November 28, 2014 / 3:43 AM / 3 years ago

St. Louis-area mall closes on Black Friday as Ferguson protests spread

A protester holds a sign outside a burning Walgreens drug store after a grand jury returned no indictment in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, November 24, 2014.Adrees Latif

FERGUSON, Mo. (Reuters) - Demonstrators shut down a shopping mall near Ferguson, Missouri, at the start of the holiday shopping season on Friday as protests over the killing of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer turned against some retailers around the country.

After a mostly quiet Thanksgiving Day, protesters were out in force again on Friday to decry Monday's decision by a grand jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb.

At locations around the country, protesters said they were encouraging a boycott of Black Friday to highlight the purchasing power of black Americans and to draw links between economic inequality and racial inequality.

"Voicing your opinion is not enough," said Sergio Uzurin, a protester in front of Macy's flagship store in New York. "You have to disrupt business as usual for this to happen and that's the only thing that's ever made change. It's the real way democracies function."

The Ferguson shooting, which has renewed a debate over race relations in the United States and the treatment of blacks and other minorities by police, has triggered months of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson and sympathy protests elsewhere.

On Friday, more than 200 people in New York sought to disrupt shopping with a protest in front of the Macy's store in Herald Square and marched into the ground floor as staff and shoppers looked on in apparent surprise.

Similar protests were also staged in other cities including Chicago, Los Angeles and Oakland, California, on Black Friday, when many retailers offer deep discounts and shoppers traditionally turn out in droves.

At the Galleria near St. Louis, demonstrators chanted "No Black Friday" before briefly lying down on the second floor, leading officials to effectively shut down the mall for the rest of the day. Security guards stopped anyone from entering the shopping center, telling disappointed bargain-hunters that it was closed for the rest of the day.

Eddie Cox, the 23-year-old assistant manager of a Lids baseball cap store, said he watched with pride as the demonstrators marched past his shop.

Cox, who is black, said his store was seeing only about a fifth as many Black Friday sales as last year due to the call by activists for a boycott.

"The business side of me kinda hates it, but at the same time, the young, activist, pro-conscious part of me loves every bit of this," Cox said. "It's a really cool time to be young, black and American."

Ferguson itself was peaceful for a second day in a row, after more than 100 arrests earlier in the week, when some demonstrators reacted to the grand jury's decision by looting or burning businesses, and officers in riot gear used tear gas to disperse crowds.

On Friday, police briefly reopened West Florissant Avenue, a main thoroughfare where many of the damaged or destroyed businesses are located. That allowed clean-up efforts to begin there and gave residents a glimpse of more burned-out stores including a clothing store and an Enterprise car rental outlet. By nightfall, the strip was closed again.

Near police headquarters, the scene of the worst violence earlier in the week, residents painted murals on the boarded-up windows of stores. Burned-out cars at one car dealership on West Florissant were loaded onto the back of flatbed trucks.

'ANY RESOURCES POSSIBLE'

In the neighboring town of Dellwood, the mayor held a news conference in which he called for state and federal aid for his city, where 13 businesses were burned on Monday and five were looted.

"I am asking that Dellwood not be forgotten," Mayor Reggie Jones said. "I am asking for any resources possible to help us rebuild."

About 16 people were arrested after chaining themselves to a train during a demonstration at a Bay Area Rapid Transit rail station in Oakland over the Missouri grand jury’s decision, a BART spokeswoman said.

In the U.S. capital, striking Wal-Mart employees dominated a Black Friday protest at Washington’s Union Station, said a spokeswoman for the organizer, OUR Walmart.

A Walmart store near Ferguson decided to cancel Black Friday sales, and merchandise was moved to other locations in the St. Louis area, employees said.

Additional reporting by Emily Flitter in Ferguson, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Will Dunham

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