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Mayor Garcetti takes a knee amid chants of ‘Defund police!’ at downtown L.A. protest

Mayor Eric Garcetti takes a knee with protesters and clergy members during a peaceful protest outside of L.A. City Hall.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

It was the kind of scene that, it seems, only this tumultuous year of 2020 could produce.

With the National Guard patrolling the streets of Los Angeles after several nights of looting, violence and fires, hundreds of people gathered downtown to protest the death of George Floyd and police brutality against so many other black people. After weeks of calls for strict social distancing amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Eric Garcetti joined the crowd, took a knee and pulled down his blue Los Angeles Dodgers face mask to speak.

As he spoke, chants rang out: “Defund the police!”

Los Angeles County was, yet again, under a sweeping overnight curfew, and the nation was on edge after seven nights of chaotic protests and threats by President Trump to deploy “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers” to American cities.

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At the protests downtown, many of those gathered Tuesday decried comments made by Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore, who said looters across Southern California over the weekend were “capitalizing” on the death of George Floyd.

“We didn’t have protests last night — we had criminal acts,” Moore said during a news conference with Garcetti on Monday night. “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.”

“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.”

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On Tuesday, protesters’ chants rang out outside the LAPD’s glass headquarters: “Fire Michel Moore! Fire Michel Moore!”

And: “Hey, hey, ho, ho! Michel Moore has got to go!”

Garcetti on Tuesday night defended Moore, saying he was glad the chief apologized.

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“I’m glad he quickly corrected it, and I’m glad that he further apologized, as well,” Garcetti said. “I want to be very, very clear about that. If I believed for a moment that the chief believed that in his heart, he would no longer be our chief of police. I can’t say that any stronger.”

Nearly 3,000 demonstrators in Southern California have found themselves in handcuffs after taking to the streets since Friday. Booking records reviewed by The Times show the vast majority of those arrested in Los Angeles County for looting, vandalism and burglary offenses are from here, seeming to refute perceptions of “outside agitators” coming in to fuel unrest.

A man with a sidearm and assault rifle impersonating a National Guard member was arrested Tuesday by the LAPD on suspicion of illegal possession of an assault weapon near a protest at City Hall.

Police said the man was confronted by real members of the National Guard at First and Main streets. Greg Wong, 31, was taken into custody after Guardsmen confronted him after noticing the decals on his uniform were incorrect.

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Demonstrators on Tuesday were intent on keeping it peaceful. As one group of people marching approached a line of police officers near 8th and Figueroa, a man asked them to step back, shouting, “Everyone go home safe tonight!”

The young man, who declined to give his name but said he was from Glendale, said this is the first march he has attended.

“I just couldn’t sit there and not do anything anymore. All four of those cops should have been arrested,” he said of the Minneapolis police officers present for Floyd’s death.

Floyd last week died after police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Chauvin was fired and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in George’s death. He is now out of jail on $500,000 bail. The other officers at the scene when Floyd died — Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng — are being investigated for their roles.

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On the steps of City Hall on Tuesday, protesters urged each other to stay back from a barricade placed between them and rows of police and National Guard troops.

A black woman with a megaphone stood before the crowd and them to show gratitude for each other. She asked people to look around and thank people of different races who were with them.

“We have Caucasian people here, we have Asian people here, we have Hispanic people here,” she said. “We have Americans here. We have non-citizens here. … We need to thank everyone for standing united because, guess what? We are standing together.”

Nearby, Raynard Sterling, a nurse practitioner and former combat medic, stood in a white coat and teal surgical mask, taking in the scene.

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“I think individuals like me, African Americans that have seen this happen routinely and even in other states, in urban America, we’re angry,” said Sterling, 52. “The underlying emotion is anger. We’re also hurt for [Floyd] and his family, but we’re very angry.”

Lauren Skillen, 26, of Los Angeles, and her sister Taylor, 28, woke up Tuesday and wanted to do something to help the protest efforts.

Skillen’s office, a production company, had let everyone off work for Blackout Tuesday, in which people posted black boxes to their social media feeds to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

The sisters asked for donations on social media and got $160 in two hours. They went to two stores and bought Gatorade, water, bandages, alcohol wipes and tissues. After assembling 60 care packages in Ziplock bags, they headed downtown to distribute to protesters.

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“Sometimes it feels hollow to be another body — I know that’s not right thinking — but I wanted to be able to do something,” Skillen said.

Many parents brought their children to experience this moment in history. Khalil Bass, 30, who is black, brought his 6-month-old son.

