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Peaceful protesters lament L.A.'s violent Zimmerman demonstrations

George ZimmermanUnrest, Conflicts and WarTrayvon Martin

As small groups of rogue protesters wreaked havoc along Crenshaw Boulevard on Monday night following a George Zimmerman verdict protest, some within the demonstration tried to warn potential victims.

City Terrace resident Cuauhtemoc Negrete said he was told: "You better blend in or you’re going to get hurt." The group eventually approached him, someone punched him in the head and another person stole his bicycle. 

Police estimated that about 150 people took part in the violence after the peaceful vigil at Leimert Park following a Florida jury's Saturday acquittal of Zimmerman, 29, on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in last year's shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

“I figured with all the evidence [Zimmerman] would’ve been guilty,” Negrete said. “The demonstrations, they’re trying to prove that we’re not stupid. We’re going to call out injustice whenever it happens. We’re not just going to stay silent.”

Like many who gathered in Leimert Park, Jan Geter-Roberson, 50, said she too was outraged at the Zimmerman verdict. She thought of joining marchers on Sunday but said she worried that things would get out of hand, as they did on Monday night.

"I watched the [1992] riots on TV and I saw ugly, dangerous things happen right before my eyes," she said as she recalled the looting and violence.

Still, Geter-Roberson feels a responsibility to exercise her rights like her mother did during the civil rights movement. She said she takes her twin 7-year-old sons to calm demonstrations, including some marches held by United Teachers Los Angeles.

"I try to expose my children but I fear for my safety," she said. "At this level as opposed to the L.A. riots, I think the heavy police presence could have shut them down. It's the lack of police that further fuels things."

Moejo Ellis, 60, was among those who took precautions Tuesday morning.

Ellis withdrew a wad of cash from the bank and tasked his daughter with buying groceries for the family. His next stop was the gas station to fill up. "I've been here awhile and I know them people will shut down this part of the city in a moment's notice," he said as he recalled the 1992 unrest and the Watts riots.  

Hours into Monday’s demonstration at Leimert Park, groups of young demonstrators splintered off.

Negrete, the East L.A. resident, found himself standing alone on the corner of Vernon Avenue and Crenshaw at Leimert Park when he was singled out by some of the agitators, who approached him and drew a crowd behind them.

Negrete pulled out a wrench, which comes in handy for the bicycle he uses to get around town, he said.

"I was there for the 6 p.m. March. We were going up and down the streets and all of a sudden all these kids just started trashing things, going up to people,” he said.

Now they were going after him. Negrete said he dropped the wrench when it didn’t scare off the aggressors. He also dropped his bicycle and canteen at his feet and lifted his shirt.

Negrete said he didn’t see who hit him. He was punched once in the back of the head. Another person grabbed his bike and rode off, but that was it.

“It just made me feel so small,” he said.

Shortly after the attack, Negrete broke down in tears and expressed his frustration over the violence.

“Why does it always have to go down this road?” he told The Times on Monday night.

He said he felt he was targeted because he was Latino. Others in the crowd said they saw similar incidents.

Los Angeles police said they arrested 14 people Monday night for failing to disperse and inciting a riot. There were no reports of assaults or injuries.

“I feel like, our presence would be more of a uniting factor. If there’s more Latinos, more light-skinned people… We all live in the same city,” Negrete said. “We all have basically the same issues. I feel like we’re pretty much stuck in the same boat. Why would you want to punch me? We should be united, not fighting each other.”

Ellis, who prepared for the violence with his family, emphasized he doesn’t condone the raucous behavior even if he understands it.

"They are used to things happening fast," he said. "The generation came up with computers [and social media] where things happen," then he snaps his fingers.  "Now they're wondering why is it taking so long to get justice."

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Joseph.serna@latimes.com

@josephserna

Twitter: @LATVives

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