NATION

Ferguson protesters take battle to St. Louis-area malls

At least 100 demonstrators interrupt Black Friday shopping at the Galleria Mall in St. Louis

After several days of calm in this region, more than 100 demonstrators gathered at the Galleria Mall in St. Louis at midday Friday, restarting protests over a grand jury's decision not to indict a Ferguson, Mo., police officer in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Many of the stores abruptly closed their doors during the nearly two-hour protest, temporarily trapping employees and shoppers inside on Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Some employees began chanting along with the demonstrators, “hands up, don't shoot,” the phrase heard through weeks of sometimes violent protests that rocked this area after Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, shot the unarmed Brown, who was black, on Aug. 9. Ferguson is just northwest of St. Louis.

On Friday, dozens of demonstrators at one point dropped to the floor in the center of the Galleria to symbolize Brown's body, which lay sprawled in the street for hours.

Protesters left peacefully, although the mall was then closed for a few hours, police said.

A second protest erupted at the West County Mall, just west of St. Louis, around 3 p.m. but appeared to be quashed quickly by authorities. Protesters were forced to the sidewalk and directed to return to their cars.

There was no immediate word of arrests, although one man started screaming “go home” at one of the protesters, who yelled back, “You go home.”

Also Friday, police reopened on a limited basis West Florissant Avenue, the scene of the rioting in Ferguson that broke out Monday night after the grand jury's decision was announced. The St. Louis County police, which since Monday had considered the street an active crime scene, lifted its blockades but said the street would be shut down between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. until further notice.

The Galleria demonstrators began gathering Friday morning in nearby Shaw Park, which was flanked by local police and a Humvee belonging to the Missouri National Guard.

Demonstrators headed to the mall and slowly marched through the complex, carrying signs protesting the grand jury decision, asking shoppers not to buy anything on Black Friday, and drawing bewildered looks from throngs of shoppers.

The crowd assembled at the center of the mall's first floor and began chanting while calling on authorities to jail Wilson.

Some of Friday's protesters also invoked other recent racially charged killings by police, including the choking death of Eric Garner by a New York Police Department officer in July.

“As long as business as usual in America is the killing and criminalizing of young black men, then business as usual needs to be disrupted,” said one man speaking to the assembled crowd.

Shoppers on the upper floors stopped and recorded the scene with their
phones as demonstrators began taking over the escalators.

Shoppers and even some employees appeared to join the charge, and a group again dropped to the floor in symbolic reference to Brown's body.

There were Ferguson-inspired demonstrations in other cities again Friday, including New York, Chicago and Oakland.

“I think today was very powerful; this is probably the largest demonstration since the non-indictment came down,” said DeRay McKesson, a Minneapolis protester who has been in Ferguson since August. “This is a great reminder that this is a living movement.”

Shortly before 2 p.m., police officers at the scene began to announce that the mall was closed until further notice.

There did not appear to be any clashes between police and demonstrators or any arrests, a stark difference from the Ferguson protests earlier in the week that ended with more than 100 people in handcuffs.

Kymone Freeman, a demonstrator from Washington, D.C., said the event drew in people who would have otherwise sat on the sidelines.

“We spoke truth to power, and we politically educated the masses,” he said.

At the West County Mall, officers blocked access to part of the third floor, where a group of protesters could be heard shouting “let them go” as police surged forward. Officers were using bullhorns to direct people away from the area, citing safety concerns.

Bob Hudgens, 50, a lifelong St. Louis resident who joined the Galleria demonstration, said he had been marching since August because of what he sees as a decades-old racial divide in the city.

He said the first time he heard a racial slur was from a local police officer, and he feels the need to fight against racism because his only child is biracial.

“We've known about these problems for years,” he said.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

3:25 p.m.: This post has been updated throughout, with information including a second mall protest west of St. Louis.

12:43 p.m.: This post has been was updated with details about the mall closing and protesters and shoppers leaving.

This post was originally published at 11:14 a.m.

 

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