Across the country, demonstrations that began as peaceful protests over the arrest and killing of George Floyd turned violent over weekend, resulting in the looting and vandalism of many businesses. Rather than turn to anger or despair, many business owners are responding to the situation with compassion and hope.
Late Saturday night, Michelle Brown, who owns Teaism (a small chain of Asian-inspired tea houses in Washington, D.C.), discovered that one of her restaurants was on fire. After the flames were extinguished and the crowds dispersed, Brown was able to assess the damage, which included several shattered windows, fire damage, water damage from sprinklers and charred artwork.
It was an upsetting scene for the business owner, but just hours later, she took to Twitter to post a message of support for those protesting injustice. “Before anyone puts a single word in our mouths. Black lives matter,” she wrote.
The simple message instantly resonated with many on social media and has since garnered over 900 retweets and over 6,000 likes.
When The Washington Post asked about Brown about her reaction to the damage, she was quick to turn the attention away from herself and her business.
“It was heartbreaking,” she acknowledged. “But this moment is not about us.”
It is not clear who or what group may have been behind the destructive behavior, but Brown and her business partner Linda Neumann are focusing more on the current political climate than their own misfortune.
“There’s insurance to cover things like this, but we are both just so sad and heartbroken about what’s happening in the country and how things came to this,” Neumann told the Washingtonian. “We completely understand, and we’re thankful that nobody was hurt and no lives were lost.”
Brown isn't the only business owner lending support to protesters. Farmers Restaurant Group co-owner Dan Simons, whose restaurant Founding Farmers was also damaged, shared a message of solidarity on Twitter.
"Yes, we had some windows broken @FoundingFarmers on Penn Ave last night. Most important, none of our team was injured. Equally important, my team & I stand firmly with the message of the protest," he wrote. "The rage is justified. I would rather it be expressed peacefully, but if I need to 'suffer' some broken property, let's be real, that isn't suffering."
Andy Shallal, the founder and CEO of Busboys and Poets, downplayed the broken window at his restaurant and offered encouraging words.
"We had a window broken @busboysandpoets last night. No one was hurt. We understand the rage and we stand in complete and unequivocal solidarity with the protests," he wrote.
Gandhi Mahal, a restaurant based in Minneapolis, was also severely damaged by rioters last week. The owner's 18-year-old daughter posted a message of hope: "We won’t loose hope though, I am so grateful for our neighbors who did their best to stand guard and protect Gandhi Mahal, Youre efforts won’t go unrecognized. Dont worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover."
Still, some business owners worry that acts such as looting and vandalism take away from protesters' main goal. Ashok Bajaj, who owns the Oval Room restaurant in Washington, D.C., told Eater that all of the windows and glass doors at the property were smashed during a local protest. Looters also stole liquor from Bindaas, another restaurant he owns.
Bajaj called the acts "unnecessary" and said they go against the "good meaning of protesters' message.
“All that goes away because everyone focuses on the damage,” he said.
Tay Anderson, an activist and school board director in Denver, told BuzzFeed he was hoping for a peaceful protest in his home state on Friday, but things ended up turning violent.
"We asked people throughout the day, please do not deface property, please do not destroy stuff, because we're not asking you to do that," Anderson said.
While conducting an interview for a local news station, Anderson said he saw a man vandalizing property and asked him to stop.
"I said, 'We asked allies to step back so that we can make sure that you're following what we're asking you to do,'" he recalled. "And he was like, 'I'm not your ally, you guys want to protect the status quo. I don't need to be here for you all.'"