In the ongoing ideological war of left and right, no one cares about those caught in the crossfire.
George Floyd, an African-American, was choked to death by a white police officer, spurring justified protests against police brutality. But now the small businesses of neighborhoods, largely owned by and employing mostly African-Americans and other minorities, are victims of the Minneapolis-St.Paul riots. The cycle of vengeance continues to beget itself, whether manifesting in the unjust taking of a life or the unjust looting and burning of community businesses and housing.
Here’s just a few of the small businesses affected by the ongoing riots, from Adam Uren of Minneapolis’s Bring Me The News:
· Bole Ethiopian Restaurant: Fire.
· Teppanyaki Grill Lake Street: Fire and property damage.
· La Familia Skate Shop: Property damage.
· Pineda Tacos Lake Street: Property damage.
· Hamdi Restaurant, Midtown: Property damage, graffiti.
· Gandhi Mahal Restaurant, 27th and Lake: Window smashed.
Notice something? Those business names are a mix of African, Hispanic, Asian and Middle Eastern. None of them are part of the dominant white hegemony. They are minorities. And they are suffering.
This is the cold irony: a protest meant to protest oppression against minorities has transformed into a riot that destroys minorities by fire.
Can you imagine being a small business owner damaged by the riots? Profits are already down due to the COVID-19 pandemic restricting commerce and travel. Then, holding on the best you can, a crowd of rioters steals your merchandise, smashes your windows, sets ablaze your property. Maybe you didn’t recognize these people, because they’re from out of state taking advantage. Maybe you did, maybe one of those rioters was a kid that greeted you everyday he sat in your restaurant for a meal. It doesn’t matter. Because the same rage that destroyed a police station is the same rage being directed at you.
You don’t even have to imagine: the videos of small business owners’ reactions are out there, and they are heart-wrenching.
Of course, none of these owners’ lives were taken. But does it matter? Consider the loss of merchandise. Consider the damage to your property. Consider the psychological trauma of knowing a force beyond your control just tore out a chunk of your life. Lives may not be lost, but lives have been dramatically affected. Now there are more worries. Now there are more traumas unasked for.
Money is being raised for many of these people as I speak. This is a great thing and a testament to humanity. But pumping money into an issue has never solved it. There is far more work that must be done. There is significant time that must be spent. And the will to rebuild, to recovery from the shock, must be mustered. And no magic formula can make this healing and rebuilding go faster.
I can understand why a police station would be targeted with fury and fire. A police station is the symbol of oppression, a manifestation of the forces that brought unjust deaths to African-Americans, whether by outright spite and malice, or just plain mistakes informed by racist undercurrents in culture. It directly correlates with what the initial protest was about. But the small businesses, the ones that serve people in a community, the beating heart of commerce? So many of these places weren’t run by police offices and were minority owned. Why must they be the victims of chaos too?
The trouble with the ideological war is that there are two sides without a spectrum, dominated by a few very loud voices. If you fall on the left, you are all for seeking justice for Floyd and others, so you can accept a riot that destroys the very small businesses that sustain the communities the left supports as the price of progress. If you fall on the right, you don’t think Floyd was a victim of police brutality, so you must also be (privately) racist and are (publicly) horrified with how angry minorities can burn their own communities. And of course, if you waver from either on anything, or you weight one issue with more importance than the other, you are branded as an outcast and a traitor. Given the nature of this war, it’s no surprise that the livelihoods of ordinary folks that that just want to live their lives and pay their bills are trampled upon.
We can’t accept ordinary people as the price to pay for change. We cannot use their livelihoods as sacrifices to the altar of progress. When we do this, we say without words - but with action - that their lives are worth less than the lives of others. When we do this, we are not asking not the rich and privileged to take a hit for the underclass. We are asking working-class people to accept the destruction of the very little they have.
“A riot,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “is the language of the unheard.” If you didn’t think about police brutality before the riots, you certainly are now. But sadly, there’s another message spelled out in smoke too: that perhaps keeping a business in an impoverished neighborhood isn’t a good idea anymore. And if that is the message these owners act on, there will be even more food deserts barren of healthy food, even more long commutes on buses to get somewhere, even more distance from society at large. There will be more misery, more disadvantaged folk, and less ability to change the unequal paradigm of society.
Things will remain the same, uneven and unjust as ever.