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At epicenter of Minneapolis riots, a reckoning is underway

Adam Belz, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

Bao Huang, owner of Hop Wong near the corner of Lake and Chicago, slept in the Chinese takeout restaurant with a gun through the four nights of riots, but he couldn't prevent a fire next door from damaging it. "Where's the police? Where's the city? Every year I pay taxes. Where are the police?" Huang said.

From south Minneapolis, protests spread across the world. Support for Black Lives Matter among white Americans grew to a majority overnight, polls show. Sweeping reform is on the agenda across the nation. Even the NFL apologized, indirectly, to Colin Kaepernick.

'The whole world is looking'

On May 28 -- the night the Third Precinct police station and the liquor store and many other buildings burned -- Ruhel Islam cooked food for protesters and offered bottled water in front of his restaurant, Gandhi Mahal, down the block and around a corner from the police station.

Medics set up a spot to treat injured protesters in a community space adjacent to the restaurant.

Later that night, someone set a fire that consumed Gandhi Mahal. The next morning, Islam's response went viral: "Let my building burn," he said. "Justice needs to be served."

 

Islam was a student demonstrator in Bangladesh in 1990 when a mass uprising toppled a military ruler. Those protests were not always peaceful. Dozens died, and students and other demonstrators clashed with police repeatedly before the president resigned.

It took Islam time after moving to Minneapolis to learn "what has happened with our black brothers and sisters," he said. Careful to emphasize that he does not condone violence, Islam said, "Our buildings have burned. Why should we blame the protesters for this? We should blame our decisionmakers for this. It's been hundreds of years. All these years, nobody has listened."

He drives from his home on the southeast side of town in his minivan to the site of the restaurant most days, checking on the community center and the cherry tree just down the street. He is trying to find a kitchen so he can resume cooking food for takeout, maybe a spot on Franklin Avenue.

Someone, Islam doesn't know who, put a sign up on the fence around the rubble of his restaurant that says "Special thanks to Gandhi Mahal." He plans to rebuild on the same block, though he estimates it will take three or four years.

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