A night of ‘organized burglary’ in Southwest Minneapolis

Elizabeth Brenzel sweeps up broken glass and products Friday morning outside of Tobacco & Mas at 27th & Nicollet. Photos by Nate Gotlieb

Around 2:30 a.m. Friday, about 10 cars parked outside of the Alt, the 46-year-old bike and board shop on the 3000 block of Lyndale Avenue South.

Windows were smashed and looters began stealing bikes, said John McArdle, who owns the fossil and gift shop across the street and stayed there all night. Some bikes were placed in cars, and others were ridden away. Most of the looting was over after about 90 minutes, McArdle said, though people continued to steal bikes throughout the early morning hours.

“This was not a protest,” McArdle said. “It was organized burglary.”

Dozens of Southwest Minneapolis shops were vandalized, looted and ransacked late Thursday and early Friday, the second straight night of widespread protests and mayhem in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

Floyd, 46, was arrested on Monday on suspicion of passing a $20 counterfeit bill at a neighborhood grocery and convenience store at 38th & Chicago. Bystander video shows one of the four officers involved in the incident, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than seven minutes before his limp body is loaded into an ambulance. He was pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center.

Chauvin and the three other officers were fired within 24 hours of the incident, which has drawn national outrage. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has announced manslaughter and third-degree murder charges against Chauvin.

While no businesses in Southwest Minneapolis were burned down, dozens were spray-painted and had windows smashed, and some were ransacked and significantly damaged. That includes the Alt and the Walgreens at 27th & Hennepin, where an alarm blared out early Friday morning, shelves were stripped and products, broken glass and water were strewn across the floor.

Damage was particularly acute in businesses along Hennepin Avenue between 27th and 31st streets and in the strip mall off Nicollet Avenue between Lake and 31st streets. Most businesses along Eat Street were not damaged, though a tobacco and convenience store at 27th & Nicollet was ransacked.

Many businesses have already boarded up windows, and some that haven’t are doing so today. Police presence in the 5th Precinct was scarce, with some business owners told that they would only receive aid if they were being physically threatened. McArdle said he called police when the Alt was being looted but was told that they probably “won’t make it out.”

Minneapolis police could not be reached for comment.

Gov. Tim Walz, who summoned the Minnesota National Guard to help restore order in Minneapolis, has urged calm and peaceful protests amid anger over Floyd’s death. At a press conference, the day after a fiery uprising left the 3rd Precinct burned to the ground, Walz said he would take control of Minneapolis’ safety from local police and city leaders. “If this would have been executed correctly, the state would not lead on this,” he said, vowing that Friday night “there will be no lack of response on the table.” The city has declared a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights.

Ward 13 City Council Member Linea Palmisano decried a video shared by a Star Tribune reporter on Twitter that showed a police officer spraying a peaceful crowd in downtown Minneapolis with pepper spray. But she said “non-lethal tactics” should have been used to disperse crowds from the 3rd Precinct.

“You have reporters arrested or detained, but yet they couldn’t use pepper spray?” she said, referencing the detention of a CNN reporter by the State Patrol on live TV. “I don’t know how we stop destruction of property if we aren’t willing to stand ground on a line.”

Frey has said that he ordered police to retreat from the 3rd Precinct because “brick and mortar are not as important as life.” “The symbolism of a building cannot outweigh the significance of life,” he said.

Businesses said they’re frustrated by the looting, and some are skeptical a National Guard presence will help.

The city is “out of control,” McArdle said. “I don’t think 500 National Guardsmen are going to do any good at all. I’m afraid [looters] are going to come back.”

He said that around 3:30 or 4 a.m. a group of kids began smashing windows on the street.

Jay Erickson, longtime owner of the Alt, was “in shock” Friday morning as he walked around and picked up what was left in his store. “I have no idea what I’m doing,” he said.

When asked how much damage he thought his store sustained, Erickson simply replied, “everything.” Looters stole both single and tandem bikes, he said.

Uptown resident Matt Woods, who lives in a small apartment building near Calhoun Square, said Thursday night was “pure breaking glass and a lot of yelling.”

“I would have almost liked to hear police sirens, but at the same time, that’s not going to help solve the problem, I think, in this current atmosphere,” he said.

Jamie Liestman, manager of John Fluevog Shoes at 2900 Hennepin Ave., where windows were smashed, was furious about an FBI news conference Thursday afternoon in which prosecutors asked the public for patience and didn’t announce charges. “It was not what people needed to hear, and it just stoked the violence, honestly,” she said. She and her coworkers were sweeping up glass along the sidewalk and inventorying what was stolen.

Three blocks away, LynLake resident Sam Malone was sweeping glass from the sidewalk in front of Darbar India Grill & Bar. Malone, a 10-year resident of the area, said he was cleaning because he wanted the city to look good and didn’t want the damage to be “representative of Uptown.”

Erickson said he thinks the looting, coming amid a pandemic, will put him out of business.

“I would assume this is the last nail in the coffin,” he said.

Zac Farber contributed reporting to this story.