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Looting in Van Nuys, Hollywood, as curfew begins in L.A. County

As a 6 p.m. curfew took effect Monday in Los Angeles County, the number of police officers swelled in Hollywood near multiple protests and in Van Nuys, where looters were ransacking businesses along a major commercial corridor.

Looting began in Van Nuys about 4 p.m., blocks away from a peaceful protest started by college students that lasted much of the day. Los Angeles Police Department officers fired bean bags at the crowd after looters ransacked a shoe store, a pharmacy, a watch repair stand and other small businesses on Van Nuys Boulevard. Authorities were also responding to a fire at a strip mall.

Earlier Monday afternoon, three separate protests moved through Hollywood, including a group that marched down Hollywood Boulevard in the heart of the tourist district. Other protesters gathered in downtown Los Angeles and in Anaheim.

Demonstrators also briefly shut down the northbound 405 Freeway in Westwood by walking onto the Wilshire Boulevard on-ramp. Some drivers honked in solidarity, and others stopped their cars to join.

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The third night of countywide curfews followed days of massive, mostly peaceful protests to decry George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis. Nearly 1,200 people were arrested Sunday after police officers clashed with demonstrators and looters shattered windows and emptied stores in Santa Monica and Long Beach.

County officials sparked confusion by sending an emergency alert at 3:30 p.m. announcing a 6 p.m. curfew. A second alert, sent minutes later, announced a 5 p.m. curfew. The second message was intended for Glendale residents and was sent in error, officials said.

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Get live updates from Los Angeles Times journalists as they report on protests across the U.S. after the death of George Floyd while in police custody.

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Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said Monday evening that people who looted and vandalized during largely peaceful protests across Southern California this weekend were “capitalizing” on the death of George Floyd.

About 700 people were arrested Sunday during mass protests over Floyd’s death and police brutality. Of those arrests, 10% were connected to burglary or looting, Moore said.

“We didn’t have protests last night — we had criminal acts,” Moore said during a news conference with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “We didn’t have people mourning the death of this man, George Floyd — we had people capitalizing. His death is on their hands as much as it is those officers.”

Moore apologized minutes later, saying he “misspoke when I said his blood is on their hands” and that he regretted “that characterization.”

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“But I don’t regret, nor will I apologize, to those who are out there today committing violence, destroying lives and livelihoods and creating this destruction,” Moore said. “His memory deserves reform. His memory deserves a better Los Angeles, a better United States and a better world.”

In Van Nuys, protesters began to disperse just before 5 p.m., saying they had received the county’s erroneous 5 p.m. curfew alert and did not want to be outside. Others said they didn’t want to be near the looting that had started.

Several business owners stood outside their storefronts, drilling plywood over their windows. A few blocks away, looters were smashing store windows, including retailers that sold shoes, watches and cell phones.

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Eva Bandikian, the manager at Kovac’s Care Pharmacy, said looters broke the lock on the door and stole “everything,” including money, the cash register and medicine.

Bandikian watched a feed from the store’s surveillance camera on her phone as about 10 young people stormed in.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with us,” she said. “They’re angry with the police and with the government.”

One looter in Van Nuys, who wore a purple face mask and a gray hooded sweatshirt, said that calls for peaceful protest, including from Floyd’s brother, had not solved the systemic racism facing black residents.

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“We’re just trying to find peace and justice,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “All the stuff they did didn’t bring peace to us. So we’re just trying to survive.”

In Hollywood, meanwhile, a growing group of protesters gathered next to Greenblatt’s Deli and the Laugh Factory at Sunset Boulevard and Laurel Avenue.

Late Monday afternoon, LAPD Cmdr. Cory Palka took the megaphone from demonstrators, urging them to protest in peace, abide by the county’s 6 p.m. curfew and leave nearby businesses untouched.

“If I take a knee with you guys, will you give me your verbal acknowledgement that this is a peaceful matter?” Palka yelled. The crowd screamed in approval. Someone yelled: “Lead by example!”

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Palka knelt on Sunset Boulevard. After resting his left elbow on his folded knee, he moved to stand up. “We stand together,” he told the crowd. They all stood.

Protester Nathaniel Johnson, 30 of Hollywood, said the police department’s commitment to kneeling with demonstrators would have to be borne out with change. He wondered: “They took a knee now, but are they kneeling on us later?”

Sean Welch, who attended the West Hollywood protest, had scrawled “dying breed” on his white T-shirt with black and red Sharpie. As a black man in America, he said, that’s what he was.

“Cops have been killing us for years,” Welch said. “What makes them believe it’s OK?”

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Behind him, a crew of men worked to board up the exterior and doors of a CB2 furniture store. They had been busy this weekend, boarding up parts of the Beverly Center, a Trader Joe’s and a MedMen marijuana dispensary.

On Saturday, nearly 400 people were arrested when looters targeted the Fairfax shopping district, including on Melrose Avenue. The city “lost 88 buildings on Melrose,” Moore said.

On Friday, 500 people were arrested when protesters shut down several freeways in downtown L.A., Moore said.

California’s new policy that eliminates bail for most misdemeanor arrests — an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 in jails — does not apply to looters, L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said. She urged victims to preserve video clips of crimes.

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“If you are a victim of a crime, if your business was in fact looted, vandalized, please do not erase any video tapes,” she said. “We need that. In court, we’ll be able to use that of course to get justice for you.”

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia blamed looting and nearly 100 small fires in his city on organized criminals who were unaffiliated with peaceful protests. The groups have been “hitting cities across the state,” he said, pointing to a similar pattern of peaceful marches, then mayhem, in Santa Monica.

“It’s pretty clear given the type of activity and how organized the activity was, there is a strategy going city to city and doing this criminal work,” Garcia said. The damage to small business owners, he said, was “unacceptable.”

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Luna said he agreed with the spirit of the protests, and was “offended and appalled” by Floyd’s death. Floyd died in handcuffs after police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, while Floyd yelled that he could not breathe.

All Long Beach police officers have been called back from vacation, Luna said. He said the idea that officers were “just standing around” and allowed unimpeded looting is “complete BS.”

“If you were looting and we have your license plate number and your face, we’re gonna come after you,” Luna said.

“Sunday was one of the most distressing days in Santa Monica history,” Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown said on Monday.

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More than 400 people were arrested on suspicion of crimes that included looting, burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, assault on a police officer and curfew violations, Santa Monica Police Chief Cynthia Renaud said. She estimated that 95% of those arrested did not live in the city.

Demonstrators and looters were often just a few blocks apart. Looters in the 4th Street shopping district appeared organized, smashing windows with crowbars and skateboards and loading stolen goods into waiting cars. At least two police cars burned.

Several blocks away, police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators on Ocean Avenue after protesters threw eggs and water bottles.

A similar dynamic developed in downtown Long Beach. At the Pike Outlets on Shoreline Drive, the crowd used hammers and threw trash can lids to smash windows. Some protesters yelled at them to leave the stores alone. Riot police moved in after 6 p.m. and the crowd fled.

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On Monday, more than 100 masked volunteers flocked to Long Beach’s Harvey Milk Plaza with brooms, buckets and dustpans to clean up broken glass and scrub graffiti from walls.

Times staff writers Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, Melissa Etehad, Faith Pinho, Joe Mozingo, Richard Winton, Joseph Serna, Ruben Vives, Brittny Mejia, Leila Miller, Matthew Ormseth and Andrew Campa contributed to this report.


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