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Indianapolis business leaders call for end to violence and looting as Downtown protests continue

Alexandria Burris
Indianapolis Star

Downtown leaders are grappling with the costs to restore businesses and residences damaged during a night of civil unrest sparked by the killings of black Americans at the hands of U.S. police officers, including in Indianapolis.

Demonstrators gathered in Monument Circle Friday afternoon to protest the deaths of 21-year-old Dreasjon Reed by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department earlier this month, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor by police in Louisville and most recently 46-year-old George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. 

But as night fell, the protests turned violent. At least 30 businesses were damaged. A drugstore was set ablaze. Some stores were looted.

"What took place last night and early this morning did remarkable and senseless damage to businesses and residential properties that will take millions to rebuild and restore," said Sherry Seiwert, president and CEO of Downtown Indy Inc., a nonprofit that develops, manages and markets Downtown Indianapolis.

She said the cost estimate was based on a figure determined at one business and then projected for the other properties.

Glass covers the streets of downtown as volunteers and workers board up the vandalized businesses in downtown Indianapolis, Saturday, May 30, 2020. Protesters marched the streets last night in response to the police involved killing of George Floyd.

The protest started peacefully on Friday. But tensions escalated after officers in riot gear arrived, which spurred clashes, vandalism and looting. Many protesters left. 

By early Saturday morning, some of those who remained threw rocks through storefront and office windows, set fire to trash cans and looted retailers such as TJ Maxx, CVS and T-Mobile. 

Seiwert said the violence affected businesses and properties across Downtown. Volunteers and workers spent Saturday morning boarding up vandalized properties and cleaning up shattered glass.

"What is most devastating is that the businesses targeted with destruction and looting are the very businesses seeking to lift up racial inequities by employing men and women of all races and minorities — but will now be closed for weeks, months and perhaps forever," Seiwert said. 

Downtown is home to apartment and townhouse dwellers, major corporations, government offices, hotels, small businesses, restaurants and national retailers.

The unrest comes as Indianapolis, and the nation, also combats the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans. Governments, including Indiana, issued stay-at-home orders and shut down nonessential businesses in mid-March to stem the spread of the disease.

As in other cities, the mandates hurt businesses financially, and the local economy nearly ground to a halt. Downtown restaurants and businesses reopened at limited capacity earlier this month only to be damaged during the unrest. 

George Stergiopoulos, minority owner of Giorgio's Pizza on East Market Street, said his business, located just off of Monument Circle, was somewhat lucky.

A scooter thrown at the restaurant cracked a window pane, but it did not give way, saving Stergiopoulos additional repair costs and preventing the restaurant from shutting down again. 

He doesn't know whether his insurance will cover the repairs or whether he will have to pay for them himself. He estimates a window replacement could cost $1,000 to $1,500, excluding the cost of labor and materials.

"Here we are with having to spend additional monies that we don't have because we're all cash-poor because of the pandemic," he said. 

The pizzeria turned to delivery and takeout service during the pandemic, shutting only for 16 days before reopening three weeks ago. Stergiopoulos and majority-owner Elif Ozdemir were preparing to resume dine-in service at 50% capacity on Monday, per the city's coronavirus-related mandates. The damage to the business may push those plans back to at least Wednesday. 

"There was aggression. We can't understand why that aggression was turned on us," Stergiopoulos said, adding that he didn't have problems with the protest. He thought a peaceful protest might even yield additional business. 

"Did we deserve this?" he asked.

As more protests were set to take place Downtown on Saturday, Seiwert and Downtown Indy Inc. called on business and community leaders of all races to demand an end to violence. 

"We also call upon these same leaders to seek to understand the pent-up anger existing in minority communities and speak out against injustice and inequality and make systemic changes where appropriate," Seiwert said. "Peaceful protests are acceptable and welcome but not when they lead to destruction of property and violence towards fellow humans."

Indy Chamber President and CEO Michael Huber also condemned the violence and destruction.

"We recognize the longstanding anger and frustration that has been building in our city and our nation in response to violent acts against communities of color, and we support peaceful protests that address this injustice and call for change," Huber said in a separate statement.

"When reactions turn violent, however, they not only detract from this call, they undermine the important message of the protests, and shift the focus to destruction and injury. Violent acts against fellow citizens and local businesses must not continue."

The threat of violence reverberated beyond Downtown Indianapolis as Simon Property Group closed the Greenwood Park Mall as a precaution at noon Saturday. Simon did not respond to a request for comment. 

Greenwood Police Department patrol officer and spokeswoman Kortney Burrello said information about possible looting at the mall had been communicated via social media networks.

"We are working with Simon monitoring the situation and monitoring social media as well," Burrello said. "We will respond to any threat or potential threat as needed." 

Which businesses were damaged?

The following is a list of businesses that had some sort of damage and vandalism, according to Downtown Indy.

The list is not conclusive of all buildings and property damage and primarily represents properties on or close to Monument Circle.

Damage on the Circle:

  • Soldiers and Sailors Monument — spray-painted on all four corners
  • Salesforce Tower
  • Chase bank doors
  • FedEx
  • Sheraton and its Starbucks
  • Giorgio’s
  • IPL
  • IBJ/BAM
  • Old National
  • Bank of America
  • T-Mobile
  • Windsor Jewelry
  • Athletico
  • Monument Circle Building
  • Forum Credit Union
  • H&R Block

West Market and Illinois north of Washington:

  • TJ Maxx
  • Sugarfire
  • Pearings
  • Thai Restaurant
  • Jack’s Donuts
  • Lazeez Mediterranean Grill
  • UPS
  • McCormick & Schmick’s

Illinois:

  • First Watch
  • KeyBank
  • Jimmy John’s
  • Enzo Pizza
  • CVS  

Contact IndyStar reporter Alexandria Burris at aburris@gannett.com or call 317-617-2690. Follow her on Twitter: @allyburris.