Neighbors In Minneapolis Unite To Protect Small Businesses During Unrest

Jun 2, 2020
Originally published on June 2, 2020 5:31 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Many businesses have been damaged across the country during the days of protests. Some believe the damage is not the work of protesters, but people taking advantage of the anger of this moment. In reaction, neighborhood groups are forming, some armed. NPR's Leila Fadel spent the night with some of those groups in Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Cesia Baires knocks on the three apartment doors above her restaurant and a neighboring taqueria just before curfew.

CESIA BAIRES: (Speaking Spanish).

FADEL: She tells the mother of two young kids living in one of the apartments that tonight would be like the night before - armed men on the roof to protect the building.

BAIRES: I was just letting them know, remember; same thing as yesterday. I'm going to come check. If anything, you guys give us a call right away.

FADEL: As she speaks, men climb through a window behind her onto the building's roof and begin to set up semi-automatic weapons. Others carry handguns. There are also bricks.

BAIRES: If you're up here with a gun and you're not supposed to be here and you don't - I mean, you don't have license to carry, then I don't allow you to even go to the rooftop.

FADEL: Her pupuseria, Abi's Cafe, is on Lake Street in Powder Horn Park, where some buildings have been burned to the ground or damaged in fiery protests. Last night was calm, but for days now some residents say their calls to police have largely gone unanswered if they could get through at all. And they're now defending themselves. This group calls itself Security De La Lake. But some might think this is just vigilante justice. I ask her about that.

BAIRES: It's not something that I would want, but We've seen how for - at least for the first couple days, we were left alone. Like, there were no cops that would come around. So what are we to do? Just stand there and do nothing?

FADEL: A spokesman with the Minneapolis Police Department says it's facing an unprecedented situation. It's aware of these groups but not concerned if they're following the law. Baires says it's not just about the businesses but the lives of the people who are living in the apartments above. Just before curfew, an organizer from her group briefs people from the neighborhood in the parking lot of the supermarket on safety tips. Manager Mauro Madrigal speaks to a multiracial group of residents and business owners working together.

MAURO MADRIGAL: We have the fire extinguishers on each door. That way, you wouldn't have to run with extinguisher if you need to. OK, so...

FADEL: They pass out fire extinguishers and flyers with tips on home protection, fire safety and how to be in communication. The flyer says the neighborhood is under threat from white supremacists. Speculation is swirling from protesters on the streets all the way up to the governor's mansion about who has been fueling the violence and why. Right now that's just not clear. William Martinez is with Security De La Lake.

WILLIAM MARTINEZ: It's important. No, it's important to tell the people we're not going to shoot nobody, you know? We don't have the idea. But, you know, we like to prevent people going to hurt the Latino families.

FADEL: He says there are only two Latino stores left in the area that still sell food. Any unfamiliar sight sparks suspicion - out-of-state plates from Iowa and Wisconsin, men with backpacks. Martinez wears a brightly colored neon yellow shirt emblazoned with the words Security De La Lake.

MARTINEZ: You know, we are brown. We know exactly what's going on, you know (laughter)?

FADEL: He says the shirts are in part to make themselves known to law enforcement suspicious of brown and black people in the streets. They support the protests against police brutality but not the destruction.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORCYCLE ENGINE REVVING)

FADEL: As they organize for the night, they coordinate with the indigenous motorcycle group across the street. They're protecting the Red Lake Nation embassy, which provides tribal services. And then a group of people roll up in a truck, and a white man named Jordan - he wouldn't give his last name but described himself as working with anarchists - walks over in a bulletproof vest with a yellow walkie-talkie attached to talk to Madrigal and a local taqueria owner, Hector Hernandez. He explains they'll be in the empty building next door to provide security for a nearby theater.

JORDAN: So we should have close to 40.

HECTOR HERNANDEZ: Does anybody have weapons?

JORDAN: Sorry?

HERNANDEZ: Does anybody have weapons?

JORDAN: Yeah.

FADEL: When Jordan walks away, I ask Madrigal and Hernandez if they know him. Madrigal answers.

MADRIGAL: All these people, I don't know them. I don't know where they're from. But they're here helping us, so that's all. I'm glad that they're here to help.

FADEL: Inside Hernandez's taqueria, he and Baires, the owner of Abi's Cafe next door, work with others to barricade the front door.

BAIRES: All right. You ready, guys?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Ready.

BAIRES: All right, then.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Ready.

FADEL: On the road out of this neighborhood, other groups have blocked off their streets, put warning signs up that people are watching, that trespassing would have consequences.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.