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Long Beach hit hard by looters as crowds roam through downtown

Two men in masks face each other
A man, left, criticizes another man for looting a T-Mobile store.
(Ruben Vives / Los Angeles Times)

As protesters demonstrated against police abuse on Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach Sunday, some looters hit a nearby shopping center and ran away with merchandise.

The protest decrying the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, was initially peaceful in the city. Hundreds of participants, many chanting and holding signs reading “no justice, no peace” and “black lives matter” walked from the city’s downtown area through Alamitos Beach, along Broadway, before circling back to downtown along Ocean Boulevard on Sunday afternoon.

However, shortly after 5 p.m., hundreds of protesters began looting stores at the Pike Outlets. The crowd used hammers and threw trash can lids to smash the windows of businesses. Some protesters yelled for them to leave the stores alone. Others yelled, “Let’s hit Nike” before running toward the popular athletic store.

Several minutes later a mob rushed back and stormed into Forever 21, slipping from clothes scattered on the floor. At G By Guess, a man used a hammer to smash the store door before another man intervened and asked him to stop. Suddenly those wanting to loot the store began punching the man. A woman yelled for them to stop.

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A T-Mobile store was also hit. Some protesters were dismayed by the scene.

Chandarley Lim kept saying, “peaceful protest, peaceful protest.” She said she was sad to see vandalism and people trying to break into stores.

“This is sad, man,” she said of the looting. “This is not a good look. Don’t let the bad examples ruin it for the rest of us.”

Another protester screamed at one of the looters, repeating, “Is this how you protest?”

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On Sunday, May 31, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Long Beach Police Department headquarters, holdings signs to show support for Black Lives Matter.

Before sunset, police and demonstrators were in a standoff near the Pike Outlets. Patrol cars were hit with eggs and water bottles as people began rushing police officers. Sirens screamed through the streets of Long Beach and the sound of helicopters disrupted quiet neighborhoods adjacent to downtown.

By 8 p.m., officers had cleared the area along Pine Avenue and Broadway in the city’s downtown area. At least four businesses in the area, including a Wells Fargo bank, had been burglarized.

The unrest prompted Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia to institute a curfew in the city from 8 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday.

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“America with all of our diversity has a dark and long history with race and Long Beach has not been exempt from this,” he wrote in a statement on Twitter. “Over the last several days and after nearly three months of battling COVID-19 as a nation, we are seeing civil unrest and protests. We hear you and are listening.”

Mark Lira, co-owner of L’Opera, was home when his wife noticed looters had broken into the Italian restaurant. Lira said he had spent most of the day boarding up the business.

He rushed over to the downtown eatery on the corner of Pine and 1st Street and ran inside, cursing at looters who had stolen liquor and broken glass and plates. He said he got help from his brother and other demonstrators who stood outside to prevent others from getting in while he ran through the downstairs and upstairs sections of the restaurant, surveying the damage.

Inside, planters were on the floor and glasses in the kitchen were smashed.

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“They destroyed the bar,” he said.

Lira was preparing to reopen the restaurant on Monday after being closed because of the pandemic, but now he said that opening has been delayed at least by another month. He said he was supportive of the demonstration but was not in favor of people breaking into businesses.

“I’m not the problem,” he said. “I’m just trying to make a living.”

Earlier in the day, other business owners across Long Beach also rushed to board up restaurants, clothing stores and galleries.

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Among them was Thomas Liu, owner of Loose Leaf Boba. He said he spent a few hundred dollars to buy materials to board up his businesses. Liu said he had friends who own sushi, boba and ice cream stores that had been vandalized and broken into. Liu was taking no chances.

“I support the protests,” he said. But Liu said he wasn’t in favor of vandalism.

He said many businesses are losing money just boarding up their businesses. Pointing across the street at Portuguese Bend, a distillery and restaurant that opened its doors last year, he said boarding it up cost anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 and an additional $8,000 for labor.

Nearby, contractors were working to shore up other restaurants and a Ross store.

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Around the corner, Monica Fleming, co-owner of Loiter Galleries, watched as co-owner Vinny Picardí and Alan Parks, 62, boarded up the gallery. Inside, friends were moving artwork to the back or out of the space.

“I’m a little stressed,” she said, wearing a mask. “It’s unfortunate we have to do this.”

She said she called on friends to help move artwork out of the gallery. Most of the artwork — sculpture, photos and paintings — is by local artists.

Fleming said she was in favor of peaceful protests but doesn’t believe in the violence and vandalism that has broken out in recent days.

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The gallery, which has been in Long Beach for three years but just a year at the current location, had only a few pieces of sculpture that Fleming and others were still moving around.

Picardi grew frustrated that police weren’t doing enough to protect businesses, forcing business owners to do it themselves. He said he didn’t understand why demonstrators were damaging and looting businesses owned by people of color.


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