A jury on Tuesday found ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of two counts of murder for the killing George Floyd, an unarmed Black man whose death sparked nationwide Black Lives Matters protests.
The jury, after 10 hours of deliberation, found Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter for the killing of Floyd on May 25, 2020.
Business owners around Minneapolis, where the trial was held, have been on edge over the last year, with heightened concerns in the last few weeks after the killing of Daunte Wright by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, a suburb just 10 miles away from the trial.
The heightened police presence and military-style Humvees in downtown Minneapolis are “surreal,” said Ted Farrell, president of Haskell’s, a chain of 11 liquor stores in the state that includes a location a few blocks from the courthouse.
“We’re trying to keep it status quo,” Farrell said before the verdict was announced, though the store did take the step of boarding up its windows. “Once we hear the verdict is coming, we’ll prepare to hit the panic button.”
Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, has been planning for the trial for weeks and hosting a weekly briefing with business leaders and Mayor Jacob Frey.
“Many businesses are preparing their buildings by preemptively boarding windows and doors. Looting and physical property damage have been the most prevalent crimes and were most present in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd and Duante Wright’s deaths,” he told Yahoo Finance before the verdict.
One-hundred and forty Minneapolis businesses were affected by a “crime spree” over the last few weeks, Axios reported last week, and pharmacies and liquor stores have been frequent targets.
According to Weinhagen, more than 1,500 businesses in the City of Minneapolis sustained damage in the summer of 2020 in the immediate aftermath of Floyd's death, and the Chamber is still assessing the more recent incidents in Brooklyn Center.
'The nation's eyes are on Minnesota'
The state of Minnesota’s Chamber of Commerce sent this email to its members this week. The organization represents more than 6,300 companies and about half a million employees throughout Minnesota.
“As we await the outcome of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the nation’s eyes are on Minnesota. The Minnesota Chamber urges the business community to encourage peace throughout our state. The tragic death of George Floyd highlighted the need for further examination of our system and practices to provide fairness and opportunity for all Minnesotans. As employers, it’s important to focus on the safety of our employees, customers and businesses during this time as we seek an inclusive and prosperous state.”
Minneapolis-based retail giant Target (TGT), the largest employer in the city’s downtown, said before the verdict that it had communicated with employees about the trial and plans to follow up with them if the response to the verdict affects business. But the majority of the company’s headquarters employees have been working remotely since last spring, Target noted.
“Target’s priority is the safety and well-being of our team. Like other downtown businesses, we’re closely monitoring the trial and any surrounding activity,” a company spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.
“For our headquarters and store teams [sic] members currently working downtown, we’ve communicated to them about the trial, shared that we’re monitoring closely and let them know we’ll reach out if there’s any impact to our business,” the company added.
Thrivent, a Minneapolis-based wealth management company, told Yahoo Finance before the verdict that it retains a “limited presence” downtown while the company operates remotely due to COVID-19.
“We join the City of Minneapolis in support of citizens’ right to peacefully assemble during the trial, while also doing our part to help protect people and property,” the company told Yahoo Finance.
David Barnier, the owner of a casual restaurant three blocks away from the courthouse called Dave’s Downtown, said he holds a daily meeting with employees in which he asks about customer sentiment regarding the trial and offers updates on the company’s plans.
“Overall, we feel safe,” he said, before the verdict, noting the restaurant operates on the second floor, which he says puts it at less risk of harm. “None of my employees have felt their life is in danger.”
But he said if any employees begin to feel unsafe, they can stay home and receive full pay.
“They have nothing to lose,” he says. But, ahead of the guilty verdict, he cautioned potential protesters: “Don’t punish the buildings.”
If protests erupt in the area, Haskell's stores will close, Farrell said, before the guilty verdict came down.
“We’ll shut it down, button it up, and play it by ear,” he says. “Then keep the text threads to all the employees to keep them updated on what our intentions are.”