Lansing Business Owners React To George Floyd Protests

Jun 1, 2020

Hundreds gathered at the Michigan State Capitol Sunday to protest the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who was killed after White police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for minutes.

Protesters marched around the Capitol, down Michigan Avenue, and to East Lansing and back throughout the day—remaining largely non-violent. However, as daylight began to fade, a switch flipped and the protest turned violent leaving broken windows, a burnt carcass of a car, and damage to downtown businesses.

Early Monday morning, crews of volunteers and small business owners worked to board up broken windows, sweep shattered glass, and scrub spray paint off of buildings that protesters damaged in the Sunday protest.

Clean up crews arrived early Monday morning in sweep shattered glass, board up windows, and scrub off graffiti. Much of the damage was cleaned up by 10 a.m.
Credit Abigail Censky, WKAR

The Lansing protest was one of many across the country decrying police brutality toward Black people. The crowd chanted “Say his name,” “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “Black lives matter” as they protested the murder of George Floyd. But, as dusk fell the non-violent protest became unruly when protesters overturned and burned a car, and the windows of the downtown Chase Bank were smashed in.

Around 8 p.m. police began to fire volleys of tear gas canisters to try and disperse the lingering crowd, which escalated tensions. Protesters smashed in windows of downtown businesses before a citywide curfew was instituted. In total, 16 people were arrested.

The front doors and side windows of Lansing's Boji Tower were smashed in when Sunday's protest against police brutality turned violent.
Credit Abigail Censky, WKAR

Tammy Melser and Autumn Weston were roaming the streets with brooms helping clean-up efforts. Both women own iconic downtown Lansing eateries, the Peanut Shop open in Lansing since 1960 and Weston’s Kewpee Sandwich Shop, a Lansing mainstay since 1923.  

Melser and Weston said they’d never seen a protest of this magnitude before. Neither of their businesses were damaged and they supported the protest, but were worried about downtown businesses like theirs who suffered damages after already taking a brutal economic hit because of the coronavirus outbreak. Melser said she never understood the restraint tactic of kneeling on a person’s neck, used in the murder of George Floyd, but she appreciated peaceful protest.

“I have never liked that maneuver that they use with the knee on the neck. I’ve never liked it—I just, I don’t understand it. And, I do support them and I understand the anger and we do need change. But, destroying our livelihoods is not gonna get us there. We need to come together and work in a peaceful way,” said Melser.

The Peanut Shop owner said she listened to the police scanner throughout the day Sunday as a “type-A control freak” wanting to know what was happening downtown. Weston added—the majority of the protest remained peaceful. She said it was a “emotional day and she tried to avoid coverage fearing what would happen to her business after rallies in Grand Rapids and Detroit turned violent earlier in the weekend.

“I don’t like when people see images on the news and then they classify it as a bad protest because there were people demonstrating in a peaceful manner yesterday. I mean, the majority of them were. But they focus on the bits that are negative and they shine that bigger and brighter than the people that were actually here to serve a purpose, and serve their point, and get it across in a respectful manner,” said Weston.

As much as I do not want to see my building, my property, or the next-door neighbor’s property damaged. Those are things that we can rebuild, those are things that can be replaced, people cannot.

Both acknowledged the fine line they walk as business owners who support the raw emotion behind the protests while being fearful of damage to their businesses—in Weston’s case a fourth-generation business—and the greater downtown main street. Weston said she understands the larger context.

“As much as I don’t want to see my building, my property, or the next-door neighbor’s property damaged—those are things that we can rebuild, those are things that can be replaced, people can’t. In order for justice to be served it’s not going to happen overnight; it’s not going to happen in a week. But, you know, things do need to change and I support that—I encourage it. Things can be rebuilt.”

Weston paused before adding, “Like I said, people are going to do it in a respectful way, and then some aren’t. But you just pray for the best, and bring a broom.”

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7:15 p.m. Editor's Note - An earlier version of this story indicated Tammy Melser was listening to the police scanner Wednesday, this has been corrected to Sunday.