Vietnamese anxious as several businesses destroyed in US protests

By Anh Ngoc   June 1, 2020 | 08:24 pm PT
Vietnamese anxious as several businesses destroyed in US protests
Protesters face with police outside restaurants in Las Vegas, Nevada, May 29, 2020. Photo by AFP/Bridget Bennett.
During protests and riots sparked by a cop strangling an unresisting black man to death, Thanh Son’s pho restaurant in Florida was destroyed.

Saigon Bay was one of about 40 businesses in downtown Fowler Plaza South, Tampa, Florida, that was looted and burned in the evening of May 30, after a peaceful daytime demonstration against George Floyd's death turned into riots, according to local newspaper Tampa Bay Times.

Son, 50, and his family had bought Saigon Bay restaurant brand four years ago. Earlier, he had run another restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri for 15 years.

Saigon Bay has been around for decades. Residents and students at the nearby University of South Florida were frequent customers, enjoying a bowl of pho, Vietnam’s signature traditional noodle soup. The night the restaurant was destroyed, he and the others were inside when the protest erupted.

"You saw the crowd coming... so scary," said Savy Lam, his 44-year-old wife.

The police were dispatched and dispersed the rioters who had broken into a shop nearby. Thinking the situation had cooled down, Son went home at 9:30 p.m.

However, he received a call later from the owner of a nearby jewelry store, who saw on his security camera that Son’s restaurant was on fire. At 1 a.m., Son tried to return to his restaurant but could not due to the crowds on the street, so he returned home.

Saigon Bay was a mess when he arrived six hours later. Both the restaurant and the nearby Champs Sports store had been reduced to rubble. The roof and frame had burned down, the signs were broken in half, and the glass doors were shattered.

By noon, police and firefighters were still working at the scene. More than 40 people have been arrested on charges of robbery and riots and carrying arms.

Son said he has never imagined or seen anything like this. He was distraught.

"We don't know when we can rebuild. We have no idea at all," he said.

Tampa is just one of the U.S. cities that have seen protests continue for a week after George Floyd, 46, died of police brutality. The protests began peacefully in the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, then turned violent with acts of looting and arson damaging buildings and businesses.

A video shared on social media shows the glass door, furniture and other equipment of a Vietnamese nail salon in Minneapolis being smashed. The money inside was also stolen.

Nhat Minh, a resident of Houston, Texas, told VnExpress: "Many stores in downtown Houston were also destroyed, including the Blind Goat restaurant run by the famous chef Christine Ha (winner of Master Chef 2012), my favorite restaurant."

"Yesterday when I passed downtown, I saw signs warning people to avoid the area."

Minh said there was a large number of people pouring onto Houston streets because this was where Floyd came from. According to Floyd's friends, he grew up in a predominantly black area in Houston before migrating to Minneapolis to find a job.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has declared state of disaster in the wake of violence across the state and has deployed thousands of soldiers and more than 1,000 National Guard members to assist police in ensuring security.

Phuong Tran, a resident of Las Vegas, Nevada, said the protests have occurred in the downtown area, with many fashion shops and restaurants, for the last few days. The initial protests were peaceful, with the police pledging to support the protesters if they do not create disturbances and destroy properties.

However, rioting broke out, resulting in more than 100 people arrested and buildings damaged. An SUV was burnt and many shop fronts were spray painted with messages calling for justice. On Sunday, Las Vegas police had to use tear gas to disperse the crowd.

"The pandemic is still ongoing, on top of the protests, I will further restrict my going out. If I do, I will avoid these areas," Phuong said.

"Many people are taking advantage of the chaos to sabotage and loot. To avoid risks, the government has recommended businesses in the city center to close after 4 p.m.," she said.

A protester gestures in front of a fire during a demonstration against the death in Minneapolis police custody of African-American man George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., May 30, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Lucas Jackson.

A protester gestures in front of a fire during a demonstration against the death in Minneapolis police custody of African-American man George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., May 30, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Lucas Jackson.

Floyd was accused of using a fake $20 bill to pay at a grocery store. In a horrific, haunting video that has gone viral worldwide, police officer Derek Chauvin kept pressing his knee and bodyweight on the neck of an unarmed and unresisting Floyd for nearly nine minutes, even as the victim repeatedly pleaded for help saying, "I can’t breathe."

Another three policemen at the scene stood by and did nothing.

Chauvin has been fired, arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The other three policemen at the scene have also been fired and are under investigation. These actions have failed to quell the anger, particularly among the black community who have long suffered the injustice of racism in America.

According to AP, at least 4,400 people have been arrested in the past few days for committing burglaries, blocking highways and/or breaking curfew.

Hoai Nam, who reopened his Vietnamese restaurant just two weeks ago after closing it for a month as New York deployed measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, now fears for his business.

Other businesses in nearby areas were vandalized, but his restaurant has not suffered any damage yet, luckily.

"Covid-19 has caused many business owners to stand down, now riots are happening. I don’t know how they will survive," he said.

"Every day I still open my business, but at night I feel insecure, what if my restaurant is demolished?"

Protests in New York have continued for four days in a row with thousands of people marching on the streets.

Nam also joined the line of peaceful protesters on Sunday morning. However, as has happened in the previous days, the riots and looting take place at night. Protesters have set things on fire and clashed with police. Gunfire has been heard in the city, many people were arrested and several officers injured.

Nam said he partly sympathizes with the reaction of the protesters because the African Americans have for long suffered from injustice and have been despised and treated like an inferior class.

Floyd's death, combined with the pandemic and unemployment, have set off the flames of anger in them.

Protests in the U.S. have now spread across the globe, with gatherings in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Syria and many parts of Europe.

President Donald Trump called Floyd's death a "grave tragedy", adding that "the memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters, and anarchists," U.S. media reported.

Nam hopes that the tension will end in two to three days, when the four policemen involved in Floyd's death receive appropriate sentences.

"Some U.S. police abuse their power and do not value the lives of others. I think if people of color are treated properly, nothing like this will happen," he said.

The nationwide protests are happening even as the U.S. is already reeling under the Covid-19 pandemic with over 1.8 million infections and almost 107,000 deaths, as of Tuesday.

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