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CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y.

Anti-racist boycott gains strength & support

By Leslie Feinberg

Cheektowaga, N.Y.

Placards held aloft outside the Walden Galleria mall here for motorists to see articulated the demands that are driving an economic boycott of this sprawling retail and entertainment complex:

Stop racist profiling. Stop racist police brutality.

No justice, no peace. Jim Crow must go.

All day long on April 14--the second Saturday in a row--anti-racist protesters came to spend time bolstering the boycott. Even with a constant turnover, as many as 80 people at a time, the majority African American, delivered the message outside the Walden Galleria mall: Don't shop here!

The audible response from drivers of all nationalities blaring their car, taxi, bus and truck horns in support created a continuous cacophony of welcome noise. Those who had been on the previous week's picket agreed that the response from motorists this time was even more overwhelming.

Some who came to shop stopped to join the picket instead. Some bus drivers opened vehicle doors to shout out encouragement. Some drivers pulled off on this busy highway to express their solidarity and get more information about this anti-apartheid struggle.

One African American driver stopped to hand out buckets of chicken, big bottles of soda pop, a roll of paper towels and hand-wipes for clean up--enough for everyone on the picket line.

Black civil-rights leaders have called for a month-long April boycott of establishments in this virtually all-white Buffalo suburb where patrons have experienced racist discrimination.

Town officials have tried to pooh-pooh the boycott's effectiveness. But since even disparaging remarks about the anti-racist struggle help publicize it, such remarks indicate their anxiety.

Mall owners blinked. They have now agreed to meet during the week of April 23 with the Coalition Against Racial Injustice, which called the boycott. That will follow a planned April 18 meeting with town officials and police.

'Justice for Cynthia Wiggins!'

Complaints about management and security targeting Black shoppers at the mall--the biggest in western New York--have piled sky high. The coalition is documenting and compiling these complaints.

No one will forget that here, on the broad, seven-lane highway the picketers face, Cynthia Wiggins died tragically and needlessly in December 1995.

Wiggins--a young Black mother--was hit by a truck while trying to cross Walden Avenue on her way to work at the mall. The bus she took from a predominantly Black community in Buffalo was not allowed to stop on mall property.

Lawyers for her estate argued that the reason for barring the bus from stopping at the mall was to discourage inner-city residents from shopping there. Mall owner Pyramid Corp. settled the lawsuit for $2.55 million in November 1999.

On April 14 an older man pointed to the sign that read "Justice for Cynthia Wiggins." He said, "It's that sign there I want."

That man was Mr. Leonard Wiggins--Cynthia Wiggin's father.

The Rev. Darius Pridgen, one of the leaders of the Coalition Against Racial Injustice, introduced Leonard Wiggins as a special guest. The crowd drew close to hear his words.

Leonard Wiggins explained that he came to show his support and when he got there, he was so happy to see the sign that read "Justice for Cynthia Wiggins." He said, "We really have to keep fighting one day at a time, and one day this will all end."

Wiggins said that it was because of
the struggle around his daughter's death that buses are now allowed to stop on mall property.

At that moment, a bus drove out of the mall parking lot. Many in the crowd pointed to it and shouted: "Look, there it is. That's the same bus line Cynthia rode the day she was killed!"

Rev. Pridgen pointed to the lawn on which everyone stood. "Look around," he said, "there are still no sidewalks here. They don't want people walking around here."

The shopping mall is just one business in this suburban labyrinth of major department stores, supermarkets and bookstores--all separated by this broad, dangerous highway. Those without cars have to traverse Walden Avenue on foot, with only breathless seconds to sprint across the lanes of dense traffic before the red light changes to green.

Institutionalized racism, rampant and ferocious, is not confined to mall property, however.

Three women of African descent who took part in today's protest had lived in Georgia, Texas and Brooklyn, N.Y. All three now attend the University of Buffalo law school.

They said that they had never experienced as much racist profiling until they came to Buffalo.

One of them talked about a fellow student using a pay phone in Cheektowaga. Six police cars screeched up and police jumped out to interrogate her as a "suspected drug dealer."

On this early spring day in Buffalo two placards held up high for everyone to see eloquently spelled out how to win this battle: "United we stand, divided we fall. Stand against racism!"

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