As two major California cities spent Tuesday morning assessing damage and tallying arrests from violent protests the night before, officials asked for peaceful behavior -- but promised a crackdown should the demonstrations escalate again.
Protestors have rallied across the nation after a Florida jury acquitted former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. Saturday’s verdict sparked nightly protests in many major cities.
But the demonstrations in Oakland and Los Angeles morphed into more aggressive outbursts, with marauders running through city streets -- smashing windows, lighting garbage fires, assaulting news crews and, in one case, attacking a waiter trying to protect a restaurant damaged two nights prior.
At least nine people, including a juvenile, were arrested in Oakland on Monday night for alleged offenses including assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest and vandalism, police said. Los Angeles police reported 14 arrests from Monday, including six juveniles. Most of the L.A. arrests were for what police said was failure to disperse, though one was for allegedly inciting a riot.
At a weekly Police Commission meeting Tuesday, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck had stern words for those hoping for a repeat of the night before. He promised a large deployment of officers in Leimert Park -- near Monday’s violence -- and said the department “will be very aggressive.”
“When crowds obey the lawful orders of police ... we allow them a lot of leeway,” Beck said. “Unfortunately we won’t be able to do that tonight.”
What began as a peaceful protest in South L.A.’s Leimert Park escalated Monday after officials said a group of about 150 people splintered off and headed down Crenshaw Boulevard and neighboring streets, smashing windows, lighting fireworks and surrounding cars.
Cuauhtemoc Negrete, 22, who was at the rally in Leimert Park, said he later was robbed and threatened by one of the rogue groups. He said he also saw people assaulted as they waited for a bus at Vernon Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard.
He broke down in tears Monday as he expressed frustration over the protests. “Why does it always have to go down this road?” he said.
Other witnesses recalled chaos after vandals made their way inside a Wal-Mart in Crenshaw Plaza, storming the store before security guards were able to close the gates. A short time later, Los Angeles Police Department officers wearing helmets and carrying batons arrived.
Lali Castillo, 21, of Glendale said she saw people come 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 at the store, which re-opened after 9 a.m.
At least two people – a reporter and cameraman who work for Channels 2 and 9 – were injured Monday. Reporter Dave Bryan was interviewing Joseph Degurre, 43, about 10 p.m. Monday when video shows Bryan getting hit in the back of the head by the cameraman’s camera. The attackers then ran off, witnesses said.
“He pushed the camera guy down and the camera guy went down, the camera went down, David went down,” Degurre told The Times after the incident.
Video at the scene captured two men running off into the darkness. Bryan and the cameraman suffered minor injuries, the channel reported Tuesday.
About 350 LAPD officers responded to corral the chaos Monday, eventually declaring an unlawful assembly and making arrests. At a late-night news conference, newly installed 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.”
Nine agencies assisted Oakland police with the response to protests in the Bay Area city, where hundreds of demonstrators marched through city streets -- briefly blocking Interstate 880 -- with some spray-painting graffiti, blocking cars and burning an American flag.
The Bay Area News Group reported several people linking arms in front of the freeway, saying “If L.A. can do it, we can do it too.” A group of protesters blocked the 10 Freeway in Los Angeles during demonstrations Sunday.
The Oakland crowd became more heated as the night progressed, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. About 10:45 p.m., people smashed windows of three buildings at 15th Street and Broadway, prompting a scuffle between the crowd and the officers who responded to make arrests.
Bottles and rocks were thrown at police and a tear-gas canister was set off, the newspaper said.
Later in the night, a waiter was hit in the head with what appeared to be a hammer as he tried to protect the windows at the Telegraph Avenue restaurant Flora, which had been damaged in weekend protests.
Bartender Phillip Ricafort told the Bay Area News Group that people in black masks walked up to the restaurant window and “tried to bang at it.”
The waiter “said, ‘Don’t do that’ and the guy turned around and smacked him in the face with a hammer,” Ricafort said.
The waiter was bleeding from the face as he waited for paramedics, Ricafort said.
“It was gruesome.”