Victims of the rioters speak out

Last week I wrote about research showing that the economic damage of rioting lingers for a long time. A story from MPR News today puts some human faces on that research.

On the second night of the civil unrest that followed the police killing of George Floyd, Maya Santamaria lost her Spanish-language radio station, La Raza.

“I just turned on my Facebook and there was one of my correspondents with our burning building behind him,” Santamaria recalled. “Flames were just coming out of my fourth-floor offices.” 

Santamaria’s business was just a block from the Minneapolis 3rd Precinct that rioters also destroyed.

The broadcaster calls Lake Street the heart of the Latino community in the Twin Cities as well as home to a strong East African and Native American presence. “All of these wonderful little restaurants and little markets and everything were really authentic and quaint.”

Santamaria had hoped to be able to keep her studios in Minneapolis, but said she could not afford to stay in the city. She still is negotiating with her insurance company, which she said is covering half the cost of the damage.

Determined to continue delivering music, entertainment and news to more than 200,000 listeners, La Raza borrowed space at the nonprofit radio station, KFAI, before deciding to renovate office space in Richfield, a suburb just south of Minneapolis.  La Raza also leases a radio tower belonging to MPR’s parent company.

Minneapolis city leaders estimate it could take as long as 10 years to rebuild popular business corridors damaged in Minneapolis, causing Santamaria to be skeptical that she could ever return to Lake Street.

“I don’t know how we are going to be able to re-create anything like that because it happened through its own inertia,” Santamaria said.

Ruhel Islam, the owner of Gandhi Mahal Restaurant, relied on the generosity of his neighbors along Lake Street to move into a temporary space in south Minneapolis.

Islam said he’s focusing on take-out for the foreseeable future, calling his new business, Curry in a Hurry. Islam is grateful to have the means to reopen.

“This is bread and butter for a lot of people, especially people of color,” Islam said. “Immigrant people are suffering.”

Islam said it will cost nearly four times what insurance will pay to demolish and rebuild Gandhi Mahal in its original spot. Islam owns his building and estimates a thoughtful rebuild will take five years. Islam hopes property owners and city leaders will focus on rebuilding in a way that avoids gentrification.

“We are doing a lot of collaboration and hoping to come back very strong,” Islam said.

As I wrote in June, blue checks on Twitter shrugged all this off, arguing that business owners were insured. Many weren’t. People like this rely on the city and state government to protect them and their property. In recent months, that government has failed them utterly.

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