“I don’t want him, when he gets his driver’s license, to be pulled over for no reason and have guns drawn on him,” Bass said.

When Bass was a football player in high school and college, he was repeatedly pulled over as he drove his teammates around and officers saw a car full of men of color, he said. Bass also played football in Canada and said the police are remarkably different.

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“When you come home, it’s that feeling like you did something wrong when you know you didn’t,” he said.

Bass was laid off from his job as a trainer at a gym in Beverly Hills in mid-March. He said it seems like people have more time to pay attention and read the news because so many millions are not working amid the pandemic.

“There’s a feeling of being a part of history,” he said. “Everyone feels like we can make a change, and more people are jumping on the bandwagon. This is the first time it is not all black people at a protest.”

Standing in front of several National Guard troops on Spring Street, a 6-year-old boy named Quentin, who is black, wore a Spider-man face mask and held up a handwritten sign: “PLEASE LET ME LIVE!!! MY LIFE MATTERS!!”

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Quentin had seen videos of burning buildings in the news and worried about his mom, who had been protesting since Saturday. He asked her to bring him along “to show me” what a peaceful protest looks like.

Wearing a short-sleeve shirt covered with photos of cats and a pink-hued, leopard print mask, 8-year-old Gianna Garcia said people needed to know that the protesters were strong and powerful.

“It’s going to be a good army,” she said.

Sitting atop a slow-moving black Jetta on Spring Street with her legs dangling through the sunroof, Gianna held her small, clenched fist aloft. She clutched a sign reading: #ChargeAllFour.

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Her mother, Maureen Maldonado, was in the back seat, holding another sign with the words “I can’t breathe.”

Maldonado, a Latina, said that she and her daughter had been protesting for four days. Coronavirus had “removed all types of childcare” from the 38-year-old office manager’s life, but she believed that her daughter needed to be here.

“At least for me, the only change I can make is that I shape my daughter the right way,” Maldonado said.

Hundreds of people remained downtown after the 6 p.m. curfew passed.

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One 37-year-old man, who stood outside City Hall half an hour past curfew, said that if the coronavirus pandemic had not forced the closure of so many businesses, “most of us wouldn’t be here. We’d be at work.”

“I’m out of work right now; most of us are, I bet you,” said the man, who declined to provide his name but said he lives in Hawaiian Gardens. He lost his job as a motor coach bus driver in March because of the stay-at-home orders.

As the clock struck 6 p.m., crowds remained downtown despite the curfew.

About 120 to 150 people were arrested Tuesday evening on Broadway north of Fifth Street. At 8:15 p.m., several were lined up near the boarded-up windows of Mattress Central and Planet Fitness, their hands zip-tied.

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LAPD Sgt. Rex Ingram said all of them were arrested for curfew violations. Ingram said there had been no reports of looting downtown Tuesday evening.

Andy Freeland, 29, was walking with a crowd of people around 7 p.m. when, he said, officers charged at them near 5th and Broadway.

He scurried down Broadway, and someone opened a door in a boarded up residential building. A few dozen people ran inside. About an hour later, Freeland was hiding the building’s parking garage, hoping not to get arrested but expecting police to come in.

“We’re in the trash room and left the lights on and are sitting silently to hopefully not appear threatening if the LAPD opens it,” he told a Times reporter in a text message.

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Eventually, police officers entered the building and told Freeland and others to go home. He was not arrested.

More than 1,000 people gathered outside Garcetti’s residence in Windsor Square Tuesday evening, chanting “defund police!” as an LAPD helicopter circled overhead. The crowd did yoga, deep breathing and stretching exercises. Someone burned sage.

To Whitney Peterson, 35, of Los Angeles, the chant was not a call for abolishing law enforcement but limiting it and steering resources elsewhere.

“When...people are getting killed by police, and yet we have schools and lower income communities struggling, it’s hard to swallow,” she said of public spending for police. “These communities are not being protected, and that needs to change.”

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Speaking Tuesday evening, Garcetti said he had directed LAPD to “minimize” their use of rubber bullets when dealing with peaceful protesters.

“I think that we’ve seen less of any of those tactics, and I hope that we can see the most minimal if not zero of those tactics,” he said. He mentioned that an officer had their skull fractured and that officers needed to make peaceful protesting possible.

Garcetti said there needed to be more national leadership “to bring this moment to a calmer place.”

“The political pyromania of this moment that we see coming out of Washington right now — it’s not only not bringing us together, it is fanning the fuel of this fire.”

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Times staff writers Benjamin Oreskes and Richard Winton and photographer Kent Nishimura contributed to this report.


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