The Riots: Who were the victims?

I’ve written a couple of posts about the rioters who trashed large sections of our cities in the last week or so using the excuse of George Floyd’s death, where they were from, what might have motivated them. But what of the people whose lives they tried to wreck, the victims?

Celebrities don’t care

Well, so what about them? That was the reaction of some:

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Not surprisingly, the Blue Checks on Twitter have little idea of how the real world works. Many of these businesses are not insured for riots. The New York Times reported that:

…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.

The Star Tribune reported:

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 the 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.”

Even when they are insured, many policies contain exclusions for riots and civil breakdown.

Former ESPN reporter Chris Martin Palmer was actually celebrating the burning down of an affordable housing development. How is that helping anybody? His opinion soon changed:

https://twitter.com/ChrisPalmerNBA/status/1266946927658020864

Who were the victims?

There was a notion among some that the damage was limited to large businesses such as Target or Foot Locker:

Jacobin, which can always be relied upon to be the stupidest magazine in the rack, addressed the question of looting by asking: “But should we care about the looting of stores like Target and Autozone?” But it was not the case that big businesses were the only targets. Marketplace reported:

Anthony’s Pipe & Cigar Lounge is on West Lake Street in Minneapolis. Tom Harlan runs it, and he’s been doing business there for 35 years.

“They broke all my cabinets. Everything was shattered. They broke my humidor. They broke into the office, broke my safe [and] blew up one of my security cameras,” Harlan said. “They even took the plywood off the barbershop across the street and broke the glass and went in there.”

“Last night, I was just shaking,” Harlan continued. “I was on my patio trying to drink a beer, and I was just trying to gather my thoughts and see how I can regroup.”

The businesses damaged and destroyed by the rioters belonged disproportionately to those in minority communities. The New York Times reported:

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.”

The Star Tribune reported:

As fire and riots raged around Lake and Hiawatha 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 by around 3:30 on Friday morning.

When the nonprofit’s executive director Kelly Drummer returned to the scene a few hours later and saw the destruction before her, 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 Avenue 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.

MPR News reports:

Trevon Ellis spent years building up his north Minneapolis barbershop, the Fade Factory, luring customers with smart haircuts, snacks and friendly conversation.

It took just one terrible night to destroy it all.

“Inside is totally burned down,” Ellis says. “Everything was burned to a crisp.”

As well as immigrant and minority businesses, some were long standing features of the Twin Cities:

It wasn’t just businesses that suffered, so did the customers who depended on them, as this heart-wrenching clip illustrates:

Sadly, her plight is likely to be widely shared. The Star Tribune reports:

With Cub, Target, two Aldi stores and many small markets damaged by rioting over the past week, Longfellow and about eight other neighborhoods have nearly become a food desert.

“I consider the loss of these businesses devastating,” said Melanie Majors, executive director of the Longfellow Community Council. “Besides just the food, there’s a lack of retail for diapers, formula, household goods, even clothing.”

And, again, it is low income folks who have been hit the hardest.

Many residents of the area shop lower-priced stores such as Aldi or dollar stores. Two of those dollar stores — including Family Dollar on Lake Street — were destroyed in last week’s looting and violence that arose after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody.

Rioting is fun, if its nowhere near you

Lets end where we began, with celebrities. Surveying the damage on a TV screen from the safety of her mansion, Chrissy Teigen, model and wife of the singer John Legend, tweeted:

She was joined by other celebrities, such as Steve Carrell, Don Cheadle, and Justin Timberlake, who I thought would have have been fonder of the Twin Cities after coming here for the Super Bowl. Leave aside for the moment the point that, according to state officials, these celebrities are bankrolling white supremacy. Ask whether these millionaires would be better advised to give their money to Hussein Aloshani, Luis Tamay, Korboi Balla, Ehtiatkar, Kester Wubben, Kelly Drummer, Ricardo Hernandez, Jin Lim, or one of the many other Twin Cities small business owners who had their livelihoods wrecked, rather than to those who did it?

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.