Shoppers at a Wal-Mart on Crenshaw Boulevard described a scene of chaos and mayhem Monday night as unruly protesters stormed the store, tossing merchandise and trying to loot jewelry cases.
Police estimated about 150 people took part in the violence Monday night after a peaceful vigil at Leimert Park. They were protesting the acquittal Saturday of George Zimmerman, 29, in Florida on second-degree murder and manslaughter in last year’s shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
The group of roving protesters marched down Crenshaw Boulevard. Police said they tossed rocks, broke windows and set fire in some trash cans before LAPD declared an unlawful assembly and arrested 14 people.
When they arrived at a Wal-Mart in Crenshaw Plaza, some made their way into a store before security guards were able to close the gates. A short time later, Los Angeles Police Department officers wearing helmets and carrying batons swarmed the store as others marched through the parking lot.
Lali Castillo, 21, of Glendale said she saw people storm inside the store and begin throwing merchandise--mostly clothing--onto the ground. Some tried to break open the glass jewelry displays on the first floor, she said.
She and her family quickly got in their car and left.
Tanya Williams, 55, of Inglewood, and her daughter Erica Williams, 28, were shopping on the second floor when they heard people run into the store, screaming. They also saw protesters try to break the glass jewelry cabinets.
“I was scared,” Tanya Williams said.
The women said they saw clothes on the floor and a little girl crying.
“She must have been in the middle of it,” Erica Williams said.
The two left the store and watched as the crowd continued to gather on Crenshaw Boulevard. When they decided to go shopping, they thought they were a safe distance from any potential problems.
“We saw the helicopters and we knew about the vigil, but it wasn’t going to make it this way,” Erica Williams said.
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said Tuesday morning that there were no injuries or significant damage, and the store was in the process of reopening about 9 a.m.
At a news conference late Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti blamed the violence on a "a small group [that] has taken advantage of this situation.”
He urged an end to the violence: “The trial that we saw in Florida has ignited passion,” he said. “But we have to make sure it will not ignite the city.”
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck put the public on notice that officers would be taking a more aggressive posture toward protesters beginning Tuesday. "This will not be allowed to continue,” he said.