Police ordered Galleria storeowners to gate their doors and told security guards to turn away customers at the mall’s main entrances, after protestors held a mass die-in supporting Michael Brown Jr. for “Black out Black Friday.”
About 1,000 protestors came to the Galleria, one of the St. Louis area’s most popular malls, which was completely shut down for at least 30 minutes.
“We are not supporting businesses that do not support the community that they are in,” said activist Johnetta Elzie, who participated in the direct action. “I’m glad that the St. Louis police actually participated in the protest by shutting the mall down for us. That’s great.”
Similar to a flash mob, the “Carolers of the Mike Brown Movement” met up at the large Christmas tree in the mall’s center, attempting to blend with shoppers. Then at 12:30 p.m., they put on Santa hats and sang out of their red “Caroling for Justice Song Book” folders. To the tune of Silent Night, they sang, “Trampled rights.”
In the melody of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” they sang, “No true bill set our soul on fire, they think it’s over we suppose … and every mother’s child wonders why, black children in this country have to die.”
About 30 police officers surrounded the choir but did not intervene as they sang their five carols. Several shoppers stopped and joined the singing, reading off the songbooks. However, many others walked by in disgust. Once the choir finished, the participants “dropped dead” in the middle of the floor and held silence for 4.5 minutes, representing the 4.5 hours that Michael Brown lay dead on the street on Aug. 9.
Determined shoppers stepped through the bodies, but most people stopped and watched or took photos on their phones.
After the silence, the group stood up and shouted, “Not one dime” and encouraged shoppers not to support businesses on Black Friday that did not support the movement. One woman said she returned her purchases after seeing the group and joined them.
Not long after they stood up, another group came marching through the mall shouting, “No Justice, no peace!” The group had heard about the action, which was organized by the Tribe X activist group, on social media. Several other individuals said they got the message to “Head to the Galleria,” and drove over.
The crowd of at least 300 people circled the mall’s three levels until police finally ordered the stores to close down.
Store workers watched from behind the gates, trying to explain to upset customers why they couldn’t open. At the mall entrances, security guards told customers that they could not enter because the mall was closed – but they didn’t explain why. Security guards then started ushering people out of the mall.
Cop cars blocked the entrances to the mall, so people could not enter the parking lots. National Guard vehicles also surrounded the parking lots.
Alisha Sonnier, a Tribe X leader, said they told their participants to leave the mall even before the stores started closing. Sonnier said she got word from people coming to the mall that police were putting on riot gear outside of the Dillard’s entrance.
When one woman was asked her reaction, she said, “I’m scared. What if they start looting?”
Sonnier, an engineering student at Saint Louis University, said she hopes those fearful people saw that looting was not the group’s intention.
“The only weapon was people using their rights,” she said. “The weapon of words and awareness – that was the only thing that was present that could have been seen as a threat to what was going on.”
At the end of the die-in, Sonnier made a statement about the burning and looting in Ferguson on Monday, November 24, which she said she does not agree with.
“Right now when you watch CNN, when you watch MSNBC, you’re seeing burning buildings, you see stealing and robbing and people are like, “Why are these people doing this?’” she told the audience. “But I want to let you know that people have been burning, stealing and looting from St. Louis for a long time.”
The crowd cheered. She said if they don’t believe her, she challenged them to look at the school systems that are failing and not performing at academic level.
“And if that’s not enough, I’m going to challenge you to look at the school system to jail pipeline,” she said.
She said the next time they think about burning, she wants them to look at the people in power who “don’t have to burn down a building” to destroy these struggling communities.
“They are taking away communities,” she said. “They are taking away futures. A lot of people’s lives are determined before they’re even born.”
She believes their group started with 200 to 500 and then grew after people learned about the action over social media. More than 100 cities participated in the Black Friday shutdown. Locally, protestors also disrupted shopping at West County and Chesterfield malls.