ST. LOUIS — More than 100 protesters marched loudly through the St. Louis Galleria at midday Friday and then moved to West County Center for another demonstration.
The march through the Galleria in Richmond Heights led to a closing of the mall for more than an hour. At 4:15 p.m., protesters already had scattered from the West County Center, but police blocked off entrances both to the building and its parking lots, closing the mall.
The event at West County Center included protesters lying on the floor on the upper level near the Barnes & Noble bookstore. The demonstrators, who appeared in nearly the same numbers as the event at the Galleria, left after police said they had three minutes before arrests would begin.
Many of them moved to a hillside near Manchester Avenue, where police kept a close watch. A small group briefly blocked the northbound ramp onto Interstate 270 from Manchester.
The protest at the Galleria was the first big event in the Black Friday protests in the metro area.
It lasted for about an hour and ended shortly before 2 p.m. Participants marched together shouting, “Stop shopping, join the movement,” and, “No Black Friday shopping,” in addition to some of the regular slogans in the three months of protest since Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Security guards and police officers observed the protest inside Galleria but stayed back.
A group lay down on the floor near the escalators in the center of the mall and continued their chants. Richmond Heights police, with backup that includes officers from Clayton and Crestwood and National Guard soldiers, continued to watch nearby.
Shoppers also made way for the march and watched it pass by. Many shops shut their nighttime security gates while the event was underway.
“It’s not just about race,” said Candace Reese, 28, of Florissant, one of the participants. “Violence shouldn’t be a part of our daily life. How amazing it would be if this all amounted to something.”
Police made no arrests.
The protesters who marched through the Galleria had gathered at Shaw Park in Clayton and then headed down Brentwood Boulevard in vehicles. They returned to the park from the Galleria, then headed for the West County Center.
There had been a smaller, separate march earlier in downtown Clayton.
Until those events, only a few isolated protests had unfolded in what was billed as a major effort to boycott and disrupt shopping on the busiest retail day of the year. Earlier, about two dozen chanted outside the Wal-Mart in Manchester. About 10 Ferguson protesters briefly joined with a pro-union rally outside the Walmart in Bridgeton, and one protester was arrested, police confirmed.
It all began slowly, both in the stores and on the streets. At Tropicana Lanes, the announced mustering point for Black Friday protests at the Galleria, no more than eight protesters had arrived by 7 a.m. They agreed to abandon that event and head to one planned for 8:30 a.m. outside the St. Louis County Justice Center in downtown Clayton.
But only a few people were outside the justice center at the appointed time, either. Another event was planned for 11:30 a.m. at Shaw Park, which became the march through the Galleria.
Travis Martin, a protester who was at the bowling alley and the Justice Center, said he didn’t think that activist leaders had done enough planning and promotion for an event at the Galleria.
“I think the main organizers weren’t so focused on anti-capitalism. They are more focused on justice for Mike Brown,” said Martin, 27, a student at the Washington University School of Law.
St. Louis County Police reported receiving enough telephone inquiries about protests that it issued the following statement shortly after 8 a.m., “We are receiving multiple inquiries as to the status and safety of our shopping malls and stores. Currently there are no reported disturbances, protests or problems with any shopping locations in St. Louis County.”
Later that morning, activists Anthony Shahid and Zaki Baruti let about 50 marchers through downtown Clayton, chanting, “No Justice, No Profits.” They walked past boarded-up shops in the otherwise empty business district.
At the Walmart in Manchester, about two dozen protesters chanted outside as police moved them away from the store.
“We want to really let the world know that it is no longer business as usual,” said Chenjerai Kumanyika, an assistant professor at Clemson University in South Carolina, according to The Associated Press.
Outside Plaza Frontenac Friday morning, a married couple from Seattle stood along South Lindbergh Boulevard Friday morning holding signs that called for a boycott and included the line, “No justice, no profits.”
Cathy Whitmire, who grew up in Kirkwood, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “We’ll hopefully have people pause and reflect and not just go into the holiday season thinking it’s business as usual.”
The comment by her husband, Tom Ewell, was more pointed: “From black guys, we get a wave. From whites, a finger.”
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There had been isolated protests at a few stores Thursday night, including the Target in Brentwood and the Wal-Mart in Maplewood.
Shortly after the Galleria opened at 6 a.m., Dionne Diuguid of Alton and her two daughters had little trouble getting their shopping done. The crowds looked more like a typical Saturday morning.
“I think it’s a hidden gem here, but this year is less than normal,” Diuguid said of the crowds. “People are scared, but they shouldn’t be. They think if there are protesters, then automatically something bad is going to happen.”
However, the slow morning at many stores and mall also happened nationwide as Thursday deals pulled many buyers forward, The Associated Press reported this morning.
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At the Best Buy in Brentwood, no protesters were in sight as only a dozen people waited for the doors to reopen at 8 a.m. The line had grown to about 60 when doors opened.
“We don’t think the crowds are out this year,” said Alex Pierce of the Tower Grove neighborhood in St. Louis. She and relatives had been in the store Thursday night, when she said lines were heavy. The store was open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
At the Wal-Mart in Maplewood, customer Francine Rhodes of West County, said, “It looks like a ghost town.” She thought it was due mainly to Thanksgiving Day shopping.
It also made it easy for her to pick up a 32-inch TV for $198.
Shopping had a slow start Friday morning at the Taubman outlet mall in Chesterfield Valley. Latricia and Jaioua Singleton, sisters from Maryland Heights, carried bags stuffed with gifts as they left the Gap in the mall. They said Black Friday is one of their traditions, and they had no trouble browsing and buying this time.
Another shopper there, Wendy Williams, walked briskly as she hunted for deals. “I do very little actual Christmas shopping,” she said — and was having an easy time of it Friday morning.
Out in St. Peters, about 50 people were lined up outside the Best Buy at Mid-Rivers Mall waiting for the doors to open at 8 a.m. It grew to about 150 by the opening. By 9:30 a.m., the Stores in St. Charles County generally were busier than those in St. Louis County.
Store manager Greg Coleman said he hadn’t expect that many because of the steady business on Wednesday and Thursday evening. Matt Cooseman of St. Peters, one of the early birds, said: “It’s been like empty. I’m sure it’s because of the Thanksgiving openings.”
(Tim O’Neil, Jacob Barker, Samantha Liss and Debra Bass contributed to this report.)
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