FERGUSON, Mo. — Mumtaz Lalani looked on helplessly from his home on Sunday night as dozens of people swarmed the parking lot of Dellwood Market near Ferguson and stormed the party store he's owned for about 15 years.
His remote surveillance video captured two people firing guns at the front store window, shattering the glass. He called the police, but they didn’t get there in time. So, Lalani watched several dozen people crouch through the shot-out front window, wreck his liquor supply, loot the store and cause a small fire.
“It’s depressing,” he said. “All your hard work and life savings, disappearing in front of your eyes. It’s hard.”
Since a Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown more than a week ago, a small number of violent agitators have looted stores, shot guns and thrown Molotov cocktails, provoking fierce police response and frustrating peaceful protesters. So far, Lalani's store has been targeted twice.
“I understand people are upset, but this is not justice for Michael Brown,” he told America Tonight. “What kind of justice is this where you run down small business out of business? The whole neighborhood is kind of a mess.”
Standing on top of a cluttered mess of broken liquor bottles, lottery tickets and soggy cigarettes, Lalani contemplated the future of his store and the community.
“It is devastating. I don’t know if I can recoup all my losses in two weeks,” he said. “Almost half of my inventory is stolen or broken. It’s a mess."
He added that he was scared to keep the store open and was considering closing it down during certain hours.
A few miles down the road, Idowu Ajibola spent the day cleaning up his two businesses — a pharmacy and a beauty supply store.
Each of the four windows that were destroyed on Sunday night will cost about $1,500 to repair, he estimated. Many of the other surrounding businesses have broken windows, too.
The vandals, he said, are cold-hearted cowards.
“They are worse than the police officers to me,” he said.
Ajibola, who said he didn’t sleep at all on Sunday night, had police call him to the scene after someone destroyed his property, sounding his alarm.
“It got me really worried about what is going on here,” he said. “As much as I support the protest, this vandalism is out of control, because I believe it is doing more damage and giving us more bad publicity.”
He said he had marched with other protesters in the first few days after Brown was killed. But he stressed that the protesters need to “find a middle ground” and must “draw a line.”
“We have to find a way because this is our lives,” he said. “I know that we have to find a way to make sure that there is order, there is control. And this vandalism or looting needs to stop now.”
Lalani hopes this message reaches the agitators.
“Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi had a nonviolence protest. Why can’t they [speak] and say, ‘Hey, don’t destroy the small businesses. That’s not the right way,’” he said. “These people need to understand it’s not helping the cause. It’s just making it worse.”