In the wake of national social unrest following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, hundreds of businesses and municipal buildings across the country were damaged by looters and vandals.
While some businesses appear to have been targeted for specific reasons, others were simply caught in the crossfire. During the protests of late May and June, dozens of cannabis retailer stores were hit by looters, resulting in millions of dollars in damage due to theft and vandalism.
In Massachusetts, Pure Oasis co-owner Kobie Evans watched the national protests on the evening news and went to sleep on Sunday, May 31, believing that the looting was happening a safe distance from his shop in the Grove Hall neighborhood of Boston.
Evans woke the next day to several phone calls from police and neighbors telling him that his store had been looted.
“It was a gut punch,” Evans says. “It really caught us off guard because we had the false assumption that, being a Black-owned store, we thought we would be insulated.”
Evans arrived at his business that Monday morning to find it had been ravaged by thieves who made off with about $100,000 in cannabis products. Evans says it was a somber morning of picking up broken glass with his staff, co-owner Kevin Hart and himself nearing tears.
Evans was disturbed to see the security footage showing a parade of cars arriving at his store around 2 a.m. that morning. He watched numerous people break one of the large glass window and ransack the store.
“It was so unsavory that under the umbrella of the protests we had this looting,” Evans says. “In no way do we draw any correlation between the people who were out protesting peacefully and the people who broke into our store. They weren’t there to spray paint and cause a demonstration and stand in solidarity with George Floyd. They were there for personal gain.”
Pure Oasis was the first business in Massachusetts to open through the commonwealth’s social equity program, designed to fast-track minority-owned businesses through the licensing process. The store had only been open for two weeks in March before being forced to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. It reopened for curbside delivery on May 25, less than a week before protests began and the looting occurred.
Evans says neighbors and members of the cannabis community came forward to help Pure Oasis following the break-in. Local producers provided cannabis products on terms so the business could continue operations.
Just as the Pure Oasis crew finished repairing the damages, a line of customers began forming outside.
“We made the decision to press forward, and we opened for business that day,” Evans says. “We survived corona, we will survive this, and we will persevere.”
Evans says the damages to Pure Oasis were covered by insurance. But many businesses were not so lucky, and others are still waiting to find out whether their claims will be covered.
Like Evans, cannabis business across the country were left sweeping up broken glass, boarding up windows and attempting to replace stolen inventory and equipment after being targeted by looters. Ron Leggett, the owner of Magnolia Wellness in Oakland, may have to shut his cannabis store permanently due to the looting. In a Facebook post, Leggett said he deeply understands the strife felt by his community as he and his family have been the victims of systemic racism on numerous occasions:
“I have so many feelings and emotions right now pertaining to all of this. I’m trying to stay focused on the bigger picture.…”
Debby Goldsberry, a friend of Leggett, started a GoFundMe fundraiser to help him recover some of the losses.
“Ron lost everything in his business, right down to only his business license itself and a few small boxes of papers,” wrote Goldsberry, who called Leggett one of the most giving people she knows. “They shot up his security system, broke down his door, and took or broke every asset he had. His space is now boarded up with plywood, and he can’t even enter to start cleaning up.”
In San Francisco, SPARC CEO Erich Pearson says his Lower Haight Street store was also targeted by looters, but the business was fortunate not to have too much damage. Although thieves destroyed his store’s façade, they failed to break past the security gates and enter the building.
Despite the damages to his store, Pearson says the sad reality is that the looting is a small part of bringing social change. Even though the would-be thieves were opportunists and not grieving protestors, Pearson believes they draw the necessary attention to important social issues that have been all-too-often dismissed.
“In Washington, D.C., do the policy makers and institutions that be really cause change unless they feel threatened?” Pearson says. “You can only gather peacefully so much and ask so many times nicely before you resort to more violent activity. Our storefront damage is $7,000 — it’s just some plate glass.”