Local police disperse, arrest Black Friday protesters on behalf of Walmart
The treatment of peaceful protesters compared to the unruly and sometimes violent crowds of stampeding Black Friday shoppers couldn’t be more different. While the former is ostracized and forcibly removed by police, the latter is encouraged to come out for a competitive brawl over marked off goods. Nowhere is this contrast more clearly defined than in the police treatment of Walmart protesters over the last 24 hours.
On Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, at least 1,000 Walmart employees throughout the country have walked off the job to protest Walmart’s poor labor practices. While these historic developments are exciting, local police departments have been happy to disperse and even arrest strikers and their supporters on behalf of the world’s largest retailer.
At a Walmart store in Paramount, just outside of Los Angeles, some 1,500 people rallied against Walmart. Josh Eidelson, who is live-blogging about the Walmart strikes at The Nation, reports that “Nine people have been arrested for sitting in the street on Lakewood Boulevard, including three striking Walmart retail workers from area stores: Charlene Fletcher and William Fletcher from Duarte, and Martha Sellers from Paramount.”
The protests became so large, that “police in riot gear had to issue a dispersal orders”, according to NBC Southern California.
Similar, though far less sensational police-protester confrontations have been reported at other Walmart stores as well.
For example, “About 200 protesters were forced from the Walmart property at 83rd and Stewart, after additional Chicago police officers were called and arrived on scene,” reports Fox Chicago.
In Portland, Oregon, police arrested 33-year-old Justin Alexander Kerston on Thursday night, just as the store opened. Kerston was charged trespassing, disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer for allegedly yelling at employees and police officers and refusing orders to leave the store.
Iowa City Police dispersed a crowd of 15 protesters who stood at the entrance of an Iowa City Walmart Parking lot for about an hour handing out literature about Walmart’s horrible working conditions to shoppers and vehicles passing by.
Last night, Dallas police broke up a picket line of striking workers that had formed in front of one of several Walmart stores where protests were taking place.
About 20 protesters at a Walmart in Seekonk,
Rhode Island Massachusetts, had a similar experience with police. The Providence Journal reports:
The group, led by community activist Camilo Viveiros, tried to deliver a letter to the Wal-mart store manager — intended for company Chairman Rob Walton — but was rebuffed by Seekonk police and store workers. The protesters picketed the entryway for about 15 minutes before police escorted them off the property
The following pictures show the police-protester confrontation:
In Danbury Connecticut, local police were already at the Walmart store prior to the arrival of 50 protesters who couldn’t even finish reading a statement aloud inside the store before the police forced them to leave. From the News Times:
The protesters began with a march up the parking lot to the store front, where Walmart staff and members of the Danbury Police Department told them to leave, claiming they were creating a disturbance on private property.
Local activist Justin Molito, holding his 4-year old son Pike’s hand, began shouting out a statement of support for Walmart workers inside the store, with his fellow activists repeating his words with equal fervor and volume.
When Molito was about half-way through the statement, police took him by the arm and marched him out of the store, with the supporters following in their wake.
Walmart bragged that it beefed up security this year in anticipation of Black Friday crowds, which in the past have have broken out into fights, injuring shoppers. While more security is not necessarily a bad thing, the larger police presence has intimidated workers from participating in the walk-outs. Eidelson reported on one such worker:
“I was a little spooked,” he said, “because 31 off-duty police officers had been hired” along with “eight on-duty police” for Black Friday. OUR Walmart connected Owen with a leader in Tennessee, who put him in touch with a worker in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. Owen said that if he can find an action in his area today where he wouldn’t be alone, he’ll definitely take part.
Even before Black Friday, Walmart had been successful at using local police to suppress and intimidate dissidents.
Last Wednesday, more than a week before Black Friday, The Nation reported that Alex Rivera, a former Walmart employee fired in September, was handcuffed when he visited his old store to speak with employees about Black Friday protests. Orlando police detained Rivera for 20 minutes in front of the store as customer’s and employees looked on.
On Wednesday morning of this week, a Walmart super-center in St. Cloud, Fla., called the police when 59-year-old Vanessa Ferreira, a cake decorator, walked out in protest Walmart’s low wages. The Huffington Post reports:
Ferreira informed her manager publicly Wednesday morning that she was going on strike. The other employees watched her walk out of the store, then went back to doing their jobs.
Within a half hour, Ferreira would be told by police outside that she was trespassing and ordered to leave. She’s worked in the store’s cake department for eight years, and she earns $11.90 an hour, she said.
Frereira was met by her family and other labor activists holding homemade protest signs. Walmart called the police, who quickly came to store’s aid and to remove the protesters:
According to Sgt. Denise Roberts of the St. Cloud Police Department, the police issued the trespassing warnings at Walmart’s request. They were not given summonses because no civil or criminal charges will be filed. In all, more than 20 such warnings were given to people outside.
“We did it on behalf of Walmart,” Roberts said. “Walmart just has a policy with this Black Friday that they don’t want anybody doing any demonstrations inside the store or outside.”
I was struck by the Sgt.’s proud admission that, “We did it on behalf of Walmart.”