The looters who damaged small businesses in Deep Ellum over the weekend were not legitimate demonstrators protesting police brutality against black people and the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis cop. They were merely opportunists who targeted a neighborhood and small businesses owned by the very people who support the protesters' cause, attorney Monica Smith says.
She should know. She and husband Terrance Bread Downs, also a lawyer, own Smith Downs Group PLC, a boutique law firm in Deep Ellum that includes civil rights law as an area of expertise. They're black, and they are small business owners who had their own offices smashed by rioters during Saturday's protest.
Saturday night marked the date of her 11th anniversary with Downs, but the night turned sour when she received a message from Allen Falkner, who owns the club The Nines and tattoo removal shop Fade Fast near their office. Falkner messaged after 3 a.m. to let her know that their office windows had been smashed. The couple headed immediately to Deep Ellum.
They hadn’t taken precautions like boarding up the office windows before the protest, Smith says.
“We knew that there might be some issues, but we were hoping for the best,” she says.
The couple have yet to get a professional assessment for the cost of repairs for the broken windows, and Smith says they were “lucky” no one got in.
While her work focuses on civil rights abuse, Smith says she doesn’t believe that vandalism is an effective method in protesting — at least when it pertains to small businesses
“You’d think there might be some cognitive dissonance there between being a civil rights lawyer and a business owner who’s had their property destroyed but there’s really not,” Smith says. “Terrence and I, that’s my partner, we really try to practice law and run our business the same way that we live our lives — with a high level of integrity and a motivation to do the right thing.”
Smith says she otherwise supports the cause, as do her neighbors.
“People have a right to be angry. I’m angry,” she says. “I think as Americans we have a right and should be outraged because what civilized country allows the slaughter of its people? If you heard these reports coming from China or somewhere else you’d be appalled, but for some reason police brutality in this country has kind of become normalized.”
While protesters are largely focused on reforming police officers' behavior, Smith says a much broader focus is needed to end the systemic racism that runs deep in government entities.
“There are so many ways in which the government — cities and counties and states — oppress their people, and we really just kind of think about police brutality, but oppression against black and brown people can manifest itself in so many different ways,” the attorney says.
“We of course need to weed out the bad officers. We of course need more training, but one thing I think we need that nobody ever talks about is we need to change the legislation to hold bad cops accountable, and I really think that’s where a lot of the change is gonna come from. I think that’s how we can effectuate that change.”
Smith says she is now the attorney in the case of Antoinette Brown, who died in May 2016 after she was mauled by dogs. Dallas police and Dallas Animal Services made 12 calls to the property where the dogs lived before Brown's death, yet no action had been taken to remove the dogs. Smith is representing Brown's family in their lawsuit against the city.
“I believe that citizens have a duty to speak out against a government that’s doing wrong," Smith says of the protests. "But all of that said, the people that did the damage in Deep Ellum aren’t protesters, they’re just opportunists, and they aren't focused on the legacy of George Floyd or Sandra Bland or Botham Jean or Trayvon Martin … they’re just out for their own interests.”
Much of the looting and vandalism that took place after protests escalated has been widely criticized as counterproductive, especially when targets include black-owned businesses. Smith says targeting any small business is unfair, especially in a progressive neighborhood like Deep Ellum.
“I think Americans have a duty to stand up against their government if it’s doing wrong. … That’s a patriotic thing to do, but it would be wrong and unfortunate to tie businesses, and especially small businesses, into that,” she says.
“What happened to Deep Ellum … which is such a beautiful and inclusive community … my neighbors are such genuinely good people and everybody supports the protest. All those people on my block support that, and for their property to be damaged is just such a shame. That has nothing to do with the protests. Those are opportunists.”
This past weekend, Deep Ellum residents and supporters came together to clean up the neighborhood.
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“I don’t like any small business being targeted — any of them,” Smith says. “AllGood is owned by an older white man, Mike (Snider) who's the coolest guy who loves music.”
She also points to one of the neighborhood's restaurants that was targeted, which is owned by a Japanese-American, and to Dallas PinUp, a boutique that had windows smashed and was also robbed.
“The PinUp shop is owned by LaDonna Stein, who champions the LGBTQ community,” Smith says. "Mary Borjas, who owns Orange (Salon) which is two doors down from me, she’s a Hispanic woman who has her own thriving businesses all on her own.
“I have such a great community around me, I don’t want any of them to be targeted. So it’s not just about African-Americans, it’s about everybody.”