Commentary: Why Should Retailers Pay The Price For Tracie Hunter's Imprisonment?
This past weekend, during the 57th annual Cincinnati Music Festival, there were dozens of vendors and black-owned businesses set up on Fountain Square to sell their food and art and clothing to the tens of thousands of African Americans who came from all over the country for the two-day event.
One that struck my eye Saturday as a I walked around through the square was a T-shirt selling for $25.
Black Dollars Matter, the T-shirt read.
No argument about that.
The event poured an estimated $107 million into the local economy.
Not a bad haul for a two-day affair.
But it might have been considerably less, had some supporters of former juvenile court judge Tracie Hunter had their way.
Hunter was sent to jail last week – dragged by deputies out of the courtroom of Judge Patrick Dinkelacker – to serve a six-month sentence on a single count of giving confidential documents to her brother.
Back in Dec. 2014, then-Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced her to six months in jail. But her lawyers managed to fend off the carrying out of the sentence with a series of appeals. Hunter hit the end of the line last week and is now in the Hamilton County Justice Center.
Almost immediately after Hunter was booked into jail last Thursday, some of her most high-profile supporters were calling for an economic boycott of the Music Festival that was to begin Friday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
One of them, State Sen. Cecil Thomas, almost immediately after Hunter was jailed, was doing a TV interview in which he urged the festival goers not to spend any money in Cincinnati.
"We are encouraging to those who have the opportunity to do to cancel their (hotel) reservations,'' Thomas said.
Other African American leaders stopped short of calling for a boycott of all white-owned businesses. The Rev. Damon Lynch III, who has actually led a general boycott in 2001 after a Cincinnati police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man named Timothy Thomas, asked festival goers to "only shop and eat at black-owned businesses and restaurants."
The boycott organized by Lynch's Black United Front after the violence on the streets of Cincinnati in 2001 is estimated to have cost the city about $10 million in revenue – or about $14 million in today's dollars.
Eventually, the police, African American leaders, business owners, city officials and others got together and worked out the Collaborate Agreement – which has become something of a model for cities where there is a need for improving relations between police and African American citizens.
But, in the case of the 2001 riots and the short-lived Tracie Hunter "boycott" – the tactic was not particularly effective.
Boycotts are a legitimate tool to be used by people who believed they have been wronged by the government or by private businesses. Unions have used them for decades, aimed directly at companies that have prevented workers from joining unions or have refused to bargain with unions in good faith.
The classic American boycott took place in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. It started when an African-American seamstress named Rosa Parks was sent to jail for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man. By law, blacks were to sit in the back of the bus and give up their seats to whites.
Rosa Parks' act of civil disobedience became a national symbol for the civil rights movement. A young Baptist minister in Montgomery named Martin Luther King Jr. organized the hugely successful Montgomery bus boycott.
Word of the boycott spread by fliers; King and other activists formed the Montgomery Improvement Association.
On the first night of the boycott, the 26-year-old King told a large crowd at a Montgomery church that "the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for the right."
King began receiving many death threats and, at one point, his home was bombed. He and his family escaped unharmed.
The boycott went on for over a year and seriously crippled the Montgomery bus system, which depended on blacks for about 70 percent of its ridership.
On Nov. 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Alabama and Montgomery bus segregation laws as a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The next day, African Americans went back on the buses. Rosa Parks was one of the first on board.
So, why did the Montgomery bus boycott succeed where so many others fail?
Because it was aimed directly at the entity that was violating people's rights – the Montgomery bus system.
King and his committee didn't tell people to boycott every business in Montgomery – just the one that was doing them harm.
There was no reason to punish all of Montgomery because the bus system was being run in violation of the law – although they could find many other examples of racial discrimination in the Deep South in the mid-1950s.
But the bus system was targeted because the bus system had violated Rosa Parks' rights.
White-owned businesses in Cincinnati – or businesses owned by African Americans or Hispanic or Asians – had done nothing to put Tracie Hunter behind bars. The fact is, Tracie Hunter put herself behind bars.
Why should others pay the price for that?