Magnificent Mile Protest: A View From the Inside
I stepped out of the Chicago and State train station mid-morning on Black Friday to a strong gust of cold wind and rain. The sting of the weather seemed fitting, as if it was bracing me for my eight-hour day and the onslaught of rowdy customers that I was sure I would face as a sales associate at Cole Haan.
Walking down Michigan Avenue on busy days takes a heightened level of patience: tourists and shoppers pay more attention to store windows than street lights. But today was different; foot traffic was unusually calm, the Magnificent Mile seemed abnormally still and my commute to work was, strangely, uninterrupted.
Contrary to my expectations of Black Friday morning, I wasn’t greeted by a crowd of demanding customers at Cole Haan. Instead, I walked into an army of employees, anxiously waiting near the front door, ready to clamber to any customer that walked in.
Two hours and two unimpressive sales later, I looked outside and saw the first batch of Laquan McDonald protesters pouring down the Magnificent Mile. The sight of them wasn’t a surprise; their expected presence there had dominated headlines, local newscasts and social media for days, since a police officer was charged with murder in McDonald’s shooting death, and a police cruiser dashcam video of the shooting was released under a judge’s order.
I grabbed my camera and ran outside. Protesters of every age and race lined both sides of the street, holding signs and crying out, “No justice, no peace, no racist police!”
I ran back into Cole Haan 15 minutes later — soaked and cold with a fresh set of photos of the demonstration — to a staff of employees eagerly waiting near the entrance of the store, wondering what would happen next.
Customers huddled inside the store, anxiously staring out the window at the commotion on the street. They asked us if we were scared of protesters becoming violent; they asked us if it was safe to cross the street to other stores. But their questions left us speechless, without an answer to give.
Less than an hour later, we got our answer. A chain of protesters blocked our entrance, as well as those of all the stores we could see around us. The guard who had been hired to provide added security for that weekend tried to open the doors, but protesters would not give way.
They berated the guard, who was black, for choosing to work that day instead of protesting with them. He locked the doors in silence, and our district manager apologized to him on the protesters’ behalf. Most of the staff gathered around the front door; many said they understood the cause, but wanted to make money, especially on a day known for being the single busiest shopping event of the year.
The rest of the day remained largely uneventful for many stores, most of which were forced to close early. By 1 p.m., there were only a few customers shopping on Michigan, and there certainly wouldn’t be many coming to the Mile after that.
We missed our goal by 10 percent, and this year, employees won’t be getting their eagerly awaited bonuses. But the protesters accomplished what they had set out to do.
To many, hundreds of protesters won on Black Friday, but I can’t help but wonder if shutting down Michigan Avenue brought any real justice for Laquan.