CHICAGO: The firestorm of protest, arson and looting that has consumed the US for five days began at the counter of an Arab American grocery store.
Staff working for Mahmoud Abumayyaleh, the owner of Cup Foods, called Minneapolis police after George Floyd, 46, twice tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to make a purchase.
Officers who arrested Floyd held him to the ground with a knee on his neck, as he pleaded that he could not breathe. He lost consciousness and died later in hospital. One officer has been charged with third-degree murder and further charges are expected.
“What took place outside … was not in our hands,” Abumayyaleh told US TV. “The murder and execution was something done by the police, and it was an abuse of power. The police brutality needs to stop.”
Abumayyaleh said he knew Floyd as a customer, and as someone who was always pleasant. He did not find out until the following morning that the man had died. “We were all outraged,” he said, and Floyd “may not have even known that the bill was counterfeit.”
The store owner and his sons, Samir, Adam and Mahmoud, have gone into hiding in the face of a wave of threats against them on social media. They took down their store’s Facebook page and its landline phone has been disconnected.
Minneapolis has more than 50 Arab- and Muslim-owned stores mostly north of where the incident occurred, all operating under statewide COVID-19 restrictions. Arab store owners said they feared speaking out publicly about the incident.
An unidentified man who answered the phone at one Arab-owned store told Arab News that both the killing of Floyd and vandalism against businesses “is wrong.”
Since Floyd died last Tuesday, protesters have vandalized, looted and burned down more than 200 stores in Minneapolis. On Friday and Saturday, the violence spread to New York, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte North Carolina.
In Minnesota, protesters maintained a daily vigil in front of the Cup Foods store at 3759 Chicago Avenue, painting walls and the street with murals and graffiti in memory of Floyd. After four nights of confrontations in the city, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz activated the state’s national guard on Saturday for the first time since the Second World War.
US President Donald Trump said troops could be deployed if local authorities requested their help. “We could have our military there very quickly,” he said.