Posted on October 8, 2020

Where George Floyd Died, Immigrant Businesses Are Suffering

Adam Minter, Bloomberg, October 4, 2020

Last week, I walked past the burned-out, fenced-off remains of the Third Police Precinct in south Minneapolis. After the death of George Floyd four months ago, rioters looted and torched the precinct and much of the surrounding Lake Street area, a five-mile stretch that’s home to many small, immigrant-owned businesses. The precinct remains vacant, even as the rest of the neighborhood struggles back to life. The trashed Target store across the street is being rebuilt; a large white tent houses a temporary grocery store; demolition crews pull down the charred remains of an old brick building.

Elias Usso, a 42-year-old Ethiopian immigrant and pharmacist, opened his Seward Pharmacy last September on a busy block five minutes west of the Third Precinct. Standing behind his counter, Usso tells me that the business was holding its own right up until he received a phone call from his alarm company on the evening of May 27. He logged into the security cameras and watched as looters took things “like they work here.”

Insurance covered much of the repair. A GoFundMe campaign also helped. Usso decided to re-open his pharmacy on September 1, but the city’s turmoil has deterred customers and put his personal safety at risk. An analysis by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune found that, compared with the five-year average, robberies and property crimes are up 11% and serious assaults up 25% in Minneapolis. There have been 59 homicides in 2020, the most since 1998. The city’s most diverse neighborhoods, including those bordering Lake Street, are experiencing almost half of the reported incidents. Powderhorn Park, home to Seward Pharmacy, Usso’s home, and the corner where George Floyd was killed, has seen reported violent crime incidents surge almost 50% over the five-year average.

In communities like Lake Street, frustration over rising crime is turning to despair, with unpredictable political consequences. The aftermath of the Floyd killing has laid bare not just the depth of anger over decades of racial injustice in one of the nation’s most racially segregated and unequal metropolitan areas, but also the failures of progressive elected leaders to protect their citizens. Public confidence in government is collapsing on all sides, including among many of those who rely on it most. {snip}



{snip} In the days following the Floyd riots, as the city and the country wondered what Minneapolis would do, the City Council failed to propose an actionable plan for reform, because it didn’t have one. Instead, after a week of violence, nine out of 12 city council members stood on a stage in Powderhorn Park, pledging to activists that they would “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department” despite the fact that “we don’t have all the answers about what a police-free future looks like.”

The council cobbled together a ballot proposal to eliminate the city charter’s requirement to maintain the current structure of the police department. The city’s Charter Commission wisely turned down the council. Among other objections, the commission noted that the ballot proposal was made in haste, especially during a crime surge.


Deep attrition at the Minneapolis Police Department is compounding the crisis. Through the first quarter of 2020, more than 100 officers left the roughly 830-member Minneapolis Police Department, in addition to the 42 officers who, on average, leave every year due to age or illness. Disability claims related to post-traumatic stress following the Floyd riots account for many of the departures. Mayor Jacob Frey’s latest budget recommends a force of 771 officers in 2021, while acknowledging that the personnel cuts will “negatively impact the operations of the department by causing a significant staffing shortage and lead to increased response times” — which is already happening, according to city data. {snip}

City residents have noticed the impact of reduced policing. Recent polling found that 50% of Black residents oppose cutting the size of the Minneapolis police. In response to public dismay at the rise in crime, even city council members who had pledged to reduce the size of the department are now asking the department to increase its presence and response times in troubled neighborhoods, including Powderhorn.

{snip} Abdishakur Elmi, a Somali immigrant who owns the Hamdi Restaurant at Lake Street and Chicago, tells me that before the riots, his restaurant remained open until midnight. The reduction of police presence has forced him — for safety’s sake — to close at 9. Sitting in his empty dining room before lunch, he readily acknowledges that Covid has also hurt him. But then he points north, to a nearby Somali mall, and tells me that he’s heard of at least seven carjackings near it in the last week. “I don’t see police, I don’t see government agencies stopping crime. I don’t see anything.”

It’s a similar response next door, in the Midtown Global Market, formerly a Sears store, which houses dozens of immigrant-owned restaurants. Hassan Zaidi, owner with his wife of the Moroccan Flavors restaurant, tells me his income has declined 70% in 2020. Covid-19 hurt; the riots just made it worse. Zaidi, like most of Lake Street’s immigrant entrepreneurs, is careful about criticizing the authorities. After the riots, Midtown was secured by local residents and private security in the absence of police, until the National Guard showed up.


Back at Seward Pharmacy, Elias Usso nods in the direction of the Third Precinct. Since the precinct’s destruction, the cops stationed there have been operating from a building several miles away, likely contributing to response delays. The city council recently signed off on a proposal to temporarily relocate it back into the neighborhood, but then reversed itself in the face of activist opposition.


One troubling possibility is that a growing leadership vacuum, spurred by declining confidence in traditional institutions, could lead to even more chaos, as residents go beyond Usso’s gentle efforts to bring order to his own neighborhood and engage in outright vigilantism. Some residents of Minneapolis (and one Council member) have organized armed citizen patrols as replacements for the police. {snip}