Rev. Reginald Pitcher, along with leaders of the local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Nation of Islam, called for residents to refrain from shopping at the Mall of Louisiana, Cortana Mall and area Wal-Mart stores over the Jul. 8 weekend to protest Sterling’s shooting. The SCLC has a policy that local actions must receive clearance from the national organization when it involves a national issue or agent; Wal-Mart has a nationwide presence and a large portion of mall tenants also represent national corporations.
Even deposed, the defiant Pitcher said the chapter planned to continue rolling boycotts aimed at various sellers in the near future, with the idea of putting economic pressure on businesses until the arrest of the white officers that struggled with Sterling. The campaign pause came as a result of the assassination of area law enforcement officers by a disturbed black nationalist, ironically once affiliated with the Nation of Islam, who apparently became upset over Sterling’s death and travelled specifically to Baton Rouge to wreak some twisted form of revenge.
While Pitcher defended the boycott as consistent with past SCLC strategy of the black civil rights movement, the futility of it if not its stupidity becomes clear at both a practical and philosophical level. Such boycotts worked a half-century ago and earlier because of their direction at government-run functions, such as mass transit, and also with a greater local orientation to commerce that enriched non-blacks almost exclusively. Further, they chose targets across the board and stuck with them for months and beyond. This hit-and-miss version merely shuffles commerce around; a target may find a small decline in sales one day only to get a bump up the next as another establishment endures its target-of-the-day status.
And if they stick with the malls and Wal-Mart on a consistent basis, do the organizers seriously think these national corporations, with this infinitesimal effect on their total sales, would harangue East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III to press charges against the officers? Moreover, what does this do to the pockets of blacks, who make up a substantial portion of the retail and grocery industry workforces?
Even a direct strike against government, such as going really old school by not riding the Capital Area Transit System and walking, doesn’t put pressure on Moore to ask for indictments, for CATS operates independently of both the DA and city/parish. Even so, that would represent a much more serious effort, and tellingly no group seems to consider this as an option.
But the real inanity of the idea comes philosophically. The boycotted businesses of the past had owners complicit in propping up segregation, if not actually enforcing it by mandating separate facilities and treatment in their places of business. Nothing remotely like that exists today, so what unjust thing have businesses done to deserve economic retaliation?
Further, no government agency has stonewalled demands for justice made by the organization, unlike then when southern state and local governments ignored complaints of constitutional violations. Indeed, the city and state have invited the federal government to come in to investigate, and charges may or may not come against the officers as a result. In that sense, today’s version subverts the moral imperative of the past: then, just protest came because of violation of rights, but now it has devolved into a form of mob rule that could violate the rights of the officers by sending the state after them not because of a clear, reasoned judgment surrounding the unfortunate event, but because of political expediency, promoting injustice.
Of course, too many of those who allege they have the best interests of blacks in mind peddle conspiracy theories about American society as still irredeemably racist, such as in policing. In their fevered minds, the officers are guilty by definition, so why bother with trying to establish facts and the truth of the matter?
The boycott, such as it is, may continue, but so do its asinine qualities. The attitude behind it echoes the unhelpful one inherent to recent protests concerning and actions in the name of the Sterling case that set the stage to attract nuts with the warped view of setting things straight by ambushing police. Nothing constructive can come from it, and if the SCLC national officers’ actions can discourage it, good for them.