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Newsletter: Protests across America

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National Guard troops deployed onto the streets of Los Angeles early Sunday morning as looting, vandalism and violence intensified and the police department struggled to restore order after two days of discord.

Protests over the death of George Floyd have spread to dozens of cities, with some marked by violence and looting.

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Protests Across America

Protesters took to the streets across the U.S. over the weekend, from San Francisco to Boston, from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., driven by fury over police killings of black people, most recently the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis one week ago today.

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Though there were many peaceful demonstrations, such as the thousands who marched in Boston, there was also widespread looting and violence. In Minneapolis, a man was arrested Sunday after driving his tanker truck into a large crowd of protesters, injuring some. In Philadelphia, people robbed stores in broad daylight. In downtown L.A., where looters had shattered windows and emptied stores Saturday night, National Guard Humvees rolled through Sunday after Mayor Eric Garcetti requested troops.

Mayors of several affected cities said they were still struggling to understand the complex dynamics behind an outbreak of vandalism and property destruction that has accompanied the protests that first erupted in Minneapolis after Floyd‘s death. The 46-year-old black man died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been fired and faces third-degree murder charges.

In Santa Monica, protestors face off with police as unrest continues in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

President Trump remained out of sight in the White House, as protesters massed by nightfall and police rushed in to reinforce the Secret Service and National Guard. Trump issued occasional staccato tweets, such as “FAKE NEWS!” and “LAW & ORDER!”

On Sunday, Trump blamed far-left activists for a flare-up of street violence amid nationwide protests against police brutality, even as critics denounced him for stoking divisiveness at a moment when COVID-19 and economic ruin are already causing upheaval across the country. The president tweeted that his administration would designate a loose movement of self-described fighters against fascism, known as “antifa,” as a “terrorist organization.”

But Trump’s authority to make such a designation in a domestic context is unclear, and the groups he is targeting lack a formal structure and centralized leadership, raising doubts about enforcement.

The Situation in Southern California

Looters shattered windows and emptied stores in downtown Santa Monica and Long Beach on Sunday, largely unimpeded by law enforcement, but at times clashing with peaceful protesters as officials issued a 6 p.m. curfew across L.A. County and National Guard troops patrolled L.A. for the first time since the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the 1992 riots.

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While the destruction erupted during mostly peaceful protests decrying the police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis, two groups emerged more distinctly later in the day: one ransacking shops, the other rallying on message.

In Santa Monica, they were often blocks apart. Looters in the shopping district on 4th Street appeared organized, smashing windows with crowbars and skateboards and loading the stolen goods into waiting cars. Some ran or drove off as sirens approached, but mostly continued as they passed. Several blocks away, police tried to break up demonstrators on Ocean Avenue with smoke grenades, and fired rubber bullets when eggs and water bottles were hurled at them.

By early evening, a similar dynamic developed in downtown Long Beach, with police facing off with protesters as groups of people looted stores nearby.

Other tense standoffs between demonstrators and police flared around Southern California, but for the most part remained less destructive than Saturday. Police dispersed crowds at the Huntington Beach Pier with pepper balls. In San Diego, officers fired rubber bullets and deployed tear gas on demonstrators who refused to disperse.

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The Other Crisis Hasn’t Gone Away

Just when L.A. thought it would be opening many businesses back up amid the coronavirus crisis — and as some questioned whether California was reopening too quickly — it had to shut down again as violence broke out.

On Saturday, the first full day that dine-in service was allowed to resume, a citywide curfew was declared. That was followed on Sunday by a countywide curfew. Newly reopened restaurants were forced to hurriedly shut their doors in the middle of dinner, and others abandoned their fledgling takeout businesses for the day.

Some prominent restaurants were vandalized or looted, including Pizzeria Mozza, Baco Mercat and Petit Trois. Still, many of the owners were sympathetic to the spirit of the protests.

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Meanwhile, health officials have been concerned about the large gatherings leading to a new surge in cases of the coronavirus. When L.A. officials announced they were easing stay-at-home orders, they said political protests should be no larger than 100 people. That obviously hasn’t happened in Southern California or across the rest of the country.

“It’s not OK that in the middle of a pandemic we have to be out here risking our lives,” said one protester in Atlanta. “But I have to protest for my life and fight for my life all the time.”

More From the Protests

— “Sometimes peaceful is not enough”: L.A. protesters explain why they hit the streets.

— Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said that the state’s attorney general, and not the county prosecutor, will take the lead in any prosecutions related to Floyd’s death.

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Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer arrested in the Floyd’s death, opened fire on two people during his 19-year career. Eighteen conduct complaints were filed against him, two of which resulted in reprimands.

— Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske describes how Minnesota police hit her and photographer Carolyn Cole with tear gas and rubber bullets. It was one of many incidents in which police and protesters have harmed journalists trying to cover the protests.

A New Era in Spaceflight

Amid the weekend’s turmoil, there was a different moment of historic significance: Two NASA astronauts became the first to reach orbit around Earth in a craft designed and owned by a private company.

