(WASHINGTON) — BY: CATHERINE THORBECKE
A black business owner in Atlanta who was preparing to reopen his shop after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered it for months said he lost everything when it was looted amid protests over the killing of George Floyd.
“All my money, I had I put into the store,” Zola Dias, 38, told ABC News. “And now I don’t have a choice: It’s over.”
He said that no police officers showed up to stop the looting at his shop late Friday night, but 15 cops appeared on Sunday afternoon after receiving a call that it was being vandalized while he was in there cleaning it up with some friends.
“I was traumatized,” Dias said. “I was with three black men and 15 police come to us and they’re thinking I was trying to vandalize my own store.”
“To me, it was a double shock,” he added. “I cannot even speak.”
Dias said he found out on Friday night via social media that his fashion and sneaker shop, Attom, was being looted, and watched as clips rolled in of people smashing the windows with baseball bats.
“They just stole everything,” Dias said.
He said he didn’t expect it to happen to his store because people in the area know him, and that he’s the only black business owner in the posh Buckhead shopping center.
Dias said he supports the demonstrations over the killing of Floyd, but added, “We have people protesting, and we have people who just want to vandalize. It’s two different things.”
“The people who came to vandalize my store, they weren’t protesting anything, and it’s not the way to protest,” he said. “You can protest peacefully, but there is a little group that is trying to take advantage of everything that’s happening right now.
“It’s not the same. The people protesting and the people doing all this crazy stuff is not the same.”
Dias said he was under immense financial pressure to reopen after being closed for about three months because of COVID-19.
“We planned to open on Monday, and then they broke [into] the store on Friday,” he said.
Dias said right now it’s looking like he’ll have to close, as he’s still behind on rent from when the store was recently closed. But he’s not giving up hope, trying to raise funds to reopen via a GoFundMe page. He said that while he has insurance “it doesn’t cover everything.”
“I’m with the people protesting, but don’t be confused, because like I said there are people that are just trying to take advantage,” he said.
‘I’m ready to rage, I’m ready to protest, but I want to do it the right way’
Kris Shelby, the general manager and curator at Attom, said that he’d been following the protests on Friday, but “the last thing on my mind was, are they going to start looting.”
He lives in an apartment with a view of the store, and said he saw a bunch of cars start pulling into the shopping center after midnight on Friday.
“I’m just hearing glass break … I hear people screaming and yelling,” he said. “And then I hear gunshots.”
He said he immediately wanted to go try to protect the store, but was worried about his safety “or me hurting someone else.”
Shelby said he didn’t sleep that night and when he walked to the store early the next morning “everything was gone.”
“I understand what’s going on in our world right now — I am a young black male who has been dealing with police since I was at a young age,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with that my entire life and having the fear of the police, it sucks.”
“I’m mad, I’m pissed, I’m ready to rage, I’m ready to protest, but I want to do it the right way,” he added. “I’m out here because I want to see a change and make a difference, I’m not here because I want to tear down the city. I’m here to build up our community.”
Shelby’s been at the store since the first day it opened in 2016, and said it’s always strived to be a part of the community.
“People just come hang out with us at Attoms shop, so that’s why I didn’t think that was going to happen to us,” he said. “We’ve shown nothing but love to the city of Atlanta, and we’ve helped a lot of local designers.”
He said he strongly supports the protests, but that looting “isn’t going solve anything.”
“Go out there and protest, do what’s right, try to get your voices heard,” he said. “But going out and looting isn’t going to solve anything at all, the only thing that is going to do is set us back, because you are tearing down the places that we live at. You all live in this city as well.”
If there was one message he would give to his community right now, Shelby said it would be to “beat the system” by voting.
“When it’s time for us to vote, we need everybody out there at the voters poll so we can have a better world,” Shelby said. “I’m sick and tired. I just want to go to living a regular life where it doesn’t matter what race you are, we can all live in this world together.”
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