Home Business ‘Please, I Don’t Have Insurance’: Businesses Plead With Protesters – The New...

‘Please, I Don’t Have Insurance’: Businesses Plead With Protesters – The New York Times

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In downtown Chicago, people crawled through the partially shattered exterior window of a Nike store and ran out carrying brightly colored athletic gear and sneakers.

On Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, they ignited garbage cans and broke locks on luxury stores, sweeping up armfuls of designer handbags and jeans.

And as night fell on Minneapolis, the heart of widening protests set off by the death of an African-American man in police custody there, business owners stood outside their doors and pleaded with agitators to spare the enterprises that many said they had spent their life savings to build.

“I was outside saying, ‘Please, I don’t have insurance!’” said Hussein Aloshani, an immigrant from Iraq, waving his arms in frustration as he recounted the scene Friday night outside the deli his family owns.

Businesses across the country suffered destruction over the weekend as protesters unleashed their anger over the death of George Floyd on commercial enterprises — from the offices of major multinational corporations and banks to family-owned restaurants and bars.

In some places, demonstrators scrawled graffiti on storefronts decrying police brutality against African-Americans, or echoing some of Mr. Floyd’s final words: “I can’t breathe.”

In others, they hurled crowbars and hammers at windows, and used gasoline to burn buildings to the ground.

Public officials said they were investigating whether political agitators posing as protesters may have led some of the looting. In some cities, peaceful protesters marching against police violence were outnumbered by others, such as white anarchists, who seemed more bent on destruction than messaging.

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Regardless of who the perpetrators were, many store owners said they felt like the victims of misplaced aggression. They said their businesses, already ailing from an outbreak of the coronavirus that has been particularly devastating to small and minority-owned businesses, may not recover.

“A lot of people don’t know the blood, sweat and tears that go into being a business owner and the type of sacrifices we had to go through to be where we’re at right now,” said Kris Shelby, who woke around 1 a.m. Saturday to the sound of gunfire outside his North Atlanta apartment, which overlooks the luxury clothing store he manages.

Mr. Shelby and his business partner opened Attom in 2016 with the goal of bringing luxury brands more widely available in New York and Los Angeles to their city. They have drawn in celebrity clients such as the musicians Migos and Justin Bieber and supplied clothing for the movie “Black Panther.” The store has also been a welcoming space for a diverse group of Atlanta residents, Mr. Shelby said.

But when he returned to the store at around 5 a.m. Saturday, Mr. Shelby found that all of his merchandise was gone. He watched videos posted on social media of masked young people of all races swarming through the smashed front windows and leaving with pieces of clothing and accessories worth hundreds of dollars each.

Mr. Shelby said he shared the pain of people protesting Mr. Floyd’s death but did not believe that stealing would stop such incidents from happening in the future.

“It hurt. It seriously hurt,” Mr. Shelby said of Mr. Floyd’s death. “But as a black man, and this is a black-owned business, it’s just sad. It really leaves a bad taste in our mouths, to be honest.”

Ricardo Hernandez spent the weekend sleeping in a van outside the Mexican ice cream shop he runs with his wife in South Minneapolis. He negotiated with protesters by handing over ice cream and Popsicles so they would leave the shop intact.

“Just looking at this is terrible,” he said of the rubble and broken glass strewn across the neighborhood. “It’s unreal.”

On Saturday afternoon, Latino business owners in Minneapolis met in a parking lot to prepare for another night of unrest. Most owned commercial enterprises on Lake Street, where dozens of buildings had been vandalized the previous two nights.

They established shifts to ensure that the neighborhood would be monitored throughout the night. Organizers advised proprietors against brandishing weapons, and said they planned to order T-shirts with the logo “Lake Street Latino Security” to avoid being confused for looters by the National Guard troops and police officers responding to the unrest.

Maya Santamaria was at the gathering but said she planned to stay home that night because she had nothing left to protect. The building she previously owned — where she had once employed Mr. Floyd as a nightclub security guard, and where her new business venture, a Spanish language radio station, was also housed — had burned down Friday night.

Ms. Santamaria blamed the police for Mr. Floyd’s death and said they had not done enough to protect businesses in the aftermath.

“We were calling 911 and we were calling the Police Department and there was no response,” she said. She did not want officers to resort to violence against protesters, she said, but “they can’t just not come and leave us to burn, either.”

Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Kester Wubben’s new mail and printing business in Minneapolis had just been getting off the ground when the pandemic hit. Then over the weekend, it was looted. Televisions, an iPad and a U-Haul truck were stolen.

He had sacrificed greatly — pulling money out of his retirement savings account and working overnight shifts seven days a week at a lead factory — in order to start his Mailboxes Plus outlet.

In less than a year of business, he had developed regular customers. Miss Diggins stopped at the store a few times a month to ship packages to her daughter at college, and the pastor from Mr. Wubben’s church strolled in with a smile almost daily to check his mailbox and catch up.

Mr. Wubben, who is black, said he grew up five blocks from the site where Mr. Floyd was detained. He let out a weary sigh when asked whether his business would be able to recover from the damage, responding, “We might just have to let it go and try again another time.”

At the same time, he said, he understood the frustration over what had happened to Mr. Floyd. “That could easily be me. And so that’s how I look at it. That could easily be me. And it’s sad that there’s no humanity.”

He said he thought about the loss he had faced as a business owner compared with the loss of the Floyd family. “So when you equate the life to the money, which one is greater?” he said. “I can make some money again, I can start another business, but you can’t start George Floyd’s life back over. It’s ended.”

The protests in Seattle were an opportunity for Jordan Davis-Miller to demand a better future for black Americans. But it disturbed him to watch some of the thousands of people gathered downtown seize a different opportunity: to smash windows and loot retail stores. Many of them, he pointed out, were white.

“Looting Nordstrom’s and small stores is not going to do anything for us,” Mr. Davis-Miller said as he watched two white people inside the flagship Nordstrom store throw items out a shattered window. “It’s going to cause more flame to the fire and it’s going to give black people and people of color bad names. It’s not what we are here for.”

At the same time, Mr. Davis-Miller said, “It makes sense to be angry. It makes sense to want to destroy things and take things, because that’s all that’s ever been happening with any people of color. Our land, our homes, our livelihoods have been taken from us. It makes complete sense that we’d want to take that all back.”

Some business owners said they have tried to signal support for the protest movement in the hope that it would also help protect their establishments.

Derrick Hayes put up signs Friday night in the windows of his restaurant in downtown Atlanta that identified Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks as a black-owned business.

Mr. Hayes opened the restaurant after his father died, naming it in his memory. His “Dave’s Way” cheesesteaks and beef egg rolls often draw lines down the block and are favorites of black and white Atlanta residents alike.

He came in Saturday morning to find that the windows had been smashed, despite the signs he had displayed.

“Honestly, I was in disbelief,” Mr. Hayes said. “If we’re all in this together, let’s show that we’re all in this together.”

Mike Baker and Eric Killelea contributed reporting.

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