When protesters first swarmed the streets of Ferguson, Mo., earlier this summer, they blamed the death of African-American teenager Michael Brown on racist police brutality and decried law enforcement’s response as evidence of the militarization of police in their community. After another black teenager was shot to death in an altercation with a police officer in the metropolitan St. Louis area earlier this month, protesters again took to the streets.
Earlier this week, the protesters set their sights on local Walmart stores, reportedly forcing three to temporarily close. On Monday night, protesters flooded into one Walmart repeatedly shouting in unison, “We shut it down.” They then began chanting the name “Mike Brown” before switching to “John Crawford.” Crawford, a 22-year-old black man, was shot and killed in the aisles of a Walmart in August near Dayton, Ohio.
Crawford reportedly ignored commands from police officers to lower his weapon — which was later discovered to be a BB gun — and police then fired on him. Protesters have used Crawford’s death to explain why the protesters targeted Walmart, but the Walmart stores’ employees did not contribute to the deaths of Crawford and Brown. Moreover, Crawford died before Brown, and his death did not spawn massive protests in Ohio, as Brown’s did in Missouri. Crawford’s death is not a sufficient explanation for the protesters’ actions at St. Louis–area Walmart stores.
Walmart has long been a target of the Left, particularly among people who think the federal minimum-wage level is too low. In recent years, protesters have gathered outside Walmart stores on Black Friday, when many retailers offer special deals to kick-start the Christmas shopping season, and many have been arrested. Some protesters and elected officials have even worked to prevent Walmart from entering Washington, D.C. Walmart is used to unruly behavior.
Analyzing the protesters’ random targeting of Ferguson businesses this summer may help onlookers better understand how the protesters’ behavior has changed. When the protests first began in Ferguson, looters ransacked several local businesses, including a cell-phone-service store and a beauty-supply store. Looters hit the beauty-supply shop several times. After looters attacked a Foot Locker shoe store, Gary Crump, the owner of Paul’s Market in Ferguson, told me that a running joke among some in Ferguson residents was that the looters did not steal working boots. But now the protesters’ actions seem more organized and calculated.
The #FergusonOctober protests appear to be designed to maximize their exposure in the press and on social media, while the summer protests were characterized by chaos. Earlier this week, protesters blocked the front door of a fundraising event attended by Senator Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.), disrupted a St. Louis Rams football game, and demonstrated at a local mall. On Monday night, protesters gave local officials a list of demands and imposed a deadline of 48 hours for their ultimatum to be met, according to local television station KSDK. The protesters’ demands included body cameras on police officers, a civilian review board, and the removal of military equipment, KSDK reported that all of the demands are either already satisfied or in the works.
If the demands were not met within 48 hours of Monday’s demonstration at St. Louis City Hall, one protester told KSDK, residents should expect a “large-scale civic movement.” When a reporter followed up to ask what that entailed, the protester responded, “Come on, now, it’s a magic trick. I can’t give procedure away.” As the protesters’ deadline approached, St. Louis mayor Francis Slay agreed to meet behind closed doors with some protesters on Thursday evening. Whether the protesters will accept the city’s effort to reach common ground remains to be seen, but residents will likely need to prepare for more protests in the months to come.
— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.