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UPDATE: Protests lead to arrests at a Rancho Cordova Walmart, Arden Fair mall

Nearly 200 protesters demanding a higher minimum wage and better hours for Wal-Mart workers blocked traffic at a major Rancho Cordova intersection Friday morning, part of a nationwide planned protest by some employees and UFCW union members.
Nearly 200 protesters demanding a higher minimum wage and better hours for Wal-Mart workers blocked traffic at a major Rancho Cordova intersection Friday morning, part of a nationwide planned protest by some employees and UFCW union members. dsmith@sacbee.com

Holiday shoppers provided the backdrop for protesters’ calls for economic and social justice on Black Friday that led to dozens of arrests outside a Rancho Cordova Walmart and hours of demonstrations and a handful of arrests outside Sacramento’s Arden Fair mall.

In Rancho Cordova, demonstrators sat in the middle of Zinfandel Drive and Folsom Boulevard late Friday morning blocking the streets in protest against retail giant Wal-Mart over employee wages and hourly schedules.

In Sacramento several hours later, a group of about 60 demonstrators gathered outside a crowded Arden Fair to protest Monday’s decision by a Ferguson, Mo., grand jury to exonerate a white police officer who fired the fatal shots that killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man. By nightfall, five were arrested.

Carrying signs that read “Hands up. Don’t shop!,” “No Justice. No Profits,” and “Black Lives Matter,” demonstrators gathered peacefully outside one of the mall’s entrances, while a police helicopter circled overhead.

“The facts are there. The numbers are there. This is not random,” said protester Cary Johnson outside Arden Fair, referencing the instances of young black men shot by police. He carried a sign that read “Am I Next?”

Johnson said he hoped that rallies like Friday’s – timed for one of the year’s biggest shopping days of the year – will keep the issues in the public eye.

Similar demonstrations took place in New York, St. Louis and other cities across the country – part of a campaign organized on social media. Encouraged by black celebrities in the arts and film industries, the boycott effort urged consumers to refrain from shopping on Black Friday as a way to draw attention to the Ferguson case and other issues. Consumer research firm Nielsen has pegged black buying power at nearly $1 trillion annually.

“Profits are not the most important thing, our children’s lives are,” said Jamier Sale of Natomas, carrying a large red flag with the silhouetted likeness of revolutionary icon Che Guevara in an Arden Fair parking lot. “This whole thing is about economic equity.”

As night began to fall, groups of protesters blocked an intersection at the mall’s main entrance and were told to disperse. When they did not, police arrested them on allegations of failing to disperse, said Sacramento police Officer Doug Morse.

Five people, three adults and two juveniles were detained in a police van at the mall entrance. They were cited and later released, police said.

Police blocked the main entrance to the mall where the van was parked with yellow police tape and the crowds of protesters were met by close rows of Sacramento police officers.

“We’re trying to give them a safe place to protest and allow people to move safely through the area,” Morse said.

As many as 35 protesters were detained and cited Friday morning at Walmart in Rancho Cordova. They were dozens among the nearly 200 Wal-Mart workers, organized labor and food workers who rallied in front of the 10665 Folsom Blvd. store.

“We want the attention of our politicians. It’s time for people to stand up,” said Margaret Hooten, 54, of Placerville, who earns $10.20 an hour. Hooten said her boyfriend also works for the retailer. “It takes two of us to make a household. It’s wrong. I couldn’t walk into a Walmart store without doing this.”

The rally was one of many similar protests that took place near Walmart stores in other U.S. cities Friday, part of a campaign to demand higher wages, more opportunities for full-time work and better policies for pregnant staffers.

“Perception is never reality with labor unions. The crowds are mostly made up of paid union demonstrators and they are not representative of our 1.3 million associates across the country,” said Kory Lundberg, a Wal-Mart spokesman, in a written statement. “This is our busiest time of the year. We’re excited to kick off the holiday season and are focused on serving our customers. It’s unfortunate that this group attempts to disrupt the holiday spirit to push their agenda. The reality is that Wal-Mart is focused every day on providing our associates with opportunities for job growth.”

The Rancho Cordova protesters moved to the intersection of Folsom and Zinfandel Drive after 11 a.m., under the watch of Rancho Cordova police and Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies. About 40 demonstrators sat in a large circle in the middle of the intersection blocking traffic as protesters chanted, “This is what democracy looks like!” and “We believe that we will win.”

Kathleen Peart of Rancho Cordova lives nearby and watched the demonstration unfold from the store’s parking lot. A self-described “nosy neighbor,” Peart wondered what effect the protests would have.

“Big money talks and we’re just little folks here,” Peart said.

One by one, those sitting in the intersection were placed in wrist restraints by deputies and led to a waiting sheriff’s bus, where they were cited and released. A woman dressed as Santa Claus was taken away by deputies and greeted with cheers inside the bus.

Legal observers monitoring the protest and posted outside the sheriff’s bus counted 35 detainees.

Tony Amerikhass, manager of the Folsom Boulevard Walmart, said Black Friday business was not disrupted by the rally, adding that the number of shoppers was “comparable to last year.” He said no employees from his store participated in Friday’s demonstration.

Shoppers carting their Black Friday booty – flat-screen televisions and shopping bags of clothes – made their way across the parking lot.

Wal-Mart employees at the protest said many work only part-time and rely on public assistance to help stretch their wages.

Sacramento resident Shannon Henderson, 29, works at a Walmart on Florin Road as a “customer service associate,” the term Wal-Mart calls its employees. She said she earns $9.60 an hour at the 30-hour-a-week position and relies on public assistance to fill the gap.

Henderson said she attended the protest to help send a message to the retailer and other U.S. corporations.

“I feel like Wal-Mart sets the standard for other corporations. What Wal-Mart does, the others follow suit. With more money and hours, people can support their families,” Henderson said. “You shouldn’t have to rely on assistance when you work for the largest company in the world.”

Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.

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