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Long Beach police swamped by looting; National Guard arrives

A strip mall at 7th Street and Long Beach Boulevard in Long Beach is ransacked on Sunday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The protest in downtown Long Beach started peacefully Sunday on Ocean Boulevard.

But while hundreds demonstrated against the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a separate, growing group began robbing stores in the Pike Outlets a block away.

Soon, more than 100 people were robbing stores. Some protesters went to the mall and begged looters to stop.

“Is this how you protest?” one demonstrator screamed at a looter as he emerged from a T-Mobile store.

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For the next few hours, countless stores in and around downtown Long Beach were broken into and robbed, and a few were set on fire.

Police acknowledged they didn’t have enough officers to deal with both the protests and the looters.

“We deployed four or five more times the number of officers than we usually do on a Sunday. We brought in hundreds of officers. And, yeah, we’re going to debrief this at the end and figure out: Should we have brought thousands in?” Police Chief Robert Luna said at a Sunday night news conference.

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“The expectation was that people were going to protest peacefully,” he added.

The National Guard was sent to Long Beach late Sunday to assist, along with other law enforcement agencies.

But by then, looters had swept through parts of downtown. There was no estimate on how many businesses had been robbed or the number of arrests.

It was clear, though, that the looters and the core protesters were not connected. As the looting intensified, some protesters tried to spot the lawlessness.

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The protest decrying the death of Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck last week, 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.

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.

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

Several minutes later a mob rushed back and stormed into the Forever 21 store, slipping on clothes that were scattered across the floor. At G by Guess, a man used a hammer to smash the 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 the vandalism and people breaking 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.”

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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 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 had been smashed.

“They destroyed the bar,” he said.

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Lira was preparing to reopen Monday after being closed because of the coronavirus outbreak, but that’s been delayed by at least another month, he said.

He said he was supportive of the Floyd 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.”


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