Shattered nerves, along with shattered glass, populated the streets of downtown Greenville on Monday after a peaceful protest turned violent the night before. So did a sense of community.
At 7 a.m., a message sent out over social media called for volunteers to help clean up the damage to more than 30 buildings targeted as angry splintered from a larger demonstration, then rioted and confronted police for several hours.
Overnight, the Uptown Greenville organization and city leaders devised a plan to help bring relief to businesses impacted by the violence, according to interim executive director Meredith Hawke. By 8:30 a.m. over 200 volunteers rallied at Five Points Plaza.
Later, a gathering of the Interfaith Clergy met on the steps of the Pitt County Courthouse. Religious leaders from both the African American community and those with predominately white congregations prayed for the healing of Greenville and other cities across America.
“They were deployed uptown with brooms, shovels and trash bags. It was phenomenal how the community turned out. Within two hours the entire area was cleaned up and businesses were beginning to board their windows up,” Uptown’s Hawke said. “The beauty of Greenville is that we are resilient. The community truly rallied together to repair the damage done.”
On Evans Street, James Speight, owner of Greenville Mixed Martial Arts examined a brick that was launched hard enough to break out a window and become embedded in a wall inside.
Speight and his son Jay were not only boarding up the broken window, but the entire storefront. “Until things calm down,” he said. “I’ve been shut down for 10 weeks and haven’t been able to generate one cent of revenue. This is just another log on the fire.”
Next time he is afraid it will be more than just a busted window. “I don’t think it’s over,” he said.
Up the street, workers were sweeping glass from seven broken windows at Emerge Gallery and Art Center.
Executive Director Holly Garriott said windows can be replaced. She was grateful no one was hurt and no art was damaged.
“We were lucky. I was worried about the building catching on fire,” she said.
She understands that people are angry.
“People want to be heard,” she said. “We know that, through the arts, there is a better way to get your voice heard in more constructive ways.”
She said that Emerge and the Arts Council are working together to cultivate a way for people to express themselves in less destructive ways and try and bring healing.
Plywood boards were being installed over the windows broken with rocks, bricks and a bottle.
Garriott said even though it was terrifying, she does not think it was a personal attack on the gallery.
“We stand for the entire community,” she said.
Nelle Hayes, who lives on Evans above a studio she owns, said she and her husband Larry were home when the march went down Evans.
“We have lived here 10 years and witnessed plenty of marches. That’s usually the end of it,” she said.
After the march the couple went for their nightly walk on campus nearby. By the time they returned, they were told by police they could not go home. They spent the night in Raleigh.
“[The violence] is such a shame. They are dishonoring the name of George Floyd. They are using it as an opportunity to wreak havoc. People are just now trying to recover from [the affects] of COVID-19,” she said. “It is unleashed evil.”
Hayes’ property did not sustain damage, mostly due to prayer, she said. She hadn’t decided if she would board up the windows to the street level studio.
Johnnie Taylor was walking the downtown area with a broom, helping anyone clean up who needed it, including Hayes.
“I’ve been in protests before,” he said, “It could have been worse. A couple of people got out of control. They think, ‘If I do something, people will listen.’”
He said he is frustrated watching the clips of Floyd being held down on the ground.
“Watching it hurts. It is like [the officer] didn’t even notice when he said he couldn’t breathe. He just kept his knee on his neck and did not respond. It seems personal. I would not expect something like this in Greenville. But we do not need to ignore its seriousness,” he added.
Carley Summer rents the studio from Hayes.
Summer, worried about her business, said her nerves were wrecked. She said she didn’t think the violence was at the heart of what the protest was about.
“I don’t want them to feel oppressed,” Summer said.
Her assistant Darby Hubbell said, “We stand with them.” Although, she said she does not condone violence, “A window does not equate a life.”
Coastal Fog, at Evans and Fourth, sustained extensive damage, with seven windows busted out. Speculation of an arson attempt was found when a displayed book, showed visible signs of being set on fire.
Julie Dietrich, one of four owners, said the outpouring from the community had been unbelievable.
A social media post by Coastal Fog founder Jordan Proctor had garnered almost 1,000 likes by Monday evening.
“We know that this violence and destruction is a manifestation of hurt turning into more hurting. If we could wash away the pain and hurt from all the suffering, we would. But until the suffering and hurt is gone, we’ll only show love and compassion as we pick up the pieces. Let’s let this bring us together. We can’t survive any more divide,” she wrote.
“We are not letting this deter our message of love,” said Dietrich. “Part of the reason we are here is because we love our community. We will be stronger for the most part. A window breaking doesn’t damage that.”
Dietrich said she was amazed some of their customers who had been a part of the peaceful protest barricaded the front door of the business to keep looters out.