Atlanta stories from a night of violence

Sakeema Freeman and her father Veree got to work Saturday morning cleaning graffiti off of a sign in downtown Atlanta after a night of violence. GREG BLUESTEIN/STAFF
Sakeema Freeman and her father Veree got to work Saturday morning cleaning graffiti off of a sign in downtown Atlanta after a night of violence. GREG BLUESTEIN/STAFF

Around Atlanta, shopkeepers assessed the damage to their stores, and volunteers pitched in to help the cleanup effort. They shared their stories with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, offering personal perspectives on the impact of Friday evening’s destruction.

Corner Bakery

After being closed for weeks because of the coronavirus, the Corner Bakery near Lenox Square in Buckhead was supposed to reopen on Monday.

Then came Friday’s violence.

Using the eatery’s patio furniture, looters broke every window that gave access to the restaurant. Inside, they stole iPads, computers and point-of-sale equipment used to ring up sales.

“We spent all week cleaning up the store, disinfecting everything, to get ready to open on Monday,” said CEO Frank Paci, as he surveyed damage Saturday morning with a broom in his hand.

“Now we have to clean up, and do it all over again,” he said.

The vandals used about a dozen big rocks to shatter the plate glass windows that look out onto one of Atlanta’s poshest communities along Peachtree Road. A wine bottle lay on the floor amid the debris.

“We don’t serve any alcohol, so somebody brought that with them,” Paci said.

Donna Josephson, marketing manager for the chain, said it won’t take long for the necessary repairs, though she didn’t know exactly when they would open.

Paci lamented the destruction.

“It’s a shame because it takes away from the tragedy and puts the focus on this,” he said.

— Leon Stafford

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Black Lives Matter

Sakeema Freeman, a 26-year-old student in a construction management master’s program, was cleaning graffiti from a placard outside Centennial Olympic Park that read: “Black Lives Matter.”

She said she took part in the peaceful part of the protest early Friday before peeling off when it grew more raucous. She followed the events on social media, and by watching out the window of her downtown apartment.

She described how she helped to watch over younger demonstrators who wanted to steer clear of the violence.

“I tried to do my part,” said Freeman, who observed the damage in the morning, got out a rag and soap, and went to work with her father, Veree.

She wasn’t angry Saturday — just matter of fact.

“You’ve got to clean up your family’s mess.”

Sakeema Freeman and her father Veree got to work Saturday morning cleaning graffitti off of a sign in downtown Atlanta after a night of violence. GREG BLUESTEIN/STAFF
Sakeema Freeman and her father Veree got to work Saturday morning cleaning graffitti off of a sign in downtown Atlanta after a night of violence. GREG BLUESTEIN/STAFF

Across the street, Katie Labgold and Yvanna Pantner were busily wiping away graffiti as well. Labgold, a doctoral student in epidemiology, said it “seemed like an immediate action to start the healing process and, long term, to help to end racist actions and fight white silence.”

Pantner, who is about to start a social work program, described it in a similar vein.

“Our goal is to recognize that being anti-racist starts with the individual. My job is to look within myself and say, ‘What can I do to be anti-racist today?’ And to listen to people of color in my community and ask what my role is in all of this. This is really a systemic issue. It has to be viewed that way.”

— Greg Bluestein

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Parking Company of America

At a downtown office building for Parking Company of America across from the Tabernacle, assailants smashed the front glass window Friday night and started a fire inside.

Saturday morning, workers constructed a makeshift wooden barrier outside the business.

Inside, walls and ceilings in the office were blackened from the fire and smoke, and all of the windows were broken out, though nothing was stolen.

The fire at the office was one of several in the area, including one at a construction site near the Skyview Atlanta Ferris wheel and one near the iconic music venue, the Tabernacle. Both structures appear to have been spared any damage, though other downtown landmarks weren’t as lucky.

Susana Chavez, the executive vice president of the company, said that though the damage is unfortunate, she understands that “people are angry” following incidents of violence against black people.

“As much of a hassle this is, we’re all alive,” she said while walking through the debris. “I’m not fearful for my life on a daily basis.”

