Vivian Dudley was watching the news late Saturday when she noticed that fires were burning near the Epicenter, the retail space that houses her community center.
Protesters gathered outside the nearby Ferguson Police Department to express outrage that George Floyd, a black man, had died as a Minneapolis police officer pushed his knee into Floyd’s neck.
As the protesters decried Floyd's death and those of other black people in front of Ferguson officers, chaos erupted. Someone set fire to the beauty business next to Dudley’s center. Looters began breaking the windows of nearby businesses, some of them black-owned. Dudley is upset that her business was damaged. But she, too, was horrified about how Floyd died.
“I saw who broke into my store — they were black — and I understood why they did it; I ain't even mad at them, cause I was telling them I hurt, too,” she said. “They raped all of us in front of the whole world.”
In the last week, black business owners across the country have put up “black owned” signs to try to protect them — and let people know that they occupy sacred spaces paid for by the struggle for civil rights. Others have watched their properties to protect them from white people intent on destruction.
When Dudley’s business was targeted, her niece called to let her know that people were inside.
“So we jumped in our car and went over there,” Dudley said. “The young men that did it were bold, they walked by and said “Oh, we didn’t know you were black-owned and we weren’t supposed to do this to black businesses.”
Dudley said they walked out of her building and went next door to Beauty World and began looting. She pleaded with the young teenagers to stop, but Dudley said they did not until the police came on the scene and arrested them.
The damage at the Epicenter was heartbreaking but could easily be repaired, said Dudley, who left the area Saturday after she heard gunshots.
The Epicenter is a community retail and gathering space that is a part of the Nehemiah Program, a nonprofit that assists the community with various needs, including home ownership, addiction treatment and shelter.
Dudley said she has helped the community for years and is overwhelmed by the support she received Sunday morning as people from the neighborhood volunteered to help clean up her business. But she said it was painful to experience.
“Even when they were there helping me, one of the ladies said to me, ‘I get it, I get it, but I don’t understand why,” Dudley said. “I said, ‘This was not about Mr. Floyd only; this was 200 years of pinned-up frustration.’”
When I saw that officers knee on Floyd’s neck, I heard my son, I heard my five grandsons take their last breaths and call my name, cause it could happen to them,” she said.
There is a long history of tension between African Americans and Ferguson police. The nation's attention focused on the region in August 2014, when then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown Jr.
The recent protests, and looting, have brought back memories of the 2014 protests, said Kawana Waddell, who owns the Style-Taneous Styles boutique at 427 South Florissant Road, about two blocks from the Ferguson Police Department.
Waddell, who lives in Ferguson, said she feared the latest protests would lead to looting as the 2014 turmoil did. So she asked her husband to guard her business over the weekend to keep looters off the property.
Waddell said she knows people are struggling because of high unemployment rates connected to the coronavirus pandemic and that many are outraged by police violence. But she said looting will not solve those problems.
“It's the late-night opportunities that people are looking for. It’s an opportunity to just vandalize and to just commit crimes, and it is sad, because our voices can't be heard,” Waddell said. “When that is going on, nothing is going to change.”
Style-Taneous Styles has been closed since early March because of the coronavirus shutdown orders. On Sunday, Waddell and a few volunteers boarded up her business to keep it from being damaged during future protests.
Another black-owned business, Cathy’s Kitchen at 250 South Florissant Road, also was damaged Saturday. Black-owned businesses like it are the glue that holds the city together, community activist Cathy Daniels said.
“These businesses are essential to this community. You can't talk about what's not in the community and tear it up,” Daniels said. “But it was people from outside our community that decided they want to tear up our community. ”
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