After Riots, Business Owners Plan Next Steps
The sounds in Uptown Minneapolis on Friday were overwhelming: broken glass being swept up, numerous power tools and hammers being used to cut and install plywood protection to the windows and doors of nearly every business, the honking of car horns as people held up traffic to take pictures out their windows, and in the distance, the interspersed blaring of sirens.
For three nights in a row, violence rocked businesses in the South Minneapolis neighborhood where George Floyd died in police custody on Monday. By Thursday, the destruction spread through other urban corridors in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and by Friday morning, business owners were out assessing the damage. Some bustled about, clearly frazzled, while others were still and solemn.
Paul Mostrom, manager of Magers & Quinn Booksellers on Hennepin Avenue in Uptown, was more of the latter. “To be honest, I’m not reflecting a lot at the moment,” said Mostrom. He said he hadn’t slept in two days, and he was waiting on some guys who were boarding up the shattered front window of his store. “This whole situation, for me, has been personally very troubling, right from the start. The property damage is frustrating and hard to deal with, but it’s the least tragic thing about this situation.”
Most of Magers & Quinn’s neighboring businesses also had shattered windows and doors—if not more extensive damage. Apple Uptown, just a few doors down, was totally looted overnight, said Sergio Diaz, of Chicago, Illinois-based Ernie’s Glass. Diaz and his company were subcontracted by Apple corporate to board up Twin Cities Apple stores. But, because they had to drive from Chicago, Apple had asked another company to board up their Apple Uptown store yesterday when they saw crowds moving that way. It didn’t matter. Looters still got in.
“That place is a mess. Everything’s gone, or if it’s not gone, it’s broken,” Diaz said. “Right now, we’re waiting for the police. Corporate doesn’t want us to go in until police come. But all this, it just doesn’t make sense. There’s other ways of approaching this. People are going to listen to you, but they aren’t going to listen to you if you do this,” he said, gesturing to the store.
A street over, the Running Room was loading hundreds of shoeboxes into the back of an unmarked moving truck. “Yesterday, we boarded up the front of the store, but they ended up coming over the top of the glass and ransacking the store,” said general manager Darcy Derard. Looters didn’t take a ton of product, he said, but they did cause substantial property damage. “Our plan is to house the product off-site until all of this calms down and all the businesses can get back to function and to keep our staff safe. We don’t want them coming here; we don’t want our frontline people at the store being exposed to this.”
He added, “It’s a little disheartening, to be honest. You know, we put businesses in these communities to help the community grow and to create job opportunities for local people and for people who live, reside, and play in the area, and I think [the looting and property damage to businesses] really detracts from what the protestors are trying to get across…It’s just aimless recklessness that’s harming businesses and harming the community and punishing them for something that they didn’t do.”
Even the businesses that displayed their support for the protest weren’t spared.
“We had signs up that said, ‘we support the protest,’ but still, we had damage,” said Dee Noree, owner of Amazing Thailand restaurant, as he swept glass from his shattered front door.
“I am 100 percent behind the movement of Justice for George because I’ve lived here for 20 years, and there’s definitely a deep-rooted subculture that exists. And because of that, I stand for it, and I’m 100 percent behind the movement,” said Amanda Olysanya, owner of James Irving Grooming on West Lake Street. “But I have mixed emotions because most of us business owners in the Cities are behind the movement, and it’s people outside the city who are onlookers looking in who have more judgment and less information of the culture that exists. So I’m more worried about the people outside of the community than in the community.”
Olysanya was boarding up her barber shop with cardboard—several pieces said “Justice for George” in black paint—because she couldn’t find plywood.
Professional Exteriors Inc. owner Brad Hildreth and employee Tim Mattson said there’s now a plywood shortage. Across the street, the two were boarding up Italian restaurant Amore Uptown on the corner of West Lake Street and Irving Avenue South.
“Plywood now is very hard to come by. I just called our office to help us find it wherever we can find it,” Hildreth said. “I had to go to Forest Lake this morning to get it. … We’re having to go further and further.
Hildreth and Mattson, who’d been working 18-hour shifts to board up around 20 businesses over the past several days, also said that they’ve been forced to charge customers almost double their usual rate because of the demand and the difficulty of finding supplies.
“I feel bad because these are mom-and-pop shops that have been closed for three months because of corona[virus],” said Mattson.
“It feels like we’re kicking them while they’re down,” Hildreth added.
