Three days after George Floyd’s death, Bobby Awaijane helped board up the E. Lake Street gas station and convenience store his family owned for 17 years.
Hours later, the family monitored security footage on a computer as more than 50 people flooded the store, ransacking shelves and destroying property. When they called 911, an operator said it would be days before someone could respond.
The next morning as they cleaned up, the family decided to stay and protect the property themselves. For days, Awaijane and others kept watch 24/7, taking turns napping in a nearby shed.
“If the store burns down, there’s nothing left,” he told state lawmakers Wednesday. “This is our livelihood.”
Awaijane shared his story at the Minnesota Senate’s first oversight hearing into the unrest that followed Floyd’s May 25 killing by a Minneapolis police officer. For several hours, business owners and employees detailed destruction sustained amid the chaos.
One Lake Street property manager said days of vandalism, including dozens of fires, left owners with tens of millions of dollars in damages across several buildings. Jim Stage, owner of Lloyd’s Pharmacy in St. Paul, broke down into tears as he recalled seeing his store, a staple in the neighborhood since he was a boy, leveled after it was looted and burned to the ground.
The testimony marked the first in what Senate Republicans say will be a series of oversight hearings focused on the aftermath of Floyd’s death.
“I don’t know [if] there is fault to be laid out on any one person, or maybe it’s the system that didn’t react properly,” said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, who led the hearing. “This is the first step.”
Newman said the goal is to document and investigate “very, very serious criminal activity” that damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 public and private structures across the Twin Cities, as well as the state and local response to the crisis.
As the Senate launches its inquiry, the partisan divide over the political and policy response to Floyd’s death is growing at the State Capitol. Senate Democrats sharply criticized Republicans for holding hearings on property damages, instead of focusing on a package of police accountability measures that stalled in a late June special session.
Several also questioned why lawmakers of color who represent the impacted communities were not invited to participate.
“If we are going to take this opportunity to spend many hours on end examining what happened in the aftermath of a killing of a Black man, a slow agonizing and dehumanizing death, why can’t we spend the time trying to root out or explain how that happened?” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.
A wide array of lawmakers have called attention to the economic toll of the civil unrest but remain divided on providing aid to the damaged neighborhoods. On Tuesday, members of the DFL-led House heard from about a dozen community members in a hearing at Plaza Verde on Lake Street.
“The city of Minneapolis has failed to protect our businesses, and I hope our elected officials will not do the same,” Amina Osman, who owns a business called Post Plus, told legislators Tuesday. “I understand that government functions slowly, but that is not reassuring to small businesses like ours. We need help and assistance, and we need it now.”