Looted and smoldering, ‘Lake Street, the great street’ braces for more

Barricades in the street.
On Lake Street, barricades in the street are made of construction material and shopping carts, Thursday. Smoke is pouring off the buildings. Violent protests over the death of George Floyd broke out in Minneapolis for a second straight night, with protesters in a standoff with officers outside the 3rd Precinct and looting of nearby stores.
Jon Collins | MPR News

Someone busted the doors and smashed out the windows of the Cub Foods grocery store just off Lake Street. A package of chicken, Mountain Dew bottles and a tray of canned vegetables lay in the entryway. Inside, sprinkler systems soaked the shelves. 

It was a similar situation over and over. At a dollar store, a tobacco store, liquor stores and Target. People were still leaving the businesses Thursday morning with armfuls of goods, while city workers helped secure barriers at the city’s 3rd Precinct across the street.

Zainab Ali lives in another part of Minneapolis, but drove in to see for herself what had become of Lake Street after two nights of violent standoffs between police and protesters. Some protesters shattered the windows of squad cars or spray-painted walls, while police fired off marking rounds and teargas. 

Ali has been upset since learning about George Floyd’s death, crying almost every night, but said the destruction around her — from smoldering buildings to ransacked storefronts — was heartbreaking. 

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“We've got to find a way to talk to each other, to have a clear and concise conversation about racial divide and what’s happening to black people in this country,” Ali said. “However, this — what we’re seeing today — is not the answer. Destroying our city is not the answer.”

And it wasn’t just property that was lost. Police are investigating the shooting death of one man from Wednesday night near Bloomington Avenue and Lake Street. Mayor Jacob Frey today vowed an “all-out effort” for peace and security Thursday evening, but south Minneapolis is steeling itself for the potential of more anger and destruction.

Across the parking lot from Ali, only smoking rubble remained of a Wendy’s restaurant, and flames still leapt out of an almost 200-apartment affordable housing development that had been under construction. 

‘Never quite like this’

Lynne Balfour has lived in the neighborhood off Lake Street for more than two decades. "Lake Street, the great street — that's what we call it,” she said of the commercial artery, which is chock-a-block with mom-and-pop businesses, many of them owned by immigrants.

Balfour said she’s accustomed to protests in south Minneapolis. But she doesn't believe the destruction in the neighborhood is the work of protesters. She blames others who she thinks took advantage of their opportunity to create havoc. 

“When we first bought our house here, Lake Street was going through a very difficult time, but never quite like this,” she said. “I never thought I’d live to see the day where this happened in our city.”

Damaged jewelry store
Thurston Jewelers near the corner of Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue was damaged during the protests Wednesday night into Thursday.
Brandt Williams | MPR News

Up and down Lake Street, shop owners and employees swept up glass and tried to clean up stock. Gita Zitler owns Urban Forage Winery and Cider House, which was vandalized overnight. It had already been closed due to the pandemic, and she burst into tears at the sight of it now.

“We are closed for three months. We have no income. How are we going to do this now?” she said.

Zitler said she supports justice for George Floyd, the black man who died after a white police officer dug his knee into his neck for several minutes. She said she hopes charges come before the entire neighborhood is destroyed.

‘Can’t bring him back’

Down the road, Quintise Henry is watching firefighters put out a blaze in a cell phone store. The building is gutted.

”It’s chaotic. It’s not worth a life,” Henry said of the smoking and vandalized buildings on the street. It doesn’t make up for a life. Can’t bring him back.”

On Thursday morning, most police officers stayed in the bounds of the nearby police precinct, but a small group accompanied the firefighters as they put out the fire in the cell phone shop. Some residents taunted them from the sidewalk, asking why they hadn't done their jobs. 

Standing next to Henry, Lauren Rimestad said the police disappeared around 2 a.m. Thursday.

“When they are here, the police almost seem a little happy, it’s like they trained for this and this is something they really wanted to be here for,” Rimestad said. “There’s smiles on their faces now.”

Grocery store damage.
The damage at Cub Foods on Lake Street. Violent protests over the death of George Floyd broke out in Minneapolis for a second straight night.
Jon Collins | MPR News

Minneapolis officials said Thursday morning that they responded to several dozen fires overnight — including 16 building fires. As the scene Wednesday became more volatile and the crowd became more mobile, resources became stretched, said Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. 

Frey said city officials will try to figure out how to help businesses and residents whose property was damaged, but money was limited because of the coronavirus pandemic and a projected budget shortfall of up to $200 million.

Meanwhile, some residents are trying to make the best of the situation, and keep the focus on George Floyd. Michael Dunn was at the protest the night before. The Iraq War veteran was taking donations to raise money for Floyd’s family in exchange for snacks and drinks. 

“I went to Costco and purchased a bunch of different things, and I figured I would go around and see who was willing to truly, truly say, ‘Hey, we’re George Floyd’s neighbor,’” he said.