And, farther down the street, Mohammed Hasan, a manager at Uptown Smoke Shop, paced outside his store. “All my inventory is gone,” he said. “I’m sad. And not just for myself but for everyone else involved. Look around us. We live in a vampire city now. Is this how we look for justice? Is this how we look for our rights? It’s all wrong.”
“I don’t think what’s happening right now is a solution,” said Glass Doctor’s Clay Jackson as he packed up his van after boarding up some offices on Hennepin Avenue, “but I do think it’s a consequence.”
Still, several business owners voiced their support for the protests.
“Grief and outrage at George Floyd’s murder by the Minneapolis police, and the decades and centuries of racist terror his killing represents, has been met by indifference, violence and more terrorizing by the police,” Moon Palace Books said in a statement. “Things that may be lost or damaged in our building are just things, but your life is priceless, just like George Floyd’s life was priceless.”
On Friday, the owners of Gandhi Mahal Restaurant released a statement saying the family-owned restaurant had been damaged and caught fire.
“We won’t lose hope though,” they said in a Facebook post. “Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover. This is Hafsa, Ruhel’s daughter writing, as I am sitting next to my dad watching the news, I hear him say on the phone: ‘Let my building burn, justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.’ Gandhi Mahal may have felt the flames last night, but our fiery drive to help protect and stand with our community will never die.”
Clarence Bethea, CEO and founder of Upsie, a St. Paul-based warranty platform, has encouraged businesses to work together and help their communities.
“As a business leader and a person of color, this is troubling from both a personal and professional standpoint,” Bethea said. “Business leaders have a responsibility to make an impact in their communities and we plan to continue our work advocating for equality and creating opportunities for everyone. We have always promoted equity and inclusion, and the events of this week have fueled that fire even more to be a voice of change.”
Preparing for the weekend, Mayor Jacob Frey declared an 8 p.m. curfew for Friday and Saturday night, which is into effect through 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday morning.
Law enforcement, fire, medical personnel, and additional personnel authorized by the city are exempt from the order, as are those seeking care, fleeing dangerous circumstances, or experiencing homelessness. Being in public places and streets past 8 p.m. can be punished by a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail.
The public has been calling for the arrest of Chauvin for days, with many arguing that he hadn’t been treated as a typical citizen would have been. In response to the outrage, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said it is the fastest the office has ever charged a police officer.
“We have now been able to put together the evidence that we need. Even as late as yesterday afternoon we didn’t have all that we needed. We have now found it. And we felt the responsibility to charge this as soon as possible,” Freeman said during the press conference.
The evidence gathered includes the widely circulated video, the body-worn camera footage, statements from witnesses, the preliminary autopsy report, and discussions with an expert.
“I am not insensitive to what’s happened in the streets. My own home has been picketed regularly,” Freeman said. “We cannot and I will not allow us to charge a case until it’s ready. This case is now ready, and we have charged it.”
As the investigation is ongoing, there may be subsequent charges later, he said. Freeman would not comment on the investigation or any pending charges to the other three former police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd.
“[Chauvin] had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total. Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr. Floyd was non-responsive. Police are trained that this type of restraint with a subject in a prone position is inherently dangerous,” the criminal complaint stated.
The complaint also detailed how Floyd was held at gunpoint, handcuffed, and was pulled from the police car and held to the ground by Chauvin.
“The investigation is ongoing. We felt it appropriate to focus on the most dangerous perpetrator,” Freeman said.
The events that unfolded this week have left some calling for drastic changes. Minnesota state Rep. Aisha Gomez, for instance, has called for the abolition of police.
“There is no reform that can fix this system,” she said in a statement this week. “The rot in police departments is the rot in our political and social systems, crystallized and heavily armed. It is a reflection of our country, built on the enslavement of African people and the genocide and dispossession of Native people, reliant on exploited immigrant labor to enforce the racialized social order and help the powerful accumulate wealth. The police exist to uphold this social order, with deadly force when necessary.”
In a press conference today, Gov. Tim Walz called for reestablishing order in the Twin Cities. He also apologized for the arrest of a CNN reporter and crew by the state patrol.
“Minnesotans, your pain is real. The chapter that’s been written this week is one of our darkest chapters,” Walz said.
The governor noted that he is prepared to offer state assistance to businesses who have been affected by this week’s protests.
During the press conference, Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison called for people to examine the reasons leading to riots.
“Martin Luther King said many years ago that riot is the way that the unheard get heard. He didn’t condone it, but he said to the nation as a person who always protested peacefully. Don’t just dismiss that and ignore it and relegate it to just criminality and bad behavior. Actually ask yourself what’s going on there. Is it something that we as a society absolutely must pay attention to?” Ellison said.