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Helpers on Lake Street pick up the pieces after minority businesses sacked

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The morning after protests over George Floyd’s death turned into the spectacular looting of Lake Street, the Walgreens Pharmacy at 31st Avenue emitted a constant, whirring alarm.

The front doors had been ripped from their hinges. The sprinklers were still on. Inside was a landslide of debris floating in a muddy soup of broken glass and wet cardboard. Prescription pills littered the lawn. “Kill cops” was spray-painted prominently on the facade – one of many calls to arms replicated on bus shelters, street signs, and boarded-up businesses up and down Lake Street.

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A man with a mohawk, Derek Vander Vorste, arrived at the Walgreens Pharmacy at 31st Avenue, broom in hand, and started clearing the sidewalk of glass.

Dressed all in black with a handkerchief masking half his face, he looked like the type of young white anarchist often blamed for escalating conflict at Black Lives Matter protests. Vander Vorste said he left Wednesday’s demonstrations before things went south, and returned to clean up because city workers were spread too thin to do it alone.

“If we do this, we should clean it up,” he said. “Places like [Walgreens], it’s a national company, I don’t really think too much of it. Places like [Saigon Garage] over there, it’s sad to see this happen especially to the people that are being hurt, that the whole protest started around. But I mean, that’s what happens when stuff gets carried away.”

Across the street, the Vietnamese-owned Saigon Garage also had its windows smashed and its contents destroyed.

An artist who goes by Zaïre swept up pieces of its front door. He said he was out late Wednesday to witness the rioting, which he saw as a natural extension of the hopelessness Minneapolitans felt to effect change or live freely. Zaïre said it didn’t make sense to him that protesters would hit minority-owned businesses. 

“I’m not saying, ‘Go get the white people,'" he said, gesturing at a white woman cleaning alongside him. "I don't know her. She’s never done anything to me. Generalizations and simplifications and throwing people into groups like this is a huge factor at the root of this. So I’m interested in solutions, not continuing the problem.”

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Down Lake Street, everything was swathed in a bright, hazy gloom. Police barricaded car traffic as fire trucks hosed down half-built apartments that had been burned and gutted. A current of dazed pedestrians meandered down Lake Street as small business owners tried to board up the holes in their storefronts and spray over the “Fuck 12” graffiti covering every surface.

Several damaged businesses had written on their plywood barricades, “Minority owned.” Looted mom-and-pop restaurants include Midori’s Café, El Nuevo Rodeo, and Addis Ababa, among many others.

At Hennepin Healthcare’s East Lake Clinic, Emily Figueroa swept debris. She’s a longtime resident of the neighborhood, and a patient of the clinic with friends who worked in area businesses.

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“I understand the frustration and anger. I got it too and I want justice,” she said. “But people who are working every day over here are doing it for the community, and we don’t need violence on each other. We don’t need to be worried about all of this. This is ridiculous. This business is important. It’s bad enough that we have this virus running around killing people. We don’t need each other to be killed.”

The strip mall at Lake and Hiawatha was the scene of nonstop looting Thursday morning. As a man dragged a plastic kiddie pool full of items from Target out to his car, a woman in a wheelchair shouted to no one in particular, “Don’t bring your babies out here. Tear gas will be flying soon. The end times are coming. I can see that.”

Cops were nowhere to be found. A mobile Minneapolis Police Department security camera laid tipped-over and smoldering in a pile of rubble in the parking lot with a pig spray-painted on its side.

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Every store in the strip mall had been broken into except a Chinese laundromat, where owners Dave Chen and Kevin Zhang – who immigrated to America some 30 years ago – stood guard outside all night.  

“They could only worry, what could they do?” Zhang said in Mandarin of their family members at home. “We had no cell service because there were too many people.”

Outside the 3rd Precinct police station, a crowd gathered around preachers from New Salem Baptist Church, who stood between protesters and a formation of police officers carrying long guns and marking rounds, urging a return to peace.

“We are not in a position to get in a war with police. Not here, not today, not last night,” said Marlon Moore as he argued with protesters trying to justify looting as protest against capitalism. “We lost a lot last night. We lost resources. Somebody is suffering right now in silence because she can’t get to the store and she lives five blocks from here. Somebody’s kid doesn’t have diapers and milk because somebody decided to take them home with them last night.”

Susan Du

Susan Du

Tri Hern, who reminded people that a suspected looter had been shot and killed the night before, promised to be on watch Thursday to intervene in case rioting resumes.

“They’re coming to the city to do that. That don’t have anything to do with George,” he said of protesters driving into the south Minneapolis neighborhood to start fires. “When you see them doing all that bullshit, you should turn around and say, ‘Man, what are you doing?’
You got to be understanding what’s going on. A lot of people use this platform for bullshit and we’re gonna prevent that from happening today. And I don’t give a damn how long that take us.”