The protests against the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis began peacefully in Los Angeles. As night arrived, however, the peaceful protestors were overwhelmed by large numbers of looters and vandals, who came to break store windows, write graffiti, smash stores, and steal whatever they could carry away. In the vivid account in the Los Angeles Times, those who wanted to make a statement about racism were heard trying to stop the looters but they were brushed aside. Shopkeepers saw their stores burned, their inventory stolen, and were stunned to be the victims of wanton violence.

Similar scenes of looting and violence occurred in many other cities. In Nashville, a 25-year-old white man was arrested for setting fire to the city’s historic Metro Courthouse. It will take time to determine how peaceful protests were hijacked by thieves, vandals, and perhaps by provocateurs and saboteurs.

At times like this, we are reminded that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was an unequivocal advocate of nonviolence, which he said demonstrates moral principle. He would have been appalled by the destruction that marred and diminished the purpose of the initial protest.

The following account of the looting and vandalism in Los Angeles was written by a team of reporters from the Los Angeles Times:


Los Angeles County was hit by another day of protests and looting as police in Santa Monica and Long Beach struggled to deal with crowds breaking into stores and officials imposed curfews they hope will help.

The most serious unrest was largely limited to Santa Monica, where looters spent hours in the city’s upscale business district stealing items and setting several fires, and Long Beach, where a mall and some downtown shops were hit. There, some protesters screamed at looters, begging them to stop. Caltrans closed the 10 Freeway west at Bundy Drive to prevent people from coming into Santa Monica,

Protests in downtown Los Angeles, Huntington Beach and elsewhere were largely peaceful.

The demonstration decrying the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, was initially peaceful. In Long Beach, hundreds of protesters, many chanting and holding signs reading “no justice, no peace” and “black lives matter” walked from the city’s downtown area through Alamitos Beach, along Broadway, before circling back to downtown along Ocean Boulevard Sunday afternoon.

However, shortly after 5 p.m., hundreds of protesters began looting stores at the Pike Outlet. The crowd used hammers and threw trash cans lids to smash the windows of businesses. Some protesters yelled for them to leave the stores alone. Others yelled “let’s hit Nike” before running toward the popular athletic store.

Several minutes later a mob rushed back and stormed into Forever 21, slipping from clothes scattered on the floor. At By Guess a man used a hammer to smash the store door before a man intervened and asked him to stop. Suddenly those wanting to loot the store began punching the man. A woman yelled for them to stop.

Chandarley Lim, 28, stood in the middle of the street that runs through the outdoor outlet mall yelling “peaceful protest” as a reminder that the demonstration was not supposed to be about vandalism.

“This is sad man,” she said of the looting. “This is not a good look. Don’t let the bad examples ruin it for the rest of us.”

Shortly after 6 p.m., Long Beach police declared an unlawful assembly in the area meaning that arrests would soon follow.

A similar scene unfolded in Santa Monica Sunday afternoon.

Hundreds of people walked from the Santa Monica Pier north along Ocean Avenue, carrying signs and chanting. The city issued a 4 p.m. curfew and some protesters were in a tense standoff with police, who were firing less-than-lethal weapons after some demonstrators threw objects toward them.

Shortly before 2 p.m., however, dozens of looters stormed Santa Monica Place, smashing windows of Louis Vuitton and several other stores. They left before police arrived.

Looters also ransacked the Vans at 400 Broadway, stealing shoes and skateboards from the store and storage room.

People carried merchandise past the Promenade as police guarding 3rd Street watched them walk by. They ran to a nearby alley, found what looked to be the back entrance to a store and swarmed inside.

Amid sirens blaring and shouts of “police!” the group ran back out of the alley, carrying shoeboxes. Some of them were picked up by a waiting car. They rushed to stuff the merchandise inside while police on motorcycles approached.

A couple blocks away, at 7th Street and Broadway, people were seen breaking into a pharmacy, using a skateboard to shatter the window before climbing inside. Next door, people smashed the window of a jewelry store. Firefighters at a neighboring station urged residents to go inside.

Police shut down all off-ramps into Santa Monica from the 10 Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway and told people to avoid the downtown area.

In response to the unrest across the region, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced a countywide curfew beginning at 6 p.m. Sunday and ending at 6 a.m. Monday. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia also announced a curfew in Long Beach from 8 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday.

Paul Cain, who owns The Britannia Pub in Santa Monica, said he called police early in the afternoon to get a report about how safe it was outside. They told him the protesters were peaceful, marching down Ocean Avenue, and that he had nothing to worry about.