— J.D. Capelouto

Eyeglasses

In the parking lot at Across Lenox, a Buckhead shopping plaza near Lenox Square, Claire Maki and Joe Goodwin dragged a black heavy duty trash bag around cars, picking up debris leftover from Friday night’s violence. Both are metro Atlanta residents who felt compelled to join in clean-up efforts after seeing events unfold on live television broadcasts.

“It’s just sad. I was born and raised here,” said Maki, of Buford. “These (businesses) are peoples’ livelihoods, these are how people support their families.”

Goodwin, of Decatur, said he got a call from Maki this morning about helping.

“Seeing the mayor and T.I. and Killer Mike — it felt important, politics aside, to shut up and get to work,” he said. “This is a mess.”

Claire Maki shows off glasses she found on the ground outside Pearle Vision in the Across Lenox shopping plaza. MARLON A. WALKER/STAFF
Claire Maki shows off glasses she found on the ground outside Pearle Vision in the Across Lenox shopping plaza. MARLON A. WALKER/STAFF

The strip mall includes an eyeglass shop, a dentist’s office, a Sleep Number bed store and the AT&T store. The shops appeared on news broadcasts Friday night and early Saturday morning, as looters broke into the stores.

“Everything’s gone,” an employee from Sleep Number said. “They cleared us out.”

As more residents showed up to help clean, crews boarded up businesses, and employees removed some salvageable items in crates.

— Marlon A. Walker

Kwan’s Deli

Andrew Song and his family spent Saturday morning cleaning up Kwan’s Deli and Korean Kitchen, which was broken into and looted, the front windows shattered.

Song, whose father immigrated to the U.S. from Korea and started the business next to Centennial Olympic Park in 2002, said the destruction was a “huge shock,” though he is relieved the damage wasn’t worse.

“We’ll get this cleaned up, and then we’ll see how tomorrow works,” he said.

Outside the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame, Fred Turner of Grove Park helped sweep up the glass. He wore a sign around his neck stating that “two wrongs don’t make it right.”

“Tearing up our city doesn’t make sense,” said Turner, who added that he agrees with the message behind the original protest.

>>PHOTOS: Atlantans clean up downtown and Buckhead as business owners leery of more chaos

Hall of fame CEO Kimberly Beaudin was also outside sweeping up broken glass and cleaning up the gift shop, which was looted. She said there is a “level of disbelief” following the destruction. She said there is not yet an estimate on the cost of the damage at the hall of fame.

“It’s tough to see it happen, but I’m glad nobody was here,” said Song. “It’s just some glass. We can get it taken care of sooner rather than later. It’s good to see the community around, just kind of helping.”

— J.D. Capelouto

>> RELATED VIDEO:

Protests against the killing George Floyd started out peacefully in downtown Atlanta but eventually devolved into violence with looting and property damage. Police dispersed tear gas and deployed SWAT teams to combat the crowds. (AJC Staff / edited by Ryon Horne)

Caribou Coffee

Danny Allen, general manager of the Caribou Coffee near the intersection of Peachtree Road and Piedmont, said the store was hit around 4 a.m. Saturday by vandals, though damage to the shop was minimal.

“They came inside, threw stuff about, tried to open registers and broke them,” she said.

Danny Allen, general manager of Caribou Coffee, said the Midtown coffee shop only suffered the loss of one window and some broken cash registers. “The stores down there have it worse,” she said of her neighbors. LEON STAFFORD/STAFF
Danny Allen, general manager of Caribou Coffee, said the Midtown coffee shop only suffered the loss of one window and some broken cash registers. “The stores down there have it worse,” she said of her neighbors. LEON STAFFORD/STAFF

Her neighbors in the shopping center, including retailer Orvis and massage therapy operator Treat Your Feet, were hit more significantly, she said.

“I’m glad we lost just one window because the stores down there have it worse,” she said of her neighbors.

She added Starbucks and Chick-fil-A locations across the street in the Terminus building also were vandalized.

— Leon Stafford