Neighbors Help Minneapolis Pharmacist Rebuild Shop After George Floyd Protests

Mar 6, 2021
Originally published on March 8, 2021 3:09 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The city of Minneapolis is on edge. The trial of the former police officer charged in the killing of George Floyd begins on Monday. Barbed wire and fencing has been put up around the courthouse. The video of George Floyd with a policeman's knee on his neck is painful to see. There are also hard memories of some of the unrest that followed.

Seward Pharmacy was destroyed. It is owned by Elias Usso, who didn't live far away but who had to watch helplessly as looters smashed the shop that he and his wife had opened months before. But the pharmacy is now back with the help of neighbors and nonprofit groups, and they are even giving COVID-19 vaccine shots. Elias Usso joins us from Minneapolis. Mr. Usso, thanks so much for being with us.

ELIAS USSO: Thank you, Scott, for having me.

SIMON: I have to ask you to tell us if you could, please, what happened months ago. I understand your store is just a few blocks from the 3rd District police station that burned down. What happened that night to your pharmacy?

USSO: It was a traumatic situation for us to just watch it live. The morning that we went to the pharmacy, it was hard for us to just get up. We couldn't even sleep. It was, like, totally destroyed. You cannot recognize something that I left that night before. Drugs, all these pills on the floor, water, ashes - so it was just horrible. And then I looked around - it was the whole neighborhood - and I said, this is again is - you know, the injustice happened. It's not only us. We are in it together.

Once we start cleaning, neighbors just came out, just flooded. How we can help? There was this gentleman that brought his brooms and vacuums in to clean with us. That's when I felt like, you know what? We can't give up on this. I mean, this is my home, and I feel great, you know, being a part of this neighborhood. Regardless whatever happened, we're here to reopen and continue giving service.

SIMON: Tell us about your community, your neighborhood, your customers.

USSO: So our neighbor is very diverse. And majority of my community, Oromo community here from Ethiopia, lives here. It's one of the most wonderful, welcoming immigrant state. And it's willing to embrace you. It's where you can thrive. You leave your refugee life behind you and just move forward to grow and to open your own business, like I did.

SIMON: Mr. Usso, I have to ask, as this significant trial is about to begin, what are your feelings about the police?

USSO: As a Black person, as an immigrant, you know, as owner of a business, it kind of makes you feel sad, you know? Something happened at my business. Should I call the police or not? That's getting to a question that - should I do that, you know? And then if I call, is something bad going to happen? So we have to fix this. This is - it's not only one person who can fix this. It's all of us together. So not all police are bad. That's not the perception that I personally have. But these days, you know, we've stretching police officers also to the point that we give them a call for everything - for mental health, for all kinds of stuff - while that money could be allocated to a different avenue of helping the society.

SIMON: How do you feel as the trial is about to open, Mr. Usso?

USSO: I hope to see justice will be served, and we hope the George Floyd family will get justice, you know, for what happened to George Floyd. It's - it's just - it's hard to think about it, you know, someone kneeling on your neck and for eight minutes and 40-something second and getting away.

SIMON: Do you have - as the trial is about to open, do you have any concerns about your family, your business?

USSO: My priority now is to make sure that my patients get their prescription. But, you know, when I look back, you know, if that destruction didn't happen at all, would the world have heard us? Would there be any cry-out? I wonder that. Maybe, you know, for me, you know, as a business owner, for our business to be like that, maybe that's just the little price that we pay for justice. I see it that way.

SIMON: Elias Usso - pharmacist, and he owns the Seward Pharmacy in Minneapolis - thanks so much for being with us, sir.

USSO: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.