The Minneapolis riots lasted three days, from May 27 to 30. But for Ryan Knox, owner of Minneapolis-based Knox Jewelers, the 72-hour siege boiled down to two of the longest minutes of his life.
“I applaud anyone who had the foresight on that Wednesday [May 27] to board up or take elevated actions in anticipation of the riots,” says Ryan.
News of public reactions to the death of George Floyd, after being arrested and in police custody, was wall to wall. In the Minneapolis area and surrounding suburbs people took to the streets demanding justice, while others took justice into their own hands.
Ryan’s jewelry store is located in uptown Minneapolis, an eclectic mix of residential neighborhoods and businesses. It’s an older part of the city where upper-middle class residents have restored old homes, while other parts of the area have fallen prey to urban decay over the decades.
As a second-generation jeweler who was born, raised and worked in the Minneapolis area his entire life, Ryan accepted the risks of operating in the area, installing and employing proper levels of security. Little did he know that one day these measures would be enough to protect his store from rioters and looters intent on destruction and mayhem.
During the three days of rioting, marauders mainly committed their devastation during the early hours of the morning, “Between 1:00 AM to 3:00 AM,” says Ryan. His Twitter feed was blowing up on the evening of May 27 with firsthand and secondary reports of the Uptown area and surrounding neighborhoods of Minneapolis being “under siege … essentially a free for all,” according to Ryan.
With businesses and homes being destroyed in the area of his store, Ryan decided to stand his ground. Armed with determination and a 12-guage shotgun, Ryan set off to defend his family business.
“My decision to defend the store came from the fear that it would be completely destroyed and burned down, leaving myself, my employees, and my clients with a huge mess,” says Ryan.
Details of his store’s insurance policy weren’t exactly top of mind for Ryan, who was operating on pure adrenaline and emotion to defend his way of life and that of his employees. He arrived at his store shortly after midnight. Ryan successfully evaded rioters and looters en route to his store. Upon turning on to Lyndale Avenue where his store is located, there was absolutely nothing going on. The calm before the storm.
“They hadn’t come for us,” says Ryan. “Yet.”
Ryan quickly entered the store, directed as many security cameras as possible toward the street, then shut off the store lights. His thinking: if the store was dark the building wouldn’t attract the attention of looters and rioters and no one could see in the store. Like any defender, Ryan established an “outpost” for himself. In his immediate area were two fire extinguishers, his weapon and ammunition.
“Lyndale Avenue became the focus of numerous looters,” says Ryan. “A wig shop, a brewery, and several restaurants were quickly looted and/or sustained broken windows.”
Chaos for Ryan started at 1:28 AM that early morning. People driving in the area were travelling slowly at “casing speeds” while others were driving recklessly at high speeds, according to Ryan. Two cars slowly passed Ryan’s jewelry store three times in five minutes. The drivers parked across the street from the jewelry store. One person from the parked vehicles went straight for Knox Jewelers with implements of destruction in hand.
Fear, stress and anxiety washed over Ryan, then instinct took over. He grabbed his shotgun when the intended looter was five steps from the store. Ryan then racked the weapon from his “outpost” on the second floor. The hooded and masked young man heard the sound loud and clear.
“It took him half a step to stop,” says Ryan. “But he did stop. The looter said he’s ‘got a gat [gun] too.’”
Ryan quickly called the police. With his cell phone in one hand and his weapon in the other, the two-minute standoff ensured. “The looter paced back and forth for about two minutes,” says Ryan. “Then he left with his looter buddies and robbed a nearby business.”
Burning buildings was another preferred tactic of the rioters and looters. Later that same night a martial arts center two doors north of the jewelry store had gasoline poured down its HVAC system. A watchful neighbor from the condominiums across the street alerted Pat, the business owner, who was also defending his business, with a handgun, of the intended arson.
“Pat was able to ring off several shots and scare them away before the mortar could be lit,” says Ryan. “Lucky that he did, otherwise that fire would eventually have burnt our store to the ground.”
On day two of the rioting Ryan returned to the scene with some willing friends to board up the store, get computers, customers’ jewelry and other jewelry making valuables off the premises. Ryan had just treated his friends to pizza and beer on the night of Thursday, May 28, when four masked individuals were casing his jewelry store for about an hour. Three calls to the Minneapolis police department later and no sign of bad guys for five minutes on the security cameras was all Ryan needed to justify a quick exit strategy.
In his haste Ryan did $4,000 worth of damage to his car. Thanks to his efforts, Knox Jewelers escaped with “minimal damage,” says Ryan. “A broken window and screen, a slightly bent security gate, and a broken door handle on a heavy commercial door in the rear of the building.”
Getting his store back in order was an “insane amount of work,” says Ryan. Huge backlogs of business, bringing back items shipped off-site to a temporary location and then back to the store, insurance company calls, police reports, getting his heavily-teched out store back online. The to-do list was endless as they operated by appointment only off-site.
Ryan and his staff communicated with customers mainly by email to assure loyal supporters the staff and the store were in good shape overall. “All of our customers were very understanding and concerned about the staff and the store,” says Ryan. “Even by appointment only in a temporary relocation, we’ve been booked solid. For that we’re thankful.”
Neighboring businesses and residents of Minneapolis weren’t as lucky. After three days of mayhem and destruction, saying the area looked like a war zone was a gross understatement.
After working from a temporary showroom for two months, Ryan returned to his jewelry store on Lyndale Avenue on July 31. In looking back at the rioting, and the handling of the COVID-19 crisis, Ryan is appalled by the lack of leadership demonstrated by local and state politicians.
“I will never forget the failures of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz during the Minneapolis riots,” says Ryan. “I actively support and wish for both of their resignations.”
Ryan still views his store’s location as a “fairly nice and safe area.” Upcoming trials for the case, however, may bring more unrest. But Ryan and other Minneapolis residents and business owners think public reactions won’t reach the late May 2020 levels. For now, like most native Minnesotans, Ryan takes comfort in knowing Minnesota’s frigid winters have a way of cleaning house of out-of-towners intent on disrupting everyday life in the Midwestern city.