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In Los Angeles protests, most want peace and some want a fight

Looting continues despite some protesters’ pleas and police presence

In Los Angeles protests, most want peace and some want a fight

Demonstrators yell as a Los Angeles police officer during a protest over the death of George Floyd Saturday in Los Angeles (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Police Department officers stood in the middle of Second Street with helmets on and legs spread apart. With their fingers, some slowly drummed the batons hanging at their waists. The officers obstructed the target of a crowd of protesters: city hall. When it reached the line of police, the crowd chanted, March with us! March with us!”—a reference to law enforcement officers in other cities displaying solidarity with protesters by bending the knee or marching with them. Many protesters knelt and raised their hands to show that they came in peace.

The officers stared back stone-faced. Some protesters grew irate. One young, wiry black man hopped around. He swung a giant chain around his neck, flexed his muscles, and inched towards the officers to spit vulgarities into their faces. Several protesters jumped in front and waved him off: Turn around! Turn around! Lets go! Peaceful protest!” 

It was the fifth day of protests in LA over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died on Memorial Day in Minneapolis. It happened after a white police officer pinned a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd’s death—along with other high-profile cases of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and a video of a white woman calling the cops on a black man in Manhattan—have incited both peaceful protests and some violence and looting across the country.

On Saturday, the entire police department mobilized for the first time in more than 20 years. Peaceful protests turned violent: Rioters set fire to at least two police cars and one store, they smashed and looted multiple businesses, and the mayor issued an emergency citywide curfew. Rioters hurt at least six police officers. Police arrested 533 protesters.

On Sunday, many protesters were even more determined to keep the rally as peaceful as possible. One sign read: I came to protest peacefully. Please dont shoot!” But downtown illustrated what can happen when high-strung emotions and mixed agendas clash. Most downtown businesses were boarded up. Tiny pieces of glass still twinkled under the sun on the sidewalks. Fresh graffiti marked the walls of the Salvation Army, Starbucks, public benches, low-income apartments, and electrical boxes: Shoot the police!” “Black Lives Matter!” “HATE KILL DESTROY!” Many in Sunday’s protest strived to maintain peaceful demonstrations and avoid the violence and looting. But some people seemed to want a fight.

By Sunday, everyone was tense. In addition to the police, National Guard troops stood guard on the streets in their camouflage uniforms, carrying rifles. Its the first time the National Guard has patrolled LA since the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the 1992 race riots, and its presence—and Humvees rolling through neighborhoods— rattled Angelenos. 

While most protesters worked hard to keep the group peaceful, a few seemed to provoke violence. It didnt help when one police SUV drove towards several protesters, knocking one down and almost crushing his foot. Nor did it help that some protesters egged the officers on: They stood in front of the vehicle with both middle fingers up. When the LAPD cruiser nearly rammed them, others screamed. Several rushed toward the car with fists out. The SUV immediately went into reverse, turned, and drove off. I took a video (other media outlets did too), and the LAPD later said it is investigating.

One young black man swung a small black case around the entire afternoon. When I asked what was inside he told me it was a gun: Please dont use it,” I said. He looked at me smiled. Youre not going to use it, are you?” I asked. 

 Not unless I got to,” he said. Then in a friendly tone, he assured me, I wont use it on you.” 

He was also at the protest on Saturday. He showed me the stitches on his chin and the black-and-blue bruises all over his body from rubber bullets. He said Floyd’s death enraged him: It hurt personally because it can happen to any of us. We can go out one day and never come back.” He doesn’t think the police are there to protect. So if violence erupts, Im all in,” he said. “Once they feel it in the economy, then theyll realize these peoples lives are not to play with.”

Businesses have insurance, he said, so they’ll be fine. But most of the businesses that suffered damage last weekend were mom-and-pop shops whose owners are immigrants and minorities. For this man, though, nothing was more important than vengeance and revolution: Change will come. By force, yeah. If you cant make it, you gotta take it.” 

Photo by Sophia Lee

A protester kneels in front of a police officer in Los Angeles Sunday. (Photo by Sophia Lee)

But others, at least for that day, kept aggressive people like that man in check. Some joined the protest with signs identifying themselves as medics to help the hurt, and many volunteers showed up in cars to pass out cold water bottles, snacks, and hot pizza. 

