Public Safety

Cleanup Begins After Looting Damages Downtown Birmingham Businesses

Dr. Juanakee Adams outside her Adams Eyecare business in downtown Birmingham. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

Dozens of people took brooms and shovels in hand Monday morning in the aftermath of looting that plagued downtown Birmingham in the continued outrage over the police killing of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis.

Private citizens and professionals cleaned up broken glass at storefronts from Park Place south to Third Avenue North. The historic Alabama Theatre was among the structures that were damaged.

“What started out with the best of intentions, ended up as something that none of us deserve,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said at a press conference Monday. “This community, the city, none of our small business owners deserve, none of our corporate community deserve. No one deserved it. Not the people in the media that were physically hurt. No one deserves what happened last night in this city we call home, Birmingham.”

To combat a potential repeat of what happened Sunday, Woodfin declared a state of emergency in Birmingham today and enacted a curfew for 7 p.m.

“This is not how we taught the world how to protest,” the mayor said. “Violence, looting and chaos is not the road to reform. And anybody that’s doing the looting, anybody that’s breaking things just because, anybody that’s setting fires just because, I want to make this very clear to you. You’re not doing that in the name of reform for George Floyd. You’re on a different agenda that the City of Birmingham will not tolerate, and I want to make this clear: You don’t get a second chance at it.”

Police Chief Patrick Smith said his department responded to 14 reported business burglaries and to another 13 businesses that had significant property damage from looting, broken windows and the like.

“Personally,” he said, “I think those numbers will go up as soon as we go further into it and as we go throughout the day.”

Twenty-four persons were arrested. Birmingham Fire Chief Cory Moon said his department responded to more than 22 fire calls. Five of those were commercial fires, three were house fires, and there were multiple car fires, trash fires and dumpster fires.

“My message is very simple,” Moon said. “We support peaceful protests. But when people start setting fires intentionally, that puts lives at risk.”

Earlier, Tracey Lauer, the property manager for the Zoe’s on Fifth Avenue North, looked on as workers dealt with what looters left in their wake.

“We had a door break in, they went into the building, started a fire, broke out several windows from the inside and then proceeded to come out on Fifth Avenue,” Lauer said. “They broke out a handicap door, they broke out a door in our revolving door, as well as the actual structure of it, and broke the ATM that is on the wall on the outside of the building.

Graffiti on a wall in downtown Birmingham. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

“It’s heartbreaking,” the property manager continued. “It’s sad. It’s anger. It’s a ton of different emotions all wrapped into one, and I don’t really have the words to put it all together.”

The restaurant had been shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic but planned to reopen this week.

“They have suffered another setback in reopening their establishment now,” Lauer said.

Cindy Mullins, venue manager at the Alabama Theatre, followed the vandalism from home on Facebook Live Sunday night and worried about the safety of people and the venues with which she works.

Alabama Theatre sustained damage on some its glass doors. But the venerable showplace was further affected.

“Alabama Theatre owns all the properties down to the corner on 18th Street,” Mullins said. “We’ve had several windows broken and also a window with the Lyric, but no interior damage at this time. We’re thankful that the damage wasn’t any worse.”

Back on Fifth Avenue, Dr. Juanakee Adams sat as dozens of volunteers worked to clean up the storefronts damaged by Sunday’s looting, including her Adams Eyecare business.

Vandalizied storefront in Birmingham. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

And while windows were broken, her spirit was not.

“I’m doing great. Oh, I’m doing great,” the optician said. “I’m a believer so on the other side of this, I’m gonna be fine. Look at how these people have come down. I’ve got people … restoring me back to my former glory. This is people coming together.”

Adams said her business survived the novel coronavirus pandemic only to become a victim of the destruction that erupted Sunday night. She said she sympathizes with the protestors but “this is not the answer.”

“This is a useless and futile way to solve a problem,” Adams said. “To them, it’s just glass and a door, but behind that glass and a door is a person, me. I’ve been in practice for 40 years.”