As fire and riots raged around Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue last week, several employees of an American Indian nonprofit called Migizi stayed behind to guard their building.
They wrote “native youth center” on the window to discourage attacks. Members of the American Indian Movement came to help. But rioters set fire to the block anyway. The inferno forced out the building’s protectors around 3:30 Friday morning.
When the nonprofit’s executive director, Kelly Drummer, returned to the scene a few hours later and saw the destruction, she said, “I knelt down and I just cried.”
The riots and arson that followed protests of George Floyd’s death have devastated organizations and businesses that serve communities of color. Destruction from the south side’s Lake Street to West Broadway in north Minneapolis has hit immigrant- and minority-owned businesses already struggling amid the pandemic-induced shutdown. Now, ethnically diverse neighborhoods are grappling with the loss of jobs, services and investments.
“People right now are going to want to stay away from Lake Street and that is understandable,” said Ricardo Hernandez, who owns an ice cream shop there called La Michoacana Purepecha. Workers gave away free Popsicles over the weekend after the shop lost power in the riots.
“It’s very hard to see your whole life savings go down like this. We used up all our money to build something nice for ... not just the Latino community, but everybody,” Hernandez said.
Although La Michoacana Purepecha had only minor damage from vandals, he expects a loss of business as many nearby establishments burned and the area remains under threat. His 20 employees, all Latino, are out of work until the neighborhood returns to normal.
On the same block, immigrant Luis Tamay saved for more than a decade to open his Ecuadorian restaurant, El Sabor Chuchi, seven years ago. His specialty was a soup called encebollado, made with tuna fish, yuca, fried plantain and onions. Tamay guarded his lifelong dream the first few nights of the riots, but stayed home on Friday night to abide by the curfew, assuming that he had nothing to fear with the National Guard in town.
He was aghast to see Facebook videos showing El Sabor Chuchi in flames — and even more so when he called 911 for help in vain. By the time Tamay got to his restaurant Saturday morning, it was burned to the ground, along with establishments on either side. He didn’t have insurance, he said, because quotes for the neighborhood were too high. The father of two was already working hard to pay his employees and other bills.
“There’s the freezer right there; the kitchen was right there,” Tamay said, pointing as he climbed the pile of rubble. “Seventeen years of work is gone.”
A building owned by Latina entrepreneur Maya Santamaria also burned down — and with it, the Spanish language radio station La Raza.
“Small, minority business owners found themselves with the businesses that they worked their fingers to the bone building destroyed, looted, vandalized and burned down,” Santamaria wrote on a GoFundMe page. “Some had no insurance. Others have no resources.”
Jeff Lusuer empathized with the protesters as he boarded up his West Broadway barbershop, where looters had broken in and stole some supplies. His other barbershop, on Lake Street, burned down amid the riots. Lusuer said his insurance should cover the losses, and that people have a right to be angry and the protests are a way to get their point across. As a black man, he said, he’s fed up with police too.
“Even though it hurt my businesses, I understand,” Lusuer said. As unrest grew last week, Areal Crawford noticed that some establishments on Lake Street highlighted the fact that they were owned by people of color in hopes of warding off attacks. The Himalayan Restaurant across the way had posted “minority-owned business,” and A & M Disaster Services nearby posted signs that said “Black owned.”
Crawford’s family lives off 29th Avenue behind O’Reilly Auto Parts, which was tagged with graffiti and burglarized. He feared that if arsonists set fire to the building it would quickly engulf his family’s home a few feet away. So he picked up a can of spray paint left by vandals and wrote: “Please don’t burn black home next door thanks.”
“I saw the minority-owned business signs going up and thought, ‘If that’s what it takes to get people to not burn [expletive] down, then that’s what it takes,’ ” Crawford said.
His father, Ken Crawford, stood guard at O’Reilly for days as rioters with golf clubs, baseball bats and tire irons trawled the neighborhood. He said he told them that if they set the building on fire that he had a gun and wasn’t afraid to use it. The antagonists were racially mixed at first, he said, but were nearly all white by Thursday night as protesters took over the Third Precinct. What troubled him and his family most, including wife Nina Sobotta, was that many of the troublemakers appeared to be outsiders.
“I don’t want people from different neighborhoods coming to tear up my stuff — this is all we’ve got,” said Ken Crawford, scanning the lot behind his house, which was littered with Cub Foods shopping carts that had been dumped by looters.
“Now the whole community is suffering,” he said.
Back at the 43-year-old nonprofit Migizi, which supports American Indian youth, Drummer recalled how she had helped raise $2 million to move into the new building on S. 27th Avenue last summer. The restaurant Gandhi Mahal, a few doors down, sent over food for the grand opening.
On Friday afternoon, Drummer gazed at the charred Migizi building as 20 officers formed a phalanx to block off the street and firefighters trained their hoses on the collapsed, smoldering Gandhi Mahal. That restaurant, too, had posted a minority-owned business sign.
“We’re policing ourselves,” Drummer said. “They didn’t care until after the building burned.”
While staff managed to save important cultural items from the fire, the loss of the space will be felt by young people, said youth development specialist LeVi Boucher.
“They have said, ‘Migizi is my home and I’m watching it burn’ and it didn’t have to be that way,” Boucher said.
Though not the epicenter of the riots, West Broadway also saw a string of businesses raided and damaged. It had been the city’s pre-eminent commercial corridor in the mid-20th century but was devastated by the flight of white and black middle-class residents after the 1960s race riots and the burning of nearby Plymouth Avenue. Broadway has gradually seen progress as business and community leaders pushed for redevelopment.
“You got the sense that [West Broadway] was slowly making its way forward,” said Don Samuels, a former school board and City Council member representing the area.
So he was horrified to see the raiding of Broadway Liquor Outlet and the gutting of U.S. Bank and other structures. Looters also hit a Walgreens and Cub Foods, the main grocery store in the area, which suffered damage. Now, residents of the mostly black neighborhood have no convenient way to get food and other supplies.
“Will it bounce back in a year or two or is this a death blow for decades?” Samuels asked. “Will people have the resources to rebuild?”
Maya Rao • 612-673-4210