A stunned downtown L.A. surveys damage from looting, vandalism
Along the stretch of shops and tiny restaurants that line Broadway, the sound of pulsating banda music had been replaced by the whirring of power saws and the staccato of hammers pounding plywood as workers hurried to batten down damaged storefronts.
On a normal Saturday the street would be bustling with customers, most chattering away in Spanish.
But this was not a normal Saturday, with a global pandemic and a riot conspiring to keep people away, leaving the streets — and stores — empty. “It’s not because of this,” said a man guarding the door to the Fallas Paredes clothing store at 5th Street and Broadway, pulling on his face mask to show he was speaking of COVID-19.
“It’s because of last night.”
Two women standing on either side nodded in agreement.
On Saturday morning, merchants, workers and residents of downtown surveyed the damage after a night and morning of looting and vandalism in the city center.
Numerous businesses were damaged by the unrest, which lasted hours in the heart of downtown’s loft district and Broadway corridor.
More than 500 people were arrested. The LAPD spent much of Friday night and Saturday morning trying to clear the streets as people smashed windows, stole items from stores, clashed with police and set items, including at least two LAPD vehicles, on fire.
The protesters demonstrating against the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis are part of a movement that has raged across the country in recent days, turning violent in various cities. In downtown, the situation deteriorated into vandalism and looting later Friday evening.
One local business owner, Pedro Mojarro, stood outside his burger restaurant to protect it. Mojarro, 32, said he supported the demonstrators but was upset that they were targeting businesses like his.
“We’re with you — I’m not against you. If you need to protest, go do it in front of the police station. Be angry at them,” Mojarro said, adding: “I’m just a business owner trying to survive.”
On Saturday morning, two men shifted through a sacked Verizon store looking for a way to turn off the alarm, which has been blaring for more than 12 hours.
They got a call from the owner at 8:30 a.m. to go board up the shop.
When they arrived 75 minutes later two of the looters were still inside. But none of the merchandise was. “They were prepared,” the contractor said over the sound of the alarm.
The looters had crowbars, he said, which they used unsuccessfully on the safe in the back. They also ripped fixtures off the walls.
A Japanese restaurant next door had one plate-glass panel smashed and its cabinets were ransacked but little was taken.
“It’s a restaurant,” said Pedro Perez. “What are you going to take?”
Perez, founder of PRC Restoration, was called out to board up a FedEx store. When he finished with that, he and his six-person crew began calling the owners of nearby businesses offering help. Some didn’t answer, others weren’t aware their properties had been hit.
A couple of hundred yards from Pershing Square, two women swept up broken glass that covered the floor of their Subway dining room. They had shown up expecting to make sandwiches but now were unsure if they would open.
People carrying brooms and plywood outnumbered people walking dogs around the city center. And some of the dogs that were out were outfitted with tiny booties on all four paws to protect against the broken glass that dotted most sidewalks.
Near the corner of 5th and Spring streets an LAPD sergeant, his face set on scowl, and his partner stood in the doorway of a damaged wine bar. Two doors away a baby-faced and frightened guard wearing a camouflaged helmet and ill-fitting camouflage vest over his security guard uniform stood in front of another damaged business.
The night before Jessie Jenie had been a block south, near a Starbucks at the corner of 6th and Spring streets ordering ice cream, when crowds swarmed through the area, breaking every window in the coffee shop. One looter emerged with a single carton of milk, drinking it as he walked away, Jenie said.
“That’s when I was like, ‘Time to go home,’” said Jenie, who lives nearby.
Saturday morning she woke her boyfriend early.
“She said, ‘We’re going to go clean up the neighborhood,’ ” Miko Garcia said. “And I listened to her.”
Garcia, clutching a brush broom, then smiled and followed Jenie across the street in search of something to clean up. They didn’t have to search long.