This weekend, people around the world put their COVID fears aside and came together to protest police brutality and racial inequality, prompted by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. The three days of protests weren’t the only examples of solidarity among Dallas residents.
Dozens of volunteers came together on Saturday and Sunday in Deep Ellum to help clean up the area after businesses were vandalized, mostly in the form of smashed storefront windows.
Most businesses in the nightlife district had only recently reopened after closing for the pandemic. Many Deep Ellum supporters have since been vocal on social media about the setbacks these losses will mean financially for businesses already on the verge of shuttering.
The neighborhood was also left with graffiti with statements like “BLM ... period” and “Murder in the name of the law,” accompanying a depiction of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, with horns on his head and kneeling in flames, under the words "El Diablo.”
One mural, which became a popular protest memento where many protesters stopped to take their photo, was a makeshift memorial on the boards covering Glazed Donuts, depicting Floyd along with images of Atatiana Jefferson, Jordan Edwards and Botham Jean, all shot to death by police officers.
Allen Falkner, who owns club The Nines and tattoo removal shop Fade Fast, says that while the club has been boarded up since the beginning of the pandemic, the shop wasn't, and two of its smaller windows were smashed in.
He believes the damage would've been greater had he not stepped out at the right moment. Falkner says the group responsible for his shop's damage was made up by half a dozen of young men between 16 and 20 years old. Once they saw Falkner standing outside of his shop one of them asked him, “Is this your place, man?” to which Falkner replied “Yeah,” and they kept on walking, according to Falkner.
“None of them were drunk or high.. I didn’t get that at all from them," he adds.
Falkner says that he watched as the group walked slowly down the street and saw one of them reach into a broken window at the the AllGood Cafe and pull out a vase, walk a few doors down and then throw the vase through the window of a shop called Dallas PinUp.
"These acts weren’t like anger, aggression. These were just people out just causing trouble," Falkner says.
He also saw similar events unfold on video, captured by his store's cameras, like a man running up to Maracas and hitting the restaurant door with what looked like a bat, before running off.
"I’m pretty sure these weren’t protesters, " Falkner says of the groups destroying property. "These were people who were looking to cause trouble. Nobody was wearing masks, nobody had water bottles or signs of anything like that."
On Sunday, a neighbor messaged Falkner to tell him that he’d been guarding businesses with a gun since 4 a.m. Falkner headed down to the area and started boarding up store's windows. When they started helping cleaning up AllGood Cafe, which had windows smashed out as well, other volunteers came through.
“People started showing up with brooms, stuff like that,” Falkner says of the 20 or 30 people he saw helping or dropping off water bottles and snacks before he left around noon. "It was just really awesome, the amount of people — as the day went on, more and more people showed up to help."
The group was methodical.
"I just started following the packs of people around, and we would go location to location, just sweeping up glass and boarding up windows. Once one place was secure, went to the next," Falkner says.
Jay Gavit, a performance artist and board member of the Deep Ellum Community Association, was one of the volunteers. He came by on Saturday at Sunday to help out. Gavit says that DJ David “Chowda” Berkowitz spearheaded the efforts to get together a neighborhood cleanup crew.
Gavit compares the scene on Saturday night to the riots in Los Angeles that followed the acquittal of LAPD officers charged in the beating of Rodney King.
“There was an eerie pulse — a combination of numerous police and medical helicopters. police cars up and down the street, sirens in the distance and broken glass crunching under my feet. I realized I was in Los Angeles 1992,” Gavit says.
He says the crew cleaned up shops and places like Murray Street Coffee and Harlowe.
“We saw the managers at Wizards Vape shop. Most product had been removed by looters,” Gavit says.
Gavit says that despite the damage, he is grateful for the half a dozen of “allies in their pickups handing out water and apples to our groups and businesses.”
"I am overcome by seeing volunteers with emotion and drive in their eyes, showing up with gloves, masks and brooms. We all support the protests," he says.
Falkner finds it particularly “frustrating” that he believed businesses were in the clear after protests had come through on Friday night.
“They came out here last night, they’re not gonna come through again,” he recalls telling a fellow business owner.
Falkner believes that due to Deep Ellum’s location, it regularly sees an influx of the city's poorest, whom he believes to be the same "rabble-rousers" who showed up this weekend.
“Dallas has done a real good job — and I’m saying that sarcastically — of segregation," he says. "There’s a reason why there are no problems at University and Highland Park, because everybody’s filthy rich and they have a police force, and we have more problems here because we’re next to poor neighborhoods.”
Falkner is known as an advocate for women and artists.
"I think protests need to happen; I think they need to stay peaceful," Falkner says. "I get the frustration. I see the racism. I see the inequalities. I see all the problems we have. I see this fucked up president stoking the fires."
He says that tensions at the protests only escalated with police presence.
"I know it’s tough, especially on Saturday [when] they [DPD] were shooting people with rubber bullets and tear gas grenades. Nothing’s gonna incite a riot like getting shot at. I feel like that raised the tensions, and they passed on the tensions to everyone else as well."
Dallas PinUp, a boutique that's next to Falkner's shop on Main Street, has confirmed on social media that some items were taken from its store, including an empty cash register and an iPad.
Falkner says that The Nines was scheduled to reopen this upcoming weekend, but he has put those plans on hold.
“Between the curfew and the anger and the civil unrest, I just don’t think it’s responsible of us.”
Falkner is still in disbelief about the events of this weekend, and the last few months alike.
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“This is so bizarre. ... It’s like: pandemic, murder hornets, riots, what the hell’s next? We're gonna have zombies next?”
On Monday, LaDonna Stein, who owns Dallas PinUp, spray painted the store’s logo onto the wood panels now guarding it, along with the statement: “#Black Lives Matter.”