In the middle of the afternoon of May 31, one of my older brothers was working at my family’s store, the Express Food Market on the South Side of Chicago, when he realized that the businesses around him were getting looted. He and the other worker on duty quickly started packing to leave, but they didn’t even have time to take all the money from the register before the rioters began breaking the windows. By the end of the looting, the glass had all been shattered, the register had been broken into, the lottery machine had been stolen, and thousands of dollars in merchandise had been taken.

Thankfully, my brother and his co-worker escaped unharmed. But the store was destroyed.

The Express Food Market was torn down because people are frustrated and confused about why no one is listening.

My parents brought me and my siblings to America from Yemen more than 20 years ago so we could have endless opportunities, and the business helped to provide that. My father had been the manager there for more than 10 years while he made payments to own the store outright. He had one more year to go before the store would have been under his ownership. Now the looting has put him into debt. The store was the sole source of income and employment for my parents, me and four of my siblings, paying for everything from rent to utility bills, and its loss has left us devastated, confused — and scared.

People would expect someone to react angrily in this situation, but my father didn’t. Seeing everything my dad worked so hard for over so many years gone in a matter of hours made me so frustrated, but even if it pained him, he was calm. My father didn’t blame anyone nor did he want to.

May 31, 202001:44

My family understands the current social climate, and we recognize the importance of fighting against social injustices in our country and around the world. We are all very supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. Systemic racism and inequality live in this world today. Protesting peacefully apparently hasn’t been working. If it takes a riot to get people to pay attention to the racially motivated crimes committed by not only cops but also many random citizens who believe they have some sort of authority over the black community, then so be it.

The Express Food Market was torn down because people are frustrated and confused about why no one is listening. The government refuses to address the racial inequalities in the United States, so no, we do not blame the protesters, the rioters or even the looters. If we were to blame anyone, it would be the people who racially target minorities.

The damage inside the Express Food Market in Chicago.Courtesy Salih Mothana

I am a Middle Eastern woman who wears a hijab, so I experience a lot of racism on a daily basis myself, whether it is being called a terrorist or having someone try to take my scarf off. Yet despite these incidents, I still know that being black in the United States is worse. We wouldn’t have to protest or riot if minorities were treated equally, but the truth is, they aren’t.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the Black Lives Matter movement didn’t promote or encourage the looting, so those individuals were finding their own way of sending a message to those in power. Many people who are against this movement are trying to avert people’s attention from the actual issue to the looting by saying things like “How could you still support them after what they did to you?” That’s an ignorant mindset. We don’t judge a whole movement that fights against racial injustices based on the actions of a few people.

In times like this, we have to learn to stay together and work together. A lot of family, friends and even complete strangers offered to help clean the store with us. And they supported us by donating and sharing a GoFundMe page that we set up to help cover the expenses caused by the looting. Even if we’re able to get an insurance payout, it barely covers half of what it would cost to get us back to where we were. The store is so damaged, it might cost more to fix it than to open a new business.

The loss of the Express Food Market is particularly heartbreaking because my father made the difficult decision to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic so that, in addition to providing us with an income, it could provide necessities to customers, from sanitizer to milk and eggs. It was one of the few places to do so in the underresourced, underprivileged neighborhood it served.

It was disappointing to see that a business that provided essential items for people within the community was victim to rioting and looting. But the help that we and the looted stores around us have received makes me feel that this may have ended up bringing people together. We are all working together as human beings to restore small businesses so they can continue to serve the community.

We as a people, as humans, need to look out for each other. There is only one race, the human race, and until the whole world comprehends that, they shouldn’t expect peace. Merchandise can be replaced, but lives cannot.

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