The pandemic added new pressures as barber shops, nail salons, restaurants and other mom-and-pop operations closed their doors, squeezing a community where about 30% of the residents are unemployed, according to Nelson.
Many of those working survive paycheck-to-paycheck, and they’ve suffered, too, amid furloughs and job cuts. Food pantries have popped up. Nelson’s group, working with a food depository, has served 1,200 families a week.
So in late spring, when protests spread nationwide against police brutality and calls for racial justice following George Floyd’s death, Auburn Gresham was fertile ground. Peaceful demonstrations spun into violence.
Stores burned to the ground. Looters grabbed money orders from a currency exchange and tried to crack open an ATM. Drug stores and grocery store shelves were stripped bare.
While Cashaw and his 17-year-old son were cleaning and boarding up, a menacing group of men approached. “Why are you destroying the place where you shop and where you live?” he asked.
Sensing they were about to force their way into the store, Cashaw’s son stood firm. “I will fight each and every one of you.” he said, his father recalls. The group moved on.
Pfleger, the priest, watched from another street, sensing a futility he hadn’t seen before. During the looting of a Walgreen’s, a young woman he knew walked by, carrying an armful of stolen goods.