SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as 99¢ for the first month
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ for the first month.

'We'll keep cleaning up': Volunteers, nonprofit scrub off graffiti after Downtown protest

Alexandria Burris
Indianapolis Star

Efforts to clean up graffiti and restore Downtown Indianapolis began Monday after a weekend of violent civil unrest left more than 80 businesses vandalized. 

Teens and adults with the Central Indiana Youth of Christ along with Downtown Indy, a nonprofit that works to develop and market the area, set out around noon to scrub away messages left by individuals angered over the police killings of black Americans. 

Their first stopped was the former IBJ building at Pennsylvania and East Washington streets, where protesters had spray painted, "No Justice No peace," "Dreasjon Reed," Justice 4 Sean Reed" and "I can't breathe."

“We strategically planned to come down here and clean up our city,” Antonio Patton, 42nd & Post City Life director at the Central Indiana Youth for Christ, an organization that works with youth.

The cleanup isn't the only effort aimed at helping the community rebuild. The protests are also spurring thoughts about how a business alliance can work to eliminate social and racial inequities.

James Holder, 16, helps scrub away graffiti from the weekend's violent civil unrest in downtown Indianapolis on Monday, June 1, 2020. Teens and adults with the Central Indiana Youth of Christ and nonprofit Downtown Indy scrubbed away messages left by people angered over the recent police killings of black Americans. More than 80 businesses were vandalized over the weekend.

A strategic effort after a chaotic weekend

On Friday and Saturday, peaceful protests were followed by rioting and violent clashes with police after sunset. Businesses were looted. Windows and doorways smashed. Fires set.

By Sunday, Mayor Joe Hogsett instituted a curfew. Damage from the overnight riots are still being assessed. Early projections put it in the millions. 

The teens and Downtown Indy focused on cleaning up graffiti on the sides of buildings along Pennsylvania and Washington. Many Downtown businesses remained closed and boarded up as uncertainty lingered. 

About 20 teens, ages 14 through 18, took part in the initial graffiti cleanup. Patton said the cleanup was strategic. 

He said he's seen numerous images of opportunists causing the damage Downtown, overshadowing the messages of peaceful protesters and further endangering the black community. 

"Black individuals are not putting this graffiti on the wall. There's multiple images of white people putting 'Black Lives Matter' and writing 'F 12' on the walls," he said. "We as the black community are asking them, 'What are you doing? Why are you putting that up there?' because it looks like we put it up there."

"When we come to protests, we protest in solidarity, without violence, without vandalism and without hatred," Patton added. "We come to stand in solidarity because we have a plan and we want results and we're hurt about what happened to George Floyd. Not one time have we thought to throw a brick through black-owned businesses."

He said Michael's Soul Kitchen and a black-owned barbershop were vandalized along with national chains like Starbucks. None of the businesses had anything to do with what happened to Floyd, Patton said. The violence also resulted in the deaths of 38-year-old businessman Chris Beaty, who was fatally shot Saturday night. 

Adrian Echols, 24, is Patton's nephew. He said the violence was reckless.

"There's so many more ways that we can do this without messing up our city," Echols said, adding that individuals should attempt to change the political and criminal justice system from within. 

Javion Harris, 17, worked with Echols to scrub graffiti from the building. He agreed with Echols that the protests should have remained peaceful. James Holder, 16, just hoped elected officials heard the protesters cries for justice.

Downtown Indy Inc.'s street ambassador team distributed cleaning supplies to the teens and followed up the scrubbing with a pressure washer. Buildings from Capitol Avenue to Mass Avenue were tagged.

Bob Schultz, Downtown Indy's senior vice president of marketing and events, and Josh Pruitt, Downtown Indy's director of operations, said some of the paint may not be easily scrubbed away from buildings' surfaces. 

For now, the nonprofit is seeking estimates from impacted businesses on the cost of physical repairs and lost revenue. It's working with the Building Owners and Managers Association of Indianapolis to do that. 

It also remains to be seen if the cleanup was premature and if another round of damage could occur.

"It depends on if it's over. ... Sometimes another storm follows the storm you're cleaning up from," Schultz said. "We'll keep cleaning up."

Volunteers scrub away graffiti from the weekend's violent civil unrest in downtown Indianapolis on Monday, June 1, 2020. Teens and adults with the Central Indiana Youth of Christ and nonprofit Downtown Indy scrubbed away messages left by people angered over the recent police killings of black Americans. More than 80 businesses were vandalized over the weekend.

Opening behind boarded-up windows

On what was supposed to be the first day for dine-in in Indianapolis after months of closure due to COVID-19, nearly every restaurant in the southern end of Mass. Ave. and near Monument Circle were boarded up. Garden Table, The Eagle,  Bazbeaux Pizza, McCormick & Schmick’s seafood & Steaks, P.F. Chang’s, Rock Bottom and Yard House were among the at least dozens of restaurants closed.

Oren Alexander, a manager at McCormick & Scmick’s, said originally the plan had been to open the restaurant on Monday because it has no outdoor seating. That idea was nixed after windows were broken during riots. Alexander said the restaurant would open once everything was cleaned up and fixed, but he didn’t know when that would be.

Other restaurants remained boarded up, but opened anyway. “Now open” and a peace sign were spray painted on boards that covered the windows and door at Punch Burger on Ohio Street, as the business opened Monday.

Likewise, Giorgio’s Pizza was open for dine-in and Soupremacy was open for carryout, both boarded up and located on East Market Street. Danielle Cooney, a manager at Soupremacy, stood outside next to a sign letting people know the small restaurant was open, even if boards covered up all the windows, including one that was broken over the weekend.

But business wasn’t what it should have been, Cooney said. Nearby office buildings closed Monday as a precaution in case peaceful protests turned violent again. That means many of Cooney’s regulars weren’t all downtown.

“This is not hurting me today,” Cooney said, pointing to protesters. “The riots of Friday and Saturday night have hurt the business.”

Coordinated approach

To assist businesses, Downtown Indy plans to add to its website a section where people can sign up to volunteer for future cleanups.

It's also established the Downtown Indy Small Business Recovery Fund to collect and disperse monetary contributions to business in need. There are also other considerations that's forcing the nonprofit to reprioritize, Schultz said. 

Volunteers scrub away graffiti from the weekend's violent civil unrest in downtown Indianapolis on Monday, June 1, 2020. Teens and adults with the Central Indiana Youth of Christ and nonprofit Downtown Indy scrubbed away messages left by people angered over the recent police killings of black Americans. More than 80 businesses were vandalized over the weekend.

"It means that you kind of reprioritize your goal," he said. "Our focus has been everything from food truck festivals to Downtown growth, attracting businesses and talent attraction and retention. But as with all things (on) Maslow's hierarchy of needs, sometimes you have to go back to the very basics of safety, security, belonging."

The nonprofit has a downtown agenda that addresses issues like homelessness and safety and security. It's partners with the National Urban League, Concerned Clergy, Black Expo and has prominent black board members. 

But Schultz says Downtown Indy feels it can step up and act as a bridge of communities.

"We've recognized that there needs to be a more coordinated approach to social inequities and inequalities," he said.

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