What seemed like moments later, he saw waves of crowds on the street. He ushered his customers sitting on the patio inside where they watched looters storm the area.

“The people were outside eating and drinking, and all of a sudden it arrived,” he said. “It happened in waves.”

More than four hours later, the looting throughout Santa Monica had not lost steam. Protesters crashed store windows with hammers and ran in, taking what they could before police arrived. Store alarms and police sirens sounded throughout the area. Bystanders and drivers all slowed to watch the destruction, many holding their phones out to document what was happening. It was a lawless scene, with few obeying approaching sirens or street lights.

Inside the Britannia Pub, every so often Cain would shout and point out the window toward people carrying arm loads of merchandise from the Gap and other stores.

“Take a picture of that,” he said. “He must be carrying his body weight in jeans.”

Protests were also underway Sunday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, where National Guard troops established a perimeter around City Hall, and in Huntington Beach.

In Huntington Beach, police declared a protest near the pier an unlawful assembly about 1 p.m., said Angela Bennett, public information officer for the Huntington Beach Police Department.

She estimated about 500 people were demonstrating and said there were no reports of violence or vandalism. Video footage showed police officers lining up to face the protesters near Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street. No arrests had been made, Bennett said.

At the Promenade in downtown Long Beach, business owners were rushing to board up restaurants, clothing stores and galleries. Police and demonstrators were in a standoff near The Pike Outlets. Patrol cars were hit with eggs and water bottles as people began rushing police officers. By 5 p.m. some had started looting shops at the outlet, carrying armfuls of clothing out of a Forever 21 clothing store.

There were more protests in downtown Los Angeles, including a march to Pershing Square. Video showed an incident in which a police vehicle hit a protester before speeding away as people threw objects at the car. The person hit did not appear to be seriously injured. National Guard troops joined LAPD officers stationed on the steps of City Hall.

Neissa Diabate, 27, stood nearby holding a sign that read “America would not exist without the black community”.

“It’s actually wild that we have to be out here in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. They were there for George Floyd because “enough is enough,” she added.

“America has taught us that peace does not get us far,” she said.

Meanwhile, on the south side of the Los Angeles Police Department’s headquarters a few hundred protesters shouted “hands up, don’t shoot” at a line of officers and guardsmen as a police helicopter orbited overhead. Cell phones rang out in the crowd with an alert about the countywide curfew.

“They changed the time. They changed the curfew…cowards,” a woman yelled using an expletive.

Earlier on Sunday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti had imposed an overnight curfew for a second night in the wake of the worst unrest in the city in decades, warning millions of residents and would-be protesters that they could be arrested if they ventured outside after 8 p.m. County officials later amended the order to get people inside by 6 p.m.

The curfew is necessary to maintain order after two straight nights of looting, arson and tense clashes between police and protesters in the street, Garcetti said.

“When times demand it,” the mayor said, “strong steps are required to bring peace back to our city.”

Saturday’s unrest eclipsed that of Friday in downtown Los Angeles. Violence extended into other parts of the city and left portions of the Grove mall in the Fairfax District ablaze. Police shot projectiles at protesters in multiple locations. Protesters threw rocks and other objects, as well as fireworks, at police.

Los Angeles police said 398 people were arrested Saturday on suspicion of crimes including burglary, looting, vandalism, failure to disperse, and firearms and curfew violations. Five LAPD officers were injured, with two of them hospitalized, officials said.

The most seriously injured officer was struck by a brick while in the Fairfax area, authorities said, The brick fractured his skull. Another officer suffered a broken arm, and another suffered a broken leg during the clashes with protesters.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore, appearing with Garcetti at a news conference at City Hall on Sunday, said the officer whose skull was fractured underwent surgery Saturday night. “I believe he will survive,” Moore said.

Garcetti said people who engaged in “destruction and looting” were only hurting others in the community.

“They have not just caused chaos and damage,” he said. “They are hijacking a moment and a movement.”

Saturday’s unrest — which undercut a weekend meant to be focused on the the reopening of restaurants, barbershops and hair salons shuttered due to the coronavirus outbreak — spurred other cities to enact overnight curfews.

The cities of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Culver City and Torrance announced curfews for Sunday into Monday, as did the city of Santa Ana in Orange County.

In West Hollywood and Torrance, the curfews will be in effect each night until they are lifted by city officials. In Beverly Hills, the curfew took effect at 1 p.m. for the business district, which includes Rodeo Drive, and will be in place at 4 p.m. for the rest of the city.

