police violence

‘If I Would Have Been Here, George Floyd May Still Be Alive’

Photo: NBC News

On May 25, Mahmoud Abumayyaleh got a panicked call from one of his employees. The teenager told him that cops were killing a man outside of the family-owned grocery store. When Abumayyaleh asked, “Who are you talking about?”, the employee could only respond, “They’re killing him, the guy, they’re killing him.”

“Make sure you record it and call the police on the police,” Abumayyaleh pleaded.

Over the next 24 hours, the tragic pieces of the story came together. Abumayyaleh learned that a 17-year-old working at his store had called 911 on Floyd, thinking he had bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Derek Chauvin, one of the four officers who showed up, pinned Floyd to the ground and pressed a knee on his neck for more than eight minutes, while the 46-year-old gasped for air and pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” Floyd died shortly after.

In an interview with the Cut, Abumayyaleh said it’s standard protocol for businesses to notify police about fake money, but his family knows most of their customers and rarely involves officers in store issues.

Abumayyaleh knew Floyd, calling him a “big teddy bear” who would come to Cup Foods a few times a week to pay his cell phone bill, and said that they always got along. But that fatal night, a few of his younger employees with less experience were working. Abumayyaleh wishes he had been in the store to speak with Floyd himself. “If I would have been here the authorities would not have been called,” he said. “George Floyd may still be alive.”

After Floyd’s death, the 35-year-old store co-owner has decided to make sure cops won’t be called to Cup Foods again.

“Black people in urban communities are targeted,” he said. “This is a step towards fixing the issue.”

In a Facebook statement on Sunday, Abumayyaleh said, “Until the police stop killing innocent people, we will handle incidents like this one using non-violent tactics that do not involve police.” He will tell staff not to call the cops unless there’s an extreme situation. And Abumayyaleh will no longer pay for off-duty officers to patrol the business on Friday and Saturday nights.

“We thought it’s just better to sever our ties” with the Minneapolis Police Department, added Jamar Nelson, who was hired to do community and media relations for Cup Foods after Floyd’s death.

“We can’t let more black men or brown men in our community become George Floyd,” said Abumayyaleh. “What took place outside of our establishment was a tragedy. We feel horrible. George Floyd didn’t deserve to die.”

Photo: Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Though Abumayyaleh said he has good relationships with some officers and likes the current police chief, he can’t trust the MPD to do their jobs without taking more lives. He usually polices his own store, and typically deals with violent incidents by speaking calmly with customers. His father, who immigrated to America from Jerusalem, opened Cup Foods 31 years ago in the Longfellow neighborhood, an area full of black- and immigrant-owned businesses.

Abumayyaleh grew up in the store, which has a meat market and phone-service shop, along with typical convenience-store fare, and started working there when he was 10. He knows most of his customers’ names and their backstories.

The most violent officers tend to have no connection to Longfellow or the issues residents deal with, like poverty, mental illness, or domestic violence, according to Nelson. Chauvin, the cop charged with murdering Floyd, lives in a suburb 20 minutes away. “You think you’re dealing with bad folks because they live in a bad neighborhood,” Nelson said. “They come and go and don’t understand or respect our community.”

For now, Cup Foods is closed and the building is covered with a mural of Floyd, where people leave flowers every day. While people in the community have been supportive, he’s received some emails that say, “You guys are murderers.” He understands where their anger comes from.

“They’re looking for a scapegoat,” Abumayyaleh said, “because they’re used to seeing people getting killed by the police and not being prosecuted.”

But Floyd’s family doesn’t hold him responsible. He met with some of them last week and has offered to pay for the man’s funeral, which will be held in Houston on June 9.

He hopes other businesses in the area can rely less on the cops and send a message that police brutality will not be tolerated.

“We don’t condone the Minneapolis police. We don’t condone violence and we don’t condone abuse of power,” Abumayyaleh said. “That’s our stance.”

‘If I Would Have Been Here, George Floyd May Still Be Alive’