Black community leaders launch ‘Unity in the Community’ effort, call for end to violence _lowres

Advocate file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- The Rev. Reginald Pitcher speaks to participants at a rally at the McKinley Alumni Center earlier this year. Pitcher, the longtime president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has been suspended from his job by the national chapter of the civil rights organization over his call for a boycott of businesses in the wake of the Alton Sterling shooting.

Rev. Reginald Pitcher, the longtime head of the Baton Rouge chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has been suspended from his job by the national chapter of the civil rights organization over his call for a boycott of businesses in the wake of the Alton Sterling shooting.

Charles Steele Jr., president and chief executive officer of the SCLC, said in a letter that Pitcher’s suspension is effective immediately. It will remain in place until Pitcher is able to meet with Steele or Bernard LaFayette Jr., chairman of the SCLC’s national board of directors.

“Your actions in Baton Rouge as the local president have not been communicated nor approved by myself as president/CEO nor by the board of directors,” Steele said in the letter.

Pitcher said he found out about the suspension through the media and had not been contacted by Steele or SCLC leaders. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m still the president in Louisiana and will operate as such,” he said.

Pitcher, along with leaders of the local NAACP and Nation of Islam, called for residents to refrain from shopping at the Mall of Louisiana, Cortana Mall and area Wal-Mart stores over the July 8 weekend to protest Sterling’s shooting by Baton Rouge Police. The goal was to place economic pressure on business leaders to force an arrest of the two officers implicated in the shooting.

“The problem came up when we added Wal-Mart to our list,” Pitcher said. The retail giant has some kind of sponsorship of the SCLC or its annual convention, he said.

Pitcher said Steele contacted him, voicing concerns about including Wal-Mart in the boycott. “I’m doing what’s best for us here,” Pitcher said. “This has nothing to do with any source of funding for the national organization.”

The call for a boycott of local business to force non-violent social change “follows to a T” the dictates of the Rev. Martin Luther King, who co-founded the SCLC in the wake of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, Pitcher said.

Steele said he wasn’t going to debate Pitcher in the press, but the suspension was all about failing to follow protocol.

“You cannot lead a boycott of any national corporation or take a stand on a national issue without the approval of the national office,” Steele said. “It’s a courtesy that you contact the national office.”

Pitcher said the first boycott of local businesses “was significant” and had more of an effect than anticipated. After the community settles down following Sunday’s fatal shooting of two Baton Rouge Police and one East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s deputy, more boycotts will resume.

The plan is to rotate the boycotts and ask people not to make purchases at fast-food restaurants on one day, then avoid department stores on another. That will maximize the economic impact.

“We’re in mourning right now over the three officers who lost their lives,” Pitcher said. “But once it all calms down, we will get back to the selective buying campaign.”

Steele said the local board of the SCLC will decide on a replacement for Pitcher. “If worst comes to worst, we may have an indefinite suspension,” he said.

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.