The boycott, posed by New Hope leader Rev. Robert Jeffrey, follows angry and passionate rallies after Roberts' May 31 death at the hands of the Seattle police. Leaders of the black community in Seattle's Central District chose the Starbucks at 23rd Avenue South and South Jackson Street to kick off their economic protest.
The demonstrators, loosely led by the People's Coalition for Justice (PCJ) and the New Hope Baptist Church, have four main demands: elect an independent civilian review board for the police, fire Officers Greg Neubert and Craig Price, enact a city ordinance against racial profiling and police brutality, and develop an economic program to improve the quality of life in the Central District.
Their strategy is to target businesses "until they sign on and support our demands, and make it well known that they support our demands," said Dustin Washington, a young activist with the PCJ.
And while the demands the demonstrators have made are clear, the logic they are employing is not. Furthermore, the boycott idea hasn't been embraced by the very people needed to sustain it.
When the charismatic Rev. Jeffrey made the first call for a boycott during a June 6 rally in front of his church at 21st Avenue and East Fir Street, people who were blocking the intersection cheered along with him. But their banners depicting lives lost to police actions and slogans calling for a civilian review revealed the different direction they wanted to take.
However, Rev. Jeffrey pushed his boycott mantra later that night, in front of the East Precinct police office at 12th Avenue and East Pine Street.
Tellingly, when Rev. Jeffrey boomed over the megaphone, "All we've got to do is shut down some of their money, and they will understand we mean business," the crowd seemed more concerned with the locked-down police fortress behind him. Cries of "support black businesses" were drowned out by a teenage girl in the front asking, "But what about the police? What are we going to do about the police?"
The tepid reaction to the boycott idea was repeated at a June 9 planning meeting at the church. Washington's broad call for action ("Are you ready for a movement?") was met with enthusiasm, but when the microphone was turned over to the crowd, few talked about the boycott.
The first speaker, a black man and civil rights veteran, expressed concern about long-term success. "I don't want to be a part of a group that's going to fizzle out in two weeks," he said.
The concern--that people won't see a connection between police brutality and double-tall lattes--was echoed by city council members, the very people whose support is needed to forward the demands.
"I think if [a boycott] is what the community wants to do, they should go for it," said black Council Member Richard McIver, who was at the meeting. "But what do they want to achieve with it? Explain to me what they want Starbucks to do."
For Washington and Rev. Jeffrey, Starbucks equals gentrification--a trend they say has increased the African American poverty gap, making the area vulnerable to racial profiling and police brutality.
"Since our votes are not getting us what we need, we need to see if where we spend our money can," Rev. Jeffrey said.
The reverend does acknowledge confusion over his plan to target corporate power. Indeed, until those running the boycott delineate a sharper rationale to the public, it may not gather much support.
"If you're going to go to battle, you've got to have a battle plan," McIver says. "If you don't have a clear set of goals, how do you articulate them to the larger community?"