Soon after a grand jury in Ferguson decided not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, protestors took to the streets in cities nationwide. They also took to the internet, where Black Friday quickly became a target of their ire.
On social media responses to the decision included a call to boycott Black Friday shopping as a form of protest.
Not everyone was on board with the strategy. Reactions to the suggestion of a Black Friday boycott ranged from confusion about how a single day of not shopping would address the situation in Ferguson to whether people would or could contain their desire to shop.
Duane Milton, 46, of Norcross says he would normally hit the stores for electronics on Black Friday, but this year he will sit it out.
“We see what has happened in Ferguson and this has been done over and over again. Taking a stand and not spending any money on Black Friday sends a bigger message that people will actually hear when they don’t get ‘in the black’ and get the money they make during the season,” he says.
Creating an economic challenge, Milton says, is just another way to send a message of protest. Milton has spent time rounding up friends to participate in the “Black Friday Blackout” and says it is not just about not shopping on Black Friday, but also supporting African-American businesses or filling your time with other methods of campaigning for human rights.
Several other boycotts that threaten to impact the five-day Black Friday shopping period were organized in advance of the Ferguson decision and are focused on other concerns. On Facebook, Boycott Black Thursday encourages followers to not shop any retailer that opens on Thanksgiving Day. BlackFridayProtests.org coordinates Black Friday Wal-Mart protests across the country. BlackoutforHumanRights is a non-profit organization created on Oct. 20 with the goal of addressing “the staggering level of human rights violations against fellow Americans throughout the United States” including the death of Michael Brown.
At a press conference on Tuesday, local clergy, led by Rev. Markel Hutchins, called for Atlantans to support a Black Friday boycott in response to the Ferguson decision.
“We will stand with the Brown family and with the organizers of similar efforts in Ferguson and around the county,” Hutchins said by phone. “History, most especially the civil rights movement teaches us that only when business and commerce and industry are engaged in social conversation do we see massive social change. That is the point of our call for economic sanctions.”
While the Black Friday boycott would take place on only one day of shopping, Hutchins believes it is a big enough day to make a difference, and, he says, it is at least, a place to start.
“For corporate America, Black Friday is such a profitable day. I don’t think anyone should underestimate the impact of our collective boycott on Black Friday,” he says noting that the effort has garnered a diverse group of supporters from all over the country.
“Not everyone will think this is a winnable strategy. If we don’t do this, what is it that we can do? We are giving people an opportunity to express themselves in a meaningful and substantive way by withholding their spending.”
Barbara Kahn, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, says making an impact on Black Friday could be a challenge.
“The day itself doesn’t have the meaning it used to have,” she says. “It has bled into the weekend.” A boycott that stretches the entire length of the Black Friday shopping period makes sense, Kahn says.
Michelle Thorns, 48, an accountant from Norcross says she has been boycotting Black Friday for years after hearing about tragic Black Friday incidents at Wal-Mart and after stores began opening on Thanksgiving Day. This year, instead of shopping, she plans to tweet information to help those who do shop find and support minority businesses. “People are more important than money,” Thorns says. “That is it.”