Others designated themselves peacekeepers for the day, such as Santana Lopez, 25, who urged people to keep the peace” and resist the urge.” The weekend’s looters angered her: From what Ive seen, it was usually Caucasians starting the breaking, and I think theyre trying to influence us into violence. Theyre causing damage, and then people are blaming us.”

The aggression provoked police, and many protesters got hurt in the crossfire. Lopez had been in Fairfax District in Los Angeles Saturday protesting when police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds. She lifted her shirt to show me a big bruise on her lower back: I got shot yesterday for saving someone who got shot in the head.” 

Others tried to be peacemakers too. When one man whipped a spray paint can out of his duffle bag and vandalized a public bench, Ricky Woznichak and his friend John Snyder, both 38, admonished him: “Hey! Stop vandalizing!” They made up later with an elbow bump.

This is not a good look,” Woznichak told me, regarding the vandalism. I dont want the wrong people getting blamed.” He and Snyder were both at the protest the day before too, and they left as soon as the police began firing tear gas, which burned their eyes and throats. Snyder showed me the mark on his jeans where a rubber bullet struck his shin. But they were back on the streets again on Sunday with their signs. We gotta stand up for what we believe in,” Snyder said.

But they too are wary of people they call plants” and instigators.” Most protesters Saturday, they said, were peaceful and approached the police with their hands up. But a few had jumped out, thrown something at the police, and ran back to hide behind the peaceful protesters. Were not those people so we dont know [who they are],” Woznichak said. When I asked if they knew who the organizers of these protests are, they both shrugged. The internet?” Woznichak said. Who knows?”

By the time the protesters walked a roundabout route and crossed Grand Park to reach city hall, a few black men designated themselves as the leaders by standing between the officers guarding the building and the protesters across the street. One older man lifted a loudspeaker and reminded the group, We do not want anyone rioting or looting!” Another younger man took the loudspeaker and declared, We cannot escalate the violence! We cannot give them any more reason to shoot and kill us!”

Then the leaders asked people to kneel and observe a moment of silence for black people who have died from injustice and police brutality. Hundreds dropped to their knees like a rippling wave. For a few minutes, the entire area went silent except for the whirling, choppy swooshes of police helicopters circling above. 

It was almost 5:30 p.m. At once, phones in people’s pockets began buzzing, and emergency alert tones sounded: A countywide curfew was going into effect at 6 p.m. Then the separation started. Some would go back home to observe the curfew, and others would stay against orders. 

One of the leaders lifted the loudspeaker again and begged the protesters: Do not burn our city down. Do not harm one another. This is not black or white. This is the people against injustice and violence!” The crowd cheered in agreement, and most of them trudged back to their cars.

Photo by Sophia Lee

Protesters in Los Angeles Sunday (Photo by Sophia Lee)

Somber news came that evening: Hundreds of looters punched and kicked down the boards covering stores in Santa Monica and Long Beach. They cheered when the plywood broke and windows shattered. Streams of people rushed into the stores and waddled out with arms full of goods: boxes of designer shoes, bicycles, surfboards. 

Some had clearly prepared for the occasion: SUVs and trucks pulled up in front of the store while looters heaved items inside and dashed in for more. The Santa Monica Police Department said officers arrested about 400 people that day, 95 percent of them from outside the city. In downtown, one Latino man in his 20s died from a gunshot from an unknown person. Its still not clear if the murder was related to the protests. 

More looting followed more protests Monday. Police seemed to be quicker in stopping it, but Los Angeles County was under mandatory curfew for the third straight day.

Lopez, the peacekeeper at Sunday’s protest, said the rioters and looters are missing the point: Theyre out here angry and letting out that violence, but were not out here to start violence. If things start getting ugly … Im going to loud, Im going to tell them not to because this is our protest. Its not OK for them to take that away from us.”

Sophia Lee

Sophia Lee

Sophia is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute and University of Southern California graduate. Sophia resides in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband. Follow her on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.