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Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley rocketed to space Saturday afternoon inside a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, en route to the International Space Station, where they successfully docked a little less than 19 hours after lifting off from Florida.

The test flight will evaluate Crew Dragon’s systems and capabilities before NASA certifies the spacecraft to regularly transport its astronauts to the space station.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

On May 31, 1924, a fire tore through the Hope Development School in Playa del Rey, killing two dozen people. Most of them were girls or young women with intellectual disabilities.

The fire broke out about 9 p.m. on a Saturday. It started in a first-floor room on the south side of the structure and quickly spread. The staff and residents quickly became disoriented, not knowing which way to escape. There were no fire escapes, exit lights or fire extinguishers.

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The June 2, 1924, L.A. Times gave a dramatic report of the actions of two strangers after they spotted the flames.

Multiple investigations ensued. A grand jury placed responsibility on the state of California and recommended “that immediate steps should be taken to insure the safety of similar institutions.”

May 31, 1924: Charred remains of the Hope Development School in Playa del Rey.
(Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)

CALIFORNIA

L.A.'s transit system was shut down as protests raged Saturday night over concerns for employees’ safety. One L.A. councilman called it “unconscionable.”

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— All L.A. County Superior Court proceedings will be suspended through at least today in response to ongoing protests.

George Esparza, who worked as L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar’s special assistant, said in his plea agreement with federal prosecutors that a Chinese billionaire doing business in Huizar’s district played a crucial role in helping the councilman settle a sexual harassment lawsuit as he was seeking reelection.

— The future California bullet train’s passage from Burbank to Los Angeles would follow an existing 14-mile rail corridor, cross 22 roads, traverse the Los Angeles River, run through dozens of businesses and affect people across economic and racial segments, a draft environmental study found.

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NATION-WORLD

Hong Kongers are preparing for a new reality as China moves to impose new national security powers that are seen by many as a “death knell” for the former British colony’s freedoms. That includes scrubbing their social media feeds of offending posts, downloading VPN software to hide online activity and researching what it takes to move abroad.

— After German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office said that she would not attend a meeting of Group of 7 nations at the White House this month unless the course of the coronavirus spread had changed, Trump called for its postponement until the fall and said the group’s membership should include Russia, Australia, South Korea and India.

— Tens of thousands of mosques across Saudi Arabia reopened Sunday for the first time in more than two months, with worshipers ordered to follow strict guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as Islam’s holiest site in Mecca remained closed to the public. The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem also reopened for prayers.

— Officials across the southern U.S. are still scrambling to adjust their hurricane plans for the coronavirus. The big unknown: Where will people fleeing storms go?

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HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Beyoncé, Killer Mike, Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift are among the performers who have expressed outrage over Floyd’s death. Others, including Chrissy Teigen, said they were donating to bail and legal defense funds for protesters.

Christo, known for his massive public arts projects that wrapped buildings and covered landscapes, has died at age 84.

— Director Ridley Scott spoke with us about his classic “Alien” and filmmaking after the pandemic.

— “A different kind of bleak”: How “Defending Jacob” on Apple TV+ changed the book’s tragic ending.

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BUSINESS

Hollywood unions are playing a central role in determining when and how production rolls again amid coronavirus concerns in California.

— The cost of food has skyrocketed by the most in 46 years, and analysts caution that meat prices in particular could remain high.

SPORTS

LeBron James reacts to Floyd’s death: “Why Doesn’t America Love US!!!!!???? TOO.”

— Retired all-star Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez says he doesn’t see a way to salvage the 2020 baseball season. Here’s why.

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OPINION

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar writes: “What you should see when you see black protesters in the age of Trump and coronavirus is people pushed to the edge, not because they want bars and nail salons open, but because they want to live. To breathe.”

— The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. asked, in his fourth and final book: “Where do we go from here? Chaos or community?” His answer, of course, was community. Trump is pushing us toward chaos, The Times’ editorial board writes.

— Columnist LZ Granderson on George Floyd and the special hell reserved for black journalists covering his killing.

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WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— In March, U.S. officials said Russia has stepped up efforts to inflame racial tensions in the U.S. as part of its bid to influence November’s presidential election, including trying to incite violence by white supremacist groups and to stoke anger among black people. (New York Times)

— Is this the worst year in modern American history? James Fallows considers the similarities and differences between 2020 and 1968. (The Atlantic)

ONLY IN L.A.

“Hello there,” Tabitha Brown coos with a Southern drawl and reassuring smile. The 41-year-old mother of two has amassed more than 3 million followers on the youth-dominated mobile video platform TikTok since her March debut. Fans of all stripes tune in for her vegan-cooking tutorials served with a side of moral support. Some think she should be the next voice of Siri. Now, Brown speaks with a heavy heart and is reminding her followers to “be kind. To see everyone as human. To love everyone and respect everyone.”

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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