‘Our window can be replaced. George Floyd Can’t’: Reconciling personal loss with the need for racial justice
In the past few weeks, there have been protests across the United States in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee and countless other Black people, and the anti-Black violence that has resulted from the systemic racism ingrained in this country.
Some of these protests violently escalated and some evolved into looting. And yes, while looting did occur, there seems to be more coverage on the “riots” and looting than the actual cause of the civil unrest. This coverage has led many to focus more on replaceable property rather than the irreplaceable lives lost. It has even led some, such as the president, to deem these protestors as “thugs,” and to in turn threaten them with sentiments like “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Many of these lootings have been geared towards large retailers such as Target, luxury retailers such as Dior and some, unfortunately, towards smaller businesses, such as local restaurants already having to deal with the shattering effect of stay-at-home orders for nearly three months.
The pain and frustration these restaurant owners feel are of course valid. However, these protests (violent and non-violent) are necessary to create change. This makes balancing the two important, as they are not mutually exclusive.
While many restaurants have expressed their devastation in response to the lootings, there has also been an overwhelming amount of support for the protests, and the insistence of placing life before property.
Chef Ria Dolly Barbosa of Petite Peso, a Filipino restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles, posted a photo of the restaurant’s broken window with a sign that said “Justice 4 Big Floyd” and captioned it with “Our window can be replaced. George Floyd can’t.”
Some restaurant owners are balancing their personal loss with the need for racial justice by realizing they’re willing to sacrifice property for the broader fight for justice. In a Facebook post, Hafsa, the daughter of the restaurant owner Ruhel Islam, revealed her father’s restaurant Gandhi Mahal in Minneapolis was set aflame and damaged by the looting. The post continued to say that her father told her on the phone, “Let my building burn, Justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.”
While many restaurant owners stand in solidarity with the protestors, many also agree the coverage of the looting on their businesses takes attention away from more damaging threats, such as the curfews put in place in response to protests, the reliance on third-party food delivery apps, and the expensive process of reopening and implementing social distancing guidelines that involves obtaining protective gear to ensure employees’ safety, restructuring the restaurant to ensure guests’ safety, training employees on new protocols and operating at a limited capacity all while having to pay full rent.
The response to looting for restaurants is in some ways similar to the response to COVID-19. With COVID-19, restaurants are faced with the difficult task of reopening and balancing the prioritization of economic gain and keeping their staff safe. With looting, restaurants are balancing prioritization of business and black lives. Many restaurant owners are realizing that they are not going to prioritize their business over black lives.
This does not dismiss the harm that restaurant owners face from the looting. Many also realize the destruction and devastation looting has had on small businesses and have set up funds and grants specifically for small businesses affected by looting. Chicago has created a $10 million fund for small businesses (more information and how to donate can be found here). Small businesses in the Greater Los Angeles Area are eligible for loans of up to $2 million to replace any damage done to property, equipment and inventory by looting and vandalism.
As there has been more coverage on violent protests, many have stated that “violence is not the answer.” Looting and acts of violence are no way comparable to the blatant murders of Black lives by the police. Rather than focusing on looting and telling an oppressed group how to protest, reflect and ask “Why are people resorting to violence?” Ask, “Why are people willing to risk it all?”
Many are saying that “it is not fair” what is happening to these restaurants. And they are right — it is not fair. For some of these owners, these restaurants are their entire livelihoods. But so much of this is not fair.
It is not fair that restaurants have been severely devastated by the stay-at-home order.
It is not fair that small restaurants miss out on receiving loans from the government while larger restaurants like Shake Shack receive a $10 million loan.
It is not fair that in the process of reopening, many restaurants, which already have razor-thin margins, are expected to operate below capacity and still pay unforgiving rent.
It is not fair that even under normal circumstances restaurant employees are underpaid and/or receive poor benefits.
It is not fair that many employees are expected to work in conditions that put their lives at risk.
It is not fair that the racism in this country has gone on for so long, and when people have had enough, they are willing to get a virus and put their lives at risk as they take to the streets to protest racial injustice.
It is not fair that George Floyd and so many other black lives are time and time again taken away by police brutality and the deeply rooted white supremacy in this country.
None of this is fair.
Restaurant owners know that none of this is fair. They also know that looting is not the problem. Looting is a byproduct of the real problem — that innocent black lives are stolen and no one is being held accountable. This problem is systemic and requires systemic change. This systemic change unfortunately results in unfair losses for restaurants. However, the restaurant community is a resilient one and will be able to rebuild once the country is rebuilt.
To show support for local businesses, here is the link to the Small Business Relief Fund, a fund that will provide micro-grants to qualifying small businesses negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meridien Mach is a sophomore in the School of Hotel Administration. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .