LOS ANGELES — National Guard troops deployed onto the streets of Los Angeles early Sunday morning as looting, vandalism and violence intensified and the Police Department struggled to restore order after two days of discord.
The dramatic move came after a day of deteriorating conditions, as protests marking the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police began peacefully but turned violent. Demonstrators burned Los Angeles Police Department cruisers, threw objects at officers and looted retail businesses, including the Apple Store and Nordstrom at the Grove shopping mall. Some protesters made it to Beverly Hills’ famed Rodeo Drive, where they were met by a line of officers.
Since the protests started, Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city leaders had encouraged peaceful expression and voiced support for the marches. But on Saturday, the mayor said the conditions on the streets were getting worse by the hour. First, he ordered a night curfew for downtown L.A. Then, about an hour later, he extended it to the entire city. Less than an hour after that, he requested the National Guard.
The last time the National Guard patrolled the streets of L.A. was during the 1992 riots, which erupted after the police officers who beat Rodney King were found not guilty.
Compared with those riots, the events in Los Angeles on Saturday were significantly less widespread and dangerous. The protests and looting were limited Friday night and Saturday morning largely to downtown Los Angeles and on Saturday afternoon and evening to the Fairfax District.
Several police officers were hurt when protesters threw objects at them. But there have been no fatalities. The 1992 riots swept across large swaths of Southern California and left more than 60 people dead.
From Friday afternoon to early Saturday, police clashed with protesters across downtown, pushing them off the 110 Freeway and getting into physical altercations. When the sun rose Saturday, scores of businesses had been looted and merchants were adding to the losses they already had experienced because of the coronavirus shutdown.
Police and protesters spent hours in a tense standoff near the Grove, with police shooting rubber bullets and striking demonstrators with batons while several police cars were set on fire and other vehicles vandalized. Protesters also took over a Metro bus and climbed on its roof to take video of police.
The large crowd first gathered at Pan Pacific Park off Beverly Boulevard, where they chanted, “Defund police” and “Prosecute killer cops,” and waved signs at a rally organized by Black Lives Matter and social justice group BLD PWR. The rally’s speakers called for less public money for police departments and for schools and prisons to be overhauled.
“We’re living in the middle of an uprising,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors told the group. “Let’s be clear: We are in an uprising for black life.”
Isabel Alvardo waved a sign reading, “Latinos for Black Lives Matter.” Alvardo, 21, lives in Santa Clarita and drove to the L.A. rally because she is “sick and tired of waking up every morning” to news about police killings. “I can’t compare myself to what they’re going through,” she said, referring to African Americans. “But I’m here to support them.”
The scene turned more violent as the day wore on.
About a dozen destroyed or defaced LAPD cruisers sat abandoned on 3rd Street, yards from where a loud crowd of protesters faced a row of police. The odor of charred rubber wafted through the area. The cruisers’ windows were smashed, mirrors ripped out and the vehicles’ bodies scrawled with anti-police slogans.
Protesters spray-painted “Cops and Klan go hand and hand” on the side of a Citibank on Fairfax Avenue. Across the street, “Eat the Rich” was scrawled on the Writers Guild of America building.
Around 6 p.m., police arrested about 20 people who were then loaded onto a sheriff’s bus. Dozens of protesters — many dressed in black and wearing masks — posed for photographs, each with a fist in the air, while standing atop a burned and graffitied car by Edinburgh Avenue and Beverly Boulevard.
At the Grove nearby, looters broke into the Nordstrom department store and the Apple Store and ran off with merchandise. As looters approached two security guards outside the Nike store, they begged them not to enter.
“We’re one of you,” one guard said.
Eventually, some set a small police kiosk at the mall on fire.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore was personally leading the operation in the Fairfax District and rushed to the Grove after the looting began. He said he was troubled by how things had gotten out of control. He said that he understood people’s anger and frustration but that the city needed to pull together.
“This is not the solution,” he said, standing next to broken glass from the Nordstrom facade. “We haven’t given up on L.A., and L.A. shouldn’t give up on itself. We can pull around this. … Policing doesn’t fix these kinds of societal problems. I need all of L.A. to step up right now and be part of the solution.”
There appeared to be divisions among the protesters.
When one smashed the front window of a nearby Whole Foods on 3rd Street with a hammer, some screamed, “Don’t do that! Please!” while others cheered.
The protesters also began to clash among themselves. Some who urged peace created a barricade of shopping carts around the store’s entrance to protect it, but moments later, another group jumped the barrier and broke down the store’s door.
Meanwhile, merchants downtown were picking up the pieces.
People carrying brooms and plywood outnumbered those walking dogs around the city center. Some of the dogs being walked were outfitted with tiny booties on all four paws to protect against the broken glass that dotted most sidewalks.
Claudia Oliveira, a board member of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, showed up on Broadway with more than a dozen volunteers Saturday morning to sweep up broken glass and scrub down walls.
A Brazilian immigrant, Oliveira grew up in Minneapolis. She said she understood the anger and the outrage that boiled over Friday night.
But she said she was frustrated that the damage in downtown would disproportionately hurt the working class and people of color.
Most stores that were vandalized or looted are mom-and-pop stores, “immigrant-owned, run by black and brown folks,” Oliveira said.
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