FEATURE | Riot-torn Twin Cities are already forgotten

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MINNEAPOLIS — The national media might have “moved on” from the riots in Minneapolis, but residents have nowhere to go.

Much of the Twin Cities is still in ruins. Boardedup storefronts still display makeshift notices that read “black owned” or “minority owned” to ward off further destruction. Many locals are reluctant to speak on the record, but some are eager to do so.

 

“It’s been agony,” says Mohamed Ali, a native of Somalia. “I respect the public anger, but I think we carried it too far, to burn our city.” At the height of the chaos, rioters set a large fire in front of his apartment, which sits atop several streetside shops. He spray-painted desperate appeals onto plywood affixed to the storefront windows: “Don’t burn please ... Kids live upstairs.”

 

“All these businesses are still boarded, and it’s over a month later,” Mr. Ali said, gesturing in every direction of his Minneapolis neighborhood. “This was a thriving area,” he said. “Now a lot of minority businesses are burned.” Long Her, a Laotian immigrant, has operated a clothing store in St. Paul since 1991. When he surveyed his losses after the riots, he openly wept: 550 suits, 249 pairs of pants, 227 dress shirts and 180 pairs of shoes, as well as his cash register, other electronics and damage to windows and the front door. Many of his most valuable possessions, kept in a heavy-duty safe, were stolen, along with his U.S. citizenship papers.

 

A month later, he hasn’t heard anything from the authorities. “They don’t have the law to protect the people,” Mr. Her says. He never had to call the police in nearly 30 years until the riots erupted in late May — and officers still have not come to investigate: “They say no one available.” His store is open, but the door is boarded up and customers are scant: “They call me,” he says, referring to his largely Hmong clientele. “They say, ‘We would come, but we’re afraid.’ ” He’s had to lay off five employees and sleeps in the store every night, on guard against another possible riot.

 

Flora Westbrooks owned a hair salon in North Minneapolis for 34 years. It had already been closed for several months due to Covid-19, but Ms. Westbrooks was planning to reopen on June 1. She’d already purchased sanitation supplies and prepared new protocols to comply with state and city regulations. On May 29, an arsonist burned the place down.

 

“Sometimes I’m like, OK, I gotta go to work,” Ms. Westbrooks says. “I gotta go do something at the shop. And then I forget — I don’t own anything anymore. Everything’s burned to the ground. I have nothing no more. Everything I worked for.” Through her business, she earned enough money to buy a home, a car and a law-school education for her son: “My salon was everything to me.”

 

Ms. Westbrooks’s plight attracted modest media attention in the immediate aftermath of the riots, spurring the creation of a GoFundMe page, but contributions have fallen off. She said she and a group of fellow shellshocked small-business owners met briefly with Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, Gov. Tim Walz and other elected officials in a McDonald’s parking lot near the wreckage. But there has been no follow- up. “I haven’t heard anything,” she says. “You know, it’s been a month now.”

 

“They never told us what they was gonna do,” Ms. Westbrooks says. “What are you going to do for us? We have no job, we have no income. What are you going to do for us?” She had no insurance.

 

Ms. Westbrooks says she assigns at least part of the blame for what happened to negligence by government officials. The Minneapolis Police Department abandoned the neighborhood, she says. And the National Guard, whose deployment Ms. Westbrooks supported, arrived too late.

 

Mass-produced “Black Lives Matter” signs dot the yards of countless leafy homes across the area. Ms. Westbrooks’s next-door neighbor, a white woman, displays one in her window. Ms. Westbrooks, who is black, does not.

 

 

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