Immigrant business owners, hit hard by vandalism and looting, want justice for Floyd

People walk by a storefront with broken glass, with more people inside.
Sun Foods in St. Paul has been damaged during the protests against George Floyd on Thursday.
Dymanh Chhoun | Sahan Journal

This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing authentic news reporting about Minnesota's new immigrants and refugees. MPR News is a partner with Sahan Journal and will be sharing stories between SahanJournal.com and MPRNews.org

Along the trail of looting and vandalism left by a violent outburst of protest against the police killing of a black man, immigrant business owners on Friday swept broken glass, boarded up windows and counted their losses. But a number said they understood the protesters’ rage, and several also spoke out for justice for George Floyd. 

The smell of burned rubber hung in the air around the hard-hit intersection of Lake St. and Bloomington Ave., where Mercado Central and La Mexicana Grocery were completely boarded up. Outside of La Mexicana, which has been in business since 2003, peaceful activists painted slogans like “Black Lives Matter,” raised fists and other tributes over the boarded-up windows.

The manager of La Mexicana, who identified himself only by his first name, Mauro, said they’d asked his permission before they started painting. “I told them it was okay to try to show them that we care,” he said, and he denounced the killing of Floyd on Monday night.

“He should not have gone through that, and died that way,” Mauro said. “I hope he’s in heaven, and may his soul rest in peace.”

A crowd forced its way into the shop on the first night of the protests, he said. “They broke our registers, our screens, everything we have to make a sale.” Later, he said, he and other business operators caught people trying to break in — most recently three white men with crowbars who ran off when the business owners approached.

“This business was established many years ago, and with sacrifices,” he added. “And it’s all going to go up in flames just because of some crazy people?”

Across the street, Hassan Hamid estimated that he’d lost about $100,000 worth of equipment from the shop, Power Wireless, that he started eight years ago. He’d boarded the place up both nights, he said, but that didn’t stop looters from getting inside. 

“I don’t even have enough cash to bring this business back again,” said Hamid, who is originally from Ethiopia. “I do not know what I have to do right now.” But he added that he, too, wants to see justice for Floyd. 

Along another stretch of Lake St., Ibrahim Aden was clearing smashed glass from the floor of Best Quality Health Home Care, located on the first floor inside a commercial building. He came to the office Friday morning for an ordinary day of work, but found the doors to both the main building and his business smashed. Looters also broke the glass window of Ibrahim’s personal office. Broken glass blanketed every step into the establishment. 

The reception desk was destroyed and the computer was on the floor. The filing cabinets and tables in the back office were damaged, as well.

“I really don’t understand the reason they did this,” he said. “It’s sad, but I’m lucky enough that I’m still alive, and that they didn’t burn down the whole building.”

Other Somali-owned businesses in the area were damaged, as well, including the beloved Qurxlow Restaurant. Dur Dur Bakery, which posted a thank-you on Facebook to people who helped keep damage there to a minimum, had wood over the door and windows.

Nuruldin Nur, an entrepreneur who was out with his friends surveying the damage, said he knew of a number of businesses that were damaged, and said he felt bad for residents of the area who depended on those establishments — and will now have to travel farther to shop. 

On Friday evening before the sun set, a team of volunteers helped board up windows in a row of immigrant-owned businesses at Lexington and University. Inside her day-care center, an East African woman who spoke on condition that she not be identified, said she was scared. The windows had been smashed and the door broken the night before.

“We sent them home,” she said of the children. “We cannot work like this.”

The woman said she understood the feelings of the protesters. “They are showing the anger that came out,” she said. “I feel for what happened.”

Next door, the New Asia Express restaurant was boarded up. The night before, owner David Barnes had stood guard outside – with a gun. “You can’t rely on police,” he said. Barnes, who is Ethiopian, owned another Minneapolis restaurant that was looted Wednesday. 

The owner of the neighboring Cricket cell phone store, an Asian American woman, had put out a sign: “Store empty. Looters took it all.”

Sheila Regan contributed to this story.

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