Black leaders urge boycott of Target, other stores

By JIM SALTER


Black St. Louis faith and civic leaders involved in recent protests over the acquittal of a former white police officer in the killing of a black suspect are calling for supporters to boycott a dozen businesses, including Target and a grocery store chain.

The group issued its call for an economic boycott of the businesses on Thursday, nearly two months after the acquittal of Jason Stockley in the 2011 killing of Anthony Lamar Smith. The verdict sparked a series of protests over the treatment of blacks by the justice system, which the Rev. Dinah Tatman said will continue in addition to the boycott.

At a news conference announcing the boycott, Tatman also said blacks are subjected to excessive force by police, criminalized for minor infractions and saddled with long sentences. She also cited economic disparities, efforts to diminish voting rights and political redistricting that has made it harder for black people to have their voices heard in elections.

"As Main Street America enjoys social and economic prosperity, our community continues to erode, causing intense strain on our family structure and resulting in high unemployment rates and wanton incarceration of our black men," Tatman said at a news conference Thursday.

The timing of the boycott is no coincidence, coming as the Christmas shopping season nears. Tatman said some "strategic" protests are planned outside of businesses during the holiday season, but she declined to offer details.

Organizers say some of the businesses are being targeted for their alleged mistreatment of black workers or customers, or for other reasons. Target Corp., which has 18 stores in the St. Louis area, is listed because of a legal dispute allowing it to use Rosa Parks' name and image on civil rights-themed merchandise.

Target said in a statement that the lawsuit filed several years ago "was without merit and was dismissed." The company said it works hard to "demonstrate inclusivity" in its products, including a collection of items celebrating Black History Month.

"We work with vendors and African American team members and guests to ensure our Black History Month products will resonate with our guests," the company said.

Schnucks Markets, a regional grocery chain that operates more than 60 stores in the St. Louis area, is on the boycott list because it is a major contributor to Republican candidates, the organizers said.

In a news release, Schnucks said it was "surprised and disappointed" to be included in the boycott and that it has customers and employees "from across the demographic spectrum." It also said it Schnucks helps low-income families and provides more than $13 million in food products to pantries each year.

The Galleria mall in the suburb of Richmond Heights also made the list because it was the site of one of the early protests in which more than 20 people were arrested, including some who said police used excessive force.

The mall operator didn't reply to phone messages seeking comment.

Economic disparities between blacks and whites in the region were highlighted in the aftermath of unrest in 2014 after the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was black and the officer who shot him was white.

A 2015 report by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments in St. Louis found that blacks in the region were more than three times as likely to be impoverished as whites.

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