customers shopped for cashmere sweaters and other luxury items. Outside, a gaggle of protesters turned customers away.
“Ain’t no shopping here today,” they told two women who were trying to get lunch at the Ralph Lauren Cafe.
During a confrontation outside the Apple Store, a 60-year-old white woman who gave her name only as Marcia shouted, “I’m an American! I just want to get in the store.”
Protesters managed to push her away, despite police intervention, but afterward her south Asian partner, Jay Krishnamurthy, 55, said, “The whole South Side is on fire. Why don’t they tackle the violence in their own communities?” Of Laquan McDonald’s killing, he said, “Mistakes happen.”
Around 11:45 a.m., protesters blocked shoppers from getting into Topman and Topshop. Forming a line in front of the doors, they chanted “16 shots — stop killing our kids!” One shopper, a middle-aged white man, tussled with the crowd and fought his way in, but store security soon locked the door, as another store along Michigan Avenue had done as the crowd passed.
Jessie Davis, of the group Stop Mass Incarceration Network, said there have been calls on social media for people to engage in civil disobedience, and Charlene Carruthers, national director of the activist group Black Youth Project 100, would not rule out such actions.
Michael Pfleger, pastor at St. Sabina Catholic Church on Chicago’s South Side, said he thinks the march itself will cost businesses money because the publicity surrounding it will discourage shoppers from even venturing into the area.
And across the country, workers campaigning for $15 an hour wages and full-time work plan to end a 15-day protest fast by demonstrating outside homes owned by the Walton family and at Wal-Mart stores.
Out-of-town shoppers braving the rain on the Magnificent Mile early Friday morning had mixed feelings about the protest.
Four young college students from Hong Kong who are studying in the Boston area — Samantha Lee, 20; Jacqueline Lee, 20; Annabel Tiong, 21; and Ashley Lee, 19 — were hunting for clothes and cosmetics unaware of the planned protest.
“If I’d known, I would have waited until Cyber Monday. The deals are just as good,” said Jacqueline Lee, who expressed sympathy for the protesters’ cause.
Lorraine Lathen, 52, and her daughter Nia Kamara, 13, who are black, were ending a family Thanksgiving visit from Milwaukee. They had heard about the protest but got up early so they could shop before it started, Lathen said.
“It’s not that we don’t support the protest. We do. We have the same issues in Milwaukee,” she said, mentioning her support for the national Black Lives Matter movement. “But we had planned this shopping as part of our trip before we came. I think by marching, that in itself sends a message. You don’t have to stop people from going into stores.”
Seattle visitor Susan Geiger, 60, who is white, was shopping for boots at Nordstrom. She called McDonald’s death at the hands of Chicago police “sad” but said she wasn’t aware of the details.
She added, “I think it’s wrong to affect all the shopkeepers. It’s kind of sad, there have to be other ways” for the protesters to make their point.
As protesters shut down some commerce along the Magnificent Mile, fewer than 50 people marched under the drizzle from a Wal-Mart neighborhood market on the city’s North Side to Best Buy and then Bank of America, advocating for a $15 hourly wage and full-time hours. Organized by activist group OUR Walmart, the march was one of a dozen taking place across the country in what has become an annual Black Friday tradition targeting the labor practices of the retail giant.
While in its fourth year, Chicago’s Black Friday protest took on additional resonance this year given a “perfect storm” of activism around poverty and crime, including the growing Black Lives Matter movement protesting police misconduct against African-Americans, said Kohmee Parrett, an organizer with Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation and the Illinois/Indiana Regional Organizing Network.
“Basically, we have kids with nothing to do but do crime to sustain themselves, which leads to a cycle of poverty, which leads to jail, they get out with no jobs and go back to jail,” said Parrett, who said he sees it in his own neighborhood on the far South Side. “It’s become something bigger than just jobs and just crime. At this point it’s a crisis that’s at the tipping point, and somebody has to do something about it.”
Friday’s event outside Wal-Mart marked the end of 15 days of fasting organized by OUR Walmart to “demonstrate the hunger crisis faced by Wal-Mart workers and their families.” The group said 1,400 people nationwide participated in the fast and 50 in Chicago.
There were no retail workers at Chicago’s march, which consisted mostly of activists from several groups, including members of the Chicago Teachers Union who were protesting Bank of America loans that have cost the Chicago Public Schools district millions of dollars.