Hundreds arrested in Santa Monica amid widespread looting
The tension was palpable Sunday in Santa Monica.
What started as a peaceful protest along Ocean Avenue devolved into chaos around 1 p.m., as looters smashed storefronts in the Santa Monica Place mall and other downtown businesses. Police said they made hundreds of arrests and that the National Guard had arrived to help.
Couples sitting and enjoying meals at recently opened restaurants looked stunned as cars dropped off people, many of them wearing masks and hoodies, who then broke into a pharmacy on 7th and Broadway. Several looters stormed inside and took handfuls of items.
At the same time, demonstrators walked from the Santa Monica Pier north along Ocean Avenue, carrying signs and chanting.
“A peaceful protest is underway along Ocean Avenue between Montana and Colorado,” the city said in a statement issued at 1:15 p.m. “The Santa Monica Police Department is on site and has a presence throughout the community.”
The demonstration was meant to decry the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. The unarmed black man died in custody after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes, despite Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe.
But as the protest got underway, looters swarmed the downtown area in what appeared to be an organized attack. Cars dropped them off in front of businesses, they smashed windows and grabbed what they could, and when police approached, they jumped back into the waiting cars.
Dozens stormed the Santa Monica Place mall, smashing the windows of a Louis Vuitton store and several other shops. The mall entrance was blocked by a gated barrier, but the crowd got through, leaving with armloads of clothing and other goods before police arrived.
A few blocks away, on 4th Street and Broadway, a Vans store was breached. Scores ran inside, stealing shoes and skateboards from the showroom and a storage area. Some loaded merchandise into plastic crates.
As looters stormed the store, a white woman pleaded with a black woman to stop.
“I was here during Rodney King. Please stop,” she said. “I get it.”
The other woman, gripping the arms of a black man standing at her side, responded, “We are dying. No justice, no peace.”
Santa Monica police officers rolled up on motorcycles shortly before 3 p.m. and entered the shoe store with guns drawn.
Amid the chaos, Santa Monica pushed up its Sunday curfew to 4 p.m. from 8 p.m. and extended the hours to 5:30 a.m. Monday.
The California Highway Patrol closed the freeway ramps into the city. Cars stuck at the Cloverfield exit were being directed to continue forward on the 10 Freeway, but a full closure of all lanes was implemented behind the vehicles.
By 2:30 p.m., more than 50 law enforcement officers had stormed the Santa Monica Place mall, where the storefronts for 7 for All Mankind and Hugo Boss were smashed. Overhead, a police helicopter circled.
Alarms could be heard as people ran out with arms full of clothes and sirens blared in the background.
A white man walking through the mall area with his bike laughed at the pillaging and said, “This is great.”
But as police combed the plaza, more looters gathered outside Bubar’s Jewelers, on 4th and Broadway, as reports came in that looters were being shot at in another jewelry store.
Amid the sirens, scores of people ran to a nearby alley and began rummaging through what they had taken.
They found what looked like the back entrance to another store and swarmed in but were interrupted by shouts of “Police!” that sent the group scrambling again.
More than 50 looters ran from the alley with armloads of shoe boxes and other items while a black car drove up.
“Get in. Put it in there. I’m trying to help you,” the driver yelled to the crowds of looters.
One woman began throwing clothes and shoes inside the car as sirens blared in the background. A few minutes later, police and firefighters showed up after a fire was started at a nearby store.
All the while, peaceful protesters continued to march, making their way to 5th Street and circling the chaos between looters and police.
Around 8 p.m., sirens and store alarms were still blaring as police began to take control of the area, clearing the streets block by block. Business owners were arriving at their stores to assess the damage and protect what was left.
The owner of Cisco Home on Lincoln Boulevard, a designer furniture store, said he rushed to his store after his neighbor texted him that “people were doing crazy things.” Inside, a couch was flipped over and water from the sprinklers had damaged some of the furniture.
“We lost everything in 10 minutes,” said the owner, Roman, who declined to give his last name. He estimated that the damage would cost up to $6 million.
The owner of a nail salon near Lincoln and Broadway stood outside his business at 8 p.m., giving instructions to workers unloading a truck full of wooden boards.
The owner, who didn’t want to share his name, said he arrived at his business at about 4 p.m. to find it destroyed. He shook his head.
Rafael Resendez, the owner of the barber shop next door, was also speaking with workers, helping them board up his business. Looters had taken up to $12,000 worth of equipment, including hair cutting tools and cash registers.
Resendez said Sunday was the first day his shop, Lincoln Barbers, had been open in two months because of the coronavirus outbreak. He closed at 2 p.m., telling his employees he didn’t think the looters would hit them. He had posted posted a sign that read “Mexican owned” and messages in support of the protesters in hopes they would avoid his business.
It didn’t work.
“I feel guilty” for not doing more, he said. “Those people are looking for excuses to commit crimes. They don’t care about [George Floyd]. I do care about him. This is not the way to do it.”
Dozens of protesters were arrested Sunday evening after hours of demonstrating across downtown. The group was pushed by law enforcement to the entrance to the Big Blue Bus station on Colorado Avenue, where they were encircled and arrested. Police offered to let them leave but when many tried, other officers did not let them pass.
“When they said we could leave they blocked us off and then they arrested us,” said Stevie Doaty, 22, who moved to Los Angeles a month ago from Cleveland.
Elsewhere in the city, a Los Angeles Police Department officer watched as firefighters put out flames on top of Sake House, a restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard.
“This is upsetting,” he said. “Most of these people aren’t from L.A. They’re just out here just causing havoc and chaos.”
The police officer said 99% of police are in support of the protesters’ message, and that he was protecting them, not looters.
“They’re throwing Molotov cocktails and looting and looting and looting. It’s difficult to deal with that,” he said. “I’m hoping I get more than three hours of sleep tonight.”
Times staff writers Kim Christensen and Joseph Serna contributed to this report.
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