Minneapolis businesses, including some that were damaged, are standing in solidarity with protesters

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The owners of the Jackalope Tattoo in Minneapolis, Minn. did not waste any time to show its support for protesters following the death of George Floyd. (Courtesy Renata Nijiya)

The death of George Floyd, an unarmed and handcuffed black man, while in Minneapolis police custody has triggered nights of protests and violence in cities across the country.

In Minneapolis, where former police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged in Floyd’s death, demonstrators have voiced their anger in chants and on placards. But the protests have also led to outbreaks of violence.

Hundreds of businesses in the state’s Twin Cities — Minneapolis and St. Paul — were damaged or looted during four days of unrest.

Yet some of those business owners are still voicing their support for protesters.

Their restaurant burned, but they’re standing tall

In the midst of the protests and violence in Minneapolis stood a popular local restaurant: the Gandhi Mahal.

Ruhel Islam, the business owner who immigrated from Bangladesh 24 years ago to escape state violence, started his business nearly 13 years ago. It burned to the ground during the unrest Thursday night.

When he found out, Islam said he only had one response: “Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served and those officers need to be put in jail.”

His daughter, Hafsa Islam, said her family went from their normal routine of making curry to transforming their restaurant into a safe haven for injured protesters who needed first aid.

“We were worried about business, of course, but we were more worried about the protesters,” she said. “All of Tuesday and Wednesday we took in hundreds of injured people. By Thursday night, it felt too dangerous to be there.”

As the evening raged on, Hafsa said locals did their best to protect Gandhi Mahal by standing in front of it, but within hours, its windows were broken and by morning their restaurant had turned into ashes.

Despite the loss of their business and their stance against violence, Hafsa said they were standing in support of protesters and their cause.

“This isn’t about the business, this is about us, this is about George Floyd and all of the people whose lives have been taken wrongfully because of police brutality,” she said. “We are fighting for justice in such an unjust system.”

Since Gandhi Mahal burned down, more than $79,400 has been raised for the business. While some of the money will be used to rebuild the Bangladeshi eatery, the rest will go towards helping other local uninsured businesses that have been damaged, Hafsa said.

Islam added that the city cannot expect peace until it solves the root of the problem, which he said is police brutality.

“I grew up in a Third World country surrounded by the violence I’m seeing now,” he said. “I don’t want to see it here. I don’t want a police state traumatizing its people. It’s time to make a change. We can’t make any more excuses for police. This is America. We are here for justice.”

They transformed their bookstore into a safe space

Moon Palace Books, a bookstore and restaurant in Minneapolis, was one of the many businesses caught in the middle of the protests. But instead of turning people away, owner Jamie Schwesnedl and his wife, Angela, decided to transform their business into a safe space.

Schwesnedl hung an “Abolish the Police” sign in a window and refused to allow officers to use their parking lot and outdoor space as a staging ground.

“We were not going to allow them to prepare or do something like that on our property,” Schwesnedl told CNN.

The couple transformed their space into a “harm free zone,” where people set up medic stations for injured protesters to wash out tear gas and clean their wounds.

The bookstore, which had windows broken and was vandalized with graffiti, is one of the many businesses standing in support of protesters, “no matter what.”

“People are furious, and rightly so,” Schwesnedl said of the community’s ongoing issues with police. “There’s no government organization or person in the city actually listening to people, hearing their pain and their anger, and addressing their concerns.”

“I don’t know what the hell is going on, but it should not be the job of small business owners to keep our customers and our neighbors and our community safe from the police, and yet here we are.”

They’re using their tattoo parlor to inspire protesters

A tattoo parlor in Minneapolis did not waste any time to show its support for protesters.

Emi Nijiya, the owner of Jackalope Tattoo, told CNN they decided to board up the shop on Friday and spray supportive messages across the storefront.

Using spray paint, Nijiya, their wife, and coworkers covered the shop with slogans and quotes to inspire protesters. Among them was Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

“I think a lot of people think that these riots are not part of our history and that they don’t do anything,” Nijiya said. “This was our way of saying yes, this is justified and it is something we should be fighting for. We need to be fighting for change.”

While Nijiya said they knew protesters could still damage their parlor, it did not change their stance on the protests.

“We fully support people who are rioting and protesting for the cause and fighting for those lives, but we do not support what is being done by white supremacists and people outside the state coming in just to cause chaos and make this movement like something different than it is,” Nijiya added.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and other officials said on Saturday that violence in Minneapolis was being fueled by outsiders and that vandals are largely nonresidents of the cities with no interest in Floyd’s death. The governor estimated only 20% of protesters there are Minnesotans.

“We will always stand with the protesters,” Nijiya said, before adding that businesses could afford to lose money but “we can’t afford to lose these people’s lives.”

By Alaa Elassar, CNN

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