Malaysians help clean up Minneapolis


PETALING JAYA: A Malaysian student has been helping to clean the streets of Minneapolis ravaged by protests following the police killing of an unarmed African American.

“Having to see such social unrest and to see the restaurants and stores that I used to frequent and enjoy being destroyed and vandalised, was very heartbreaking,” said Lee Yen.

Lee Yen, 24, moved to Minneapolis in February but she has been living in the state of Minnesota for six years.

The death of George Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis triggered protests across the United States against police brutality.

There were many cases of looting and destruction of property amid the protests in some cities.

While she did not personally witness such crimes, Lee Yen was one of many volunteers who cleaned up the streets of Minneapolis during the day and over the weekend.

“I felt I needed to do something. My conscience wouldn’t be at peace if I sat at home quietly while all this was happening about 10 minutes away from my house,” she said.

The clean-up, she added, was the least she could do for the community.

“Seeing the news throughout the week was very sad and depressing. Minneapolis is not my hometown but it is a beautiful city and I love the area so much,” said Lee Yen.

Pictures and videos that she sent to The Star showed buildings razed and shops boarded up to prevent looting and destruction.

“We were cleaning a site, which I believed was a building under construction. We found lots of (broken) glass and nails even though we didn’t see any windows.

“Our theory was that an explosion happened near the building and the glass ended up there,” she said.

Graffiti was sprayed on the walls of buildings, wooden boards on store fronts and bus stops, she said.

“People would spray over the wooden boards with phrases like ‘BLM’ (Black Lives Matter) or ‘No justice, No peace’,” said Lee Yen, who is pursuing an MBA in management.

However, she said there were glimpses of kindness and hope in the community, amid the social unrest and tension.

“I spoke to a woman who was painting positive messages on the wooden boards. She was a resident here.

“A lot of buildings here have stores at the bottom and the residents live on top.

“The residents board up the stores and at night, they come out to guard their buildings so that the stores are not destroyed,” she said.

Lee Yen said the majority of the protesters were peace-loving but a small group would be inciting violence and chaos.

“What the people don’t see is that during the day, the protests are peaceful. Many people are very passionate about making a change and getting justice.

“It is a small group of people who are taking advantage of this smokescreen of having big crowds for their own selfish reasons.

“A lot of people do not really understand the back story of the social issue that is going on.

“The Black Lives Matter (movement) didn’t just start, it has been around for years,” she said, adding that many had previously protested peacefully under the movement.

Another Malaysian, Lee Jia Jia, who also lives in Minneapolis, said: “No one thought things would get this bad. We hope the police officers (in Floyd’s case) will be held accountable and there is a change in the system.”

As an insurance agent, some of her clients, immigrants from places such as Taiwan and China who have been living there for decades, were also caught in the crossfire.

“Some of the clients called us as they felt helpless. It was very disheartening to see their whole business get ruined like that,” she said.

She also said that criminals were exploiting the situation.

“They smashed the glass, stole the shop (items), their furniture and cash registers.

“Some stores have a sprinkler system that is triggered when there’s a break-in, so everything becomes wet as a result,” said Jia Jia, 28, who has lived in the US for seven years.

The chaotic situation, she said, came upon them “suddenly”.

“Just last week, we were worried about Covid-19 as the number of cases kept rising and the fear of running out of hospital beds, as our state decided to open up on June 1,” she said. Another Malaysian living in New York, Saiful Salihudin, said protests in the Big Apple were limited to some areas only.

“It’s not widespread yet,” said Saiful, 28, who is a student at Columbia University and is interning at the United Nations.

On Saturday, the Malaysian Embassy in Washington, DC, in its advisory urged Malaysians to remain vigilant.

Malaysians who are in need of consular assistance can get in touch via e-mail at mwwashington@kln.gov.my and consularwdc@kln.gov.my or by calling +1-202-572-9700.

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