Someone smashed three front windows of Scuppernong Books in last week.

Yet, as he poked the jagged shards of remaining glass from a shattered front door with a broom, one of the owners of the store on South Elm Street, Brian Lampkin, wasn’t angry. All he could be was sad.

“The most important thing to remember is that what’s happening now is a small, small, small piece of the whole large picture,” Lampkin told the News & Record. “The whole large picture is 400 years of racial insanity in this country.”

Scuppernong harkens back to the days of the neighborhood bookstore — where everybody may not know your name, but a lot of folks do. It celebrates diversity and is a popular community gathering place that sponsors such programs as “Ask a Muslim Anything.”

The store already had been closed in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. Now this.

Multiply the scene at Scuppernong several times over and you get the picture. Already-struggling small businesses that give downtown Greensboro its distinctive flavor were senselessly damaged. So were Triad Stage, the Guilford County Courthouse, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum and the Community Theatre of Greensboro. As well as African American-owned shops such as Dudley Products. Businesses also were damaged on Lawndale Drive and in Friendly Center.

It’s not clear who did this, but police suspect outside provocateurs who are exploiting the outrage over the death of a black man, George Floyd, while in the custody of Minneapolis police. Odds are, plain crooks also decided to take advantage of the diversion the protests provided.

Beyond the damage to property and bottom lines, this lawlessness also threatens to overshadow the pain and urgency of legitimate protests. We can’t let it. If America does not act on the problem of race and policing now, it will play over and over in an endless loop of tragedy and frustration.

Most business owners seem to understand and appreciate the distinction between the cause and the collateral damage. But the explanation for a lack of a timely police response was, well, bizarre: Officers would not respond to areas that could put them or protesters in an unsafe situation, a spokesman said.

This is not acceptable. After Saturday’s damage, added precautions should have been taken Sunday. If they were, they didn’t work.

Understandably, police are stretched thin. But businesses can’t be left feeling helpless and on their own.

City Councilwoman Sharon Hightower questioned all the concern for downtown. But that’s where the protests were. And that’s where most of the damage occurred.

As for one simple way to help these local businesses, we can patronize them. Even behind their boarded-up facades, many are still open. They are a part of this city’s fabric and character. They also are our friends and neighbors.

How to do better next time? The city’s Criminal Justice Advisory Commission will hold a virtual “solution-based dialogue” at 6:30 p.m. on June 18. Also, the City Council plans to provide funds to help businesses repair the damage from last weekend.

Major repairs to the nation’s police forces need to start now as well. Actually, they should have started a long time ago.

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