Comments

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  •  Deb O's picture
    Deb O
    Posted: Wed, 06/03/2020 11:24 am

    Thank you for getting these interviews and your observations about the true protesters in print. The anarchists and white supremacists are in the midst, inciting violence, and they need to be called out.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Thu, 06/04/2020 09:48 am

    I don't buy it that white supremists are involved in these riots. Has there been one arrested? This is the leftist media passing out propaganda to deflect from the fact that the rioting is done by far left radicals such as AntiFa and BLM. The truth is that the numbers of white supremists is so small that they don't have the manpower to really do anything. 

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Wed, 06/03/2020 01:20 pm

    Deb O, Sophia's observations reference a woman, Santana Lopez, whose own opinion was that "caucasians" were "usually" the ones starting the looting and trying to incite violence.  Sophia also talked in person to a black man who brought a gun to the protest and who stated that if violence erupts, "I'm all in." 

    If you watch videos and photos of the violence and looting across the country they show a wide mixture of races breaking in and stealing and ransacking everything in sight.  There are a variety of agendas behind these criminal activities, both large and small, political and criminal, and certainly not just white supremacists and anarchists behind it, although no doubt they are enjoying the evil, too. 

    No matter how people see things from their own limited perspective, or choose to spin things, evil is present and active in every ethnicity while, thankfully at the same time, God is active in every nation, tribe, and tongue to bring reconciliation between sinful people and Himself.

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Wed, 06/03/2020 01:38 pm

    I absolutely believe law enforcement personnel sometimes act unjustly, sometimes criminally, including in the George Floyd case, and sometimes with racial motives.  Peaceful protests, with specific good goals, are a valid and worthwhile response to injustice.  While I have personally faced unjust and incompetent law enforcement personnel, it is certainly not the case that they are bad as a whole group.  They are human beings.

    In the heat of people's anger, let's not forget that in America we do enjoy the real freedoms of speech and to protest peaceably.  Large parts of the world (that so many people on one end of the political spectrum idealize with their socialist or communist systems, that supposedly benefit and care for the common people) cannot say that they have those freedoms!

    In that context, I want to say that I disagree with Sophia's description of the incident that she videotaped with the police car.  It looks like her video has been watched over 2 million times!  I watched three videos of that incident with closeup and wider perspectives, and here is my take: 

    This lone police vehicle, with large crowds of protesters on both sides, had a few protesters blocking it and a few more were making their way around behind it while people from the crowds were beginning to move towards the police car.  The vehicle soon would become trapped and unable to move, thereby putting them at the whims of the protesters… whether peaceful or violent.  Remember this is in the larger context of police having already been attacked and injured and even killed and with signs and graffiti painted all over that say things like "Kill cops", etc.

    The police officer clearly saw a space to his front left where he could drive through and he skillfully and quickly steered through that space attempting to leave the potentially dangerous situation.  The couple of protesters that fell in front of him were running quickly towards the font of his car at that time, not just standing there.  To me, it appears clear that the car stopped just in time and either didn’t touch them at all, or they touched the car as much as it touched them.  They got up immediately to chase the police car, obviously with no particular injury (although Sophia mentions a scraped ankle).  The officer then, again quite skillfully, managed to back away and swing around before likely being attacked by the crowd.

    In my opinion, while I admire and respect Sophia's work as a whole, the description in this article is not very accurate, and it inadvertently plays into the idea that police just randomly do violent things.  I believe this is throwing fuel onto a fire. 

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Thu, 06/04/2020 10:08 am

    I find the riots disgusting and based on lies. We are led to believe there is systemic racism rampant in the police departments across America. BLM talk as if blacks are being slaughtered by the police which is totally false.  A police officer is 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black man than a black man is to be killed by cops. Last year only ten blacks were killed by cops in the whole United States, yet we are led to believe there is a slaughter going on. Who is the father of lies?

  • JACKIE PARFET
    Posted: Thu, 06/04/2020 11:04 am

    Speaking of police action, there are several reports out there about journalists being physically and indiscrimantly targeted by police. Wondering if this might be addressed in the near future?