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He begged looters not to attack his struggling restaurant: ‘I’m just ... trying to survive’

A Starbucks is looted along Spring St. in Downtown Los Angeles Friday night.
A Starbucks is looted along Spring St. in Downtown Los Angeles Friday night.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

It was 10:30 p.m. Friday and 19-year-old Alexa Huizar was working inside D-town Burger Bar Los Angeles when she heard windows being smashed.

Huizar stepped outside and saw a crowd breaking into the Starbucks at the corner of 6th and Spring streets.

She immediately texted her boss a video of the demonstrators breaking into the Starbucks.

At home, in South Gate, Pedro Mojarro, 32, got it and rushed over. He would spend the next few hours protecting his struggling business during a night and morning of looting and vandalism.

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He pleaded with anyone who came by not to damage his restaurant.

“If you’re not standing outside of your businesses, they’re going to break into it,” he said.

Mojarro said he supported the demonstrators but he didn’t like that they were targeting businesses.

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“We’re with you, I’m not against you,” he said. “If you need to protest go do it in front of the police station. Be angry at them.”

The protests were in response to the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. His encounter with police began Monday night after Floyd, a black man, was accused of trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill at a grocery store.

Cellphone video of Floyd’s arrest outside the business shows Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, driving his knee into the 46-year-old’s neck as Floyd pleads that he can’t breathe. After several minutes, Floyd appears to lose consciousness, and a bystander can be heard yelling that Floyd’s nose is bleeding. Even as paramedics arrive to check Floyd’s pulse, Chauvin’s knee remains positioned on the man’s neck in the video.

Mojarro said he was mostly upset that the demonstrators didn’t take into consideration how difficult it has been for businesses like his.

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He said he had to shut down his second business in Boyle Heights because of the coronavirus outbreak. A month ago, someone broke the window of his burger shop in downtown L.A., which ended up costing him $7,500. On top of that, sales at his restaurant were down by more than 70%.

“Give us a break,” he said. “We got a lot going on already.”

Along 6th Street, between Spring Street and Broadway, residents watched from their lofts and apartments, sometimes egging on demonstrators as they drank beer and recorded video of the chaos.

In the downtown loft district, jewelry stores were hit. One person offered a reporter a handful of stolen jewelry. A nearby CVS pharmacy was looted, as were other businesses elsewhere in the city.

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Some pleaded with demonstrators not to damage their cars parked on the street. Almost every wall on a building was tagged with profanity and anti-police statements

Fireworks were set off on the streets, the sparks hitting buildings. The smoke filled the air and protesters became looters, breaking into stores stealing tennis shoes, clothing and electronic items such as televisions screens and speakers.

Demonstrators broke into jewelry stores, rushing in and smashing display cases and taking anything that may have been left out. Jewelry lay on the sidewalk and street and people stopped to scoop up some of it, others began distributing to other people or telling others where to go loot.

“You need tennis shoes? Just go up the street, you can get whatever you want,” one man told another.

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One business on 6th Street had a signed that read “Black owned.” The windows of the salon next to it were broken.

It was 2 a.m. and Mojarro and Huizar were still standing outside of the restaurant, taking video as protesters ran up and down the street, smashing things.

Asked what he wanted demonstrators to know: “I’m just a business owner trying to survive.”


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