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Dhaka Tribune

'Let my building burn': Bangladeshi owner of Minneapolis restaurant supports protest

The family has condemned George Floyd’s death and helped medics treat the demonstrators

Update : 30 May 2020, 11:44 AM

A Bangladeshi owned restaurant has burned down during the ongoing demonstration over the death of George Floyd.

The Gandhi Mahal Restaurant was severely damaged by fire in early Friday (local time), reports The New York Times.

Hafsa Islam, 18, whose father owns the Bangladeshi-Indian restaurant with members of his family, woke at 6am on Friday to hear the news.

“At first, I was angry as this is my family’s main source of income,” she said.

But then she overheard her father, Ruhel Islam, speaking to a friend on the phone. “Let my building burn,” he said. “Justice needs to be served.

“We can rebuild a building, but we cannot rebuild a human,” Ruhel, 42, said adding that: “The community is still here, and we can work together to rebuild.”

For days, the Islam family has watched the protests over the arrest and killing of George Floyd, the African-American man who died on Monday after a white police officer pinned him to the ground, with a knee pressed against Floyd’s neck, the reports also said.

The officer was fired, and on Friday was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, the authorities said.

The restaurant is just a few doors away from the Third Precinct headquarters of the Minneapolis Police Department, which was set ablaze by protesters on Thursday night. Other buildings also burned, and fire eventually reached the restaurant.

Hafsa, who works as a part time food delivery person for Door Dash, said she had stopped her car at a red light on Monday when Floyd was arrested. She watched the whole incident from her car which was horrible, she said. She later learned that he had died.

“I understand why people did what they did,” she said of the demonstrators. “They had tried with the peaceful protesting, and it hasn’t been working.”

Gandhi Mahal was opened in 2008, during the Great Recession. Although Ruhel believes in nonviolent protest — he named his restaurant in honour of Mahatma Gandhi — he empathizes with the frustration of many Minneapolis residents.

“I am going to continuously promote peaceful ways and nonviolent movement,” he said. “But our younger generation is angry, and there is reason to be angry.”

Medics allowed to use the restaurant as a makeshift hospital

The Islam family opened a room in their spacious restaurant to medics, who set up a makeshift field hospital when the mounted police fired tear gas into the crowd on Tuesday. Hafsa said she saw at least 200 people come in and out on both Tuesday and Wednesday night.

Some needed to catch their breath after inhaling tear gas, she said. One woman had been hit in the eye by a rubber bullet, damaging her vision. A rubber bullet tore open the back of another man’s neck. When he fell unconscious, the medics laid him out on a table, the report further mentioned.

“We were just trying to do what we could to help our community,” Hafsa said, who helped treat wounded protesters. “Sure, we had our business. Sure, we were trying to keep our kitchen open. But more than anything, we were concerned for our people.” 

The tension in Minneapolis reminded Ruhel of his childhood in Bangladesh, when he lived through a dictatorship. Two of his fellow students were killed by the police, he said. “We grew up in a traumatic police state, so I am familiar with this type of situation,” he said.

The restaurant has been a hub for interfaith efforts against climate change, and a related art collection was lost to the flames. In the basement, the family also cultivated a small aquaponics farm to supply the restaurant with fresh ingredients, the report also said.

“Now probably, the whole basement is aquaponics with the water,” Ruhel said while laughing and joking about the sprinkler damage.

Ruhel cooked both on Tuesday and Wednesday night, before the medics had to relocate to a nearby church to protect their patients.

As wounds were bandaged and hands were held in the front room, he was in the kitchen, preparing daal, basmati rice, and naan. Simple food, he said, but high in protein — just the thing to get his community through a long, dark night, the report concluded.

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