“Violence, looting, and vandalism will not be tolerated in our city,” Beverly Hills Mayor Lester Friedman said. “It’s unfortunate that the message of the peaceful protesters has been diminished by criminal behavior.”

At dawn Sunday, five National Guard military Humvees were parked at 3rd and Hill streets in downtown L.A. Guardsmen dressed in full combat gear stood outside shattered storefronts as the morning light revealed the damage from the days before: broken windows, trash-strewn streets and graffiti-tagged buildings.

By 7 a.m., scores of Guardsmen toting M-4 rifles marched on patrol along Broadway between 7th and 8th streets.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the city and county of Los Angeles shortly before midnight, which was when he activated the National Guard.

Los Angeles County officials also proclaimed a countywide state of emergency to deal with the unrest.

“This emergency comes as we are in the midst of battling another emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Sunday in a statement. “This taxes our resources, but not our resolve.”

The proclamation will help authorities coordinate an emergency response and mutual aid and speed up the procurement of supplies, officials said. It also provides for future state and federal reimbursement of costs the county incurs. The dramatic move came after a day of deteriorating conditions. Demonstrators burned Los Angeles Police Department cruisers and looted retail businesses including the Apple Store and Nordstrom at the Grove. Some protesters even made it to Beverly Hills’ famed Rodeo Drive, where they were met by a line of officers.

Since the protests started, Garcetti and other city leaders had encouraged peaceful expression and voiced support for the marches. But on Saturday, the mayor said the conditions on the streets were getting worse by the hour. First, he ordered a night curfew for downtown L.A. Then, about an hour later, he extended it to the entire city. Less than an hour after that, he requested the National Guard.

The decision to call in the National Guard was criticized by City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents a portion of South L.A.

“It’s clear that our fear is real that additional law enforcement will only further violence against people of color,” Harris-Dawson said in a statement. “Anarchists are taking advantage of our pain with looting and violence — this is not Black Lives Matter or members of our community who have suffered from systematic racism and oppression — these are domestic terrorists.”

The last time the National Guard patrolled the streets of L.A. was during the 1992 riots, which erupted after the police officers who beat black motorist Rodney King were found not guilty.

Compared with those riots, the events in Los Angeles on Saturday were significantly less widespread and dangerous. The protests and looting were limited Friday night and Saturday morning largely to downtown Los Angeles and on Saturday afternoon and evening to the Fairfax District.

Although officers were hurt when protesters threw objects at them, there have been no fatalities. The 1992 riots swept across large swaths of Southern California and left more than 60 people dead.

From Friday afternoon to early Saturday, police clashed with protesters across downtown, pushing them away from the 110 Freeway and getting into physical altercations.

Despite the curfew imposed by Garcetti that lasted until 5:30 a.m. Sunday, groups of people — mostly men — wandered the streets of downtown Los Angeles late Saturday night, smashing windows and spray-painting anti-police graffiti on plywood boards that business and property owners had hastily affixed to their buildings earlier in the day.

In Saturday’s violence near the Grove, police and protesters spent hours in a tense standoff, with officers shooting rubber bullets and striking demonstrators with batons while several police cars were set on fire and other vehicles were vandalized. Protesters also took over a Metro bus and climbed on its roof to take video of police.

Several hours later, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority suspended bus and rail service with little warning. The agency apologized Sunday morning to passengers who were left stranded across L.A. County.

The unprecedented closure of the Metro system drew immediate criticism from advocates and elected officials who said essential workers were left stranded on sidewalks, at stations and in bus shelters in the hours after the 8 p.m. curfews imposed in Los Angeles and other cities.

Metro’s chief executive Phil Washington told KNX 1070 News Radio on Saturday night that the agency chose to shut down service because he had seen “a lot of damage,” and was concerned for the safety of Metro employees.

Washington said Metro supervisors were driving around the city on Saturday night to look for people at bus stops, then calling nearby bus yards and asking them to dispatch vehicles to pick them up.

On Sunday morning, a Metro spokesperson said the agency would reimburse trips taken in a taxi, Uber or Lyft after the system shut down. Anyone seeking a refund should call Metro customer service at (323) 466-3876.

The large crowd that moved through the Fairfax District first gathered at Pan Pacific Park off Beverly Boulevard at a rally organized by Black Lives Matter and social justice group BLD PWR, where they chanted, “Defund police” and “Prosecute killer cops.” The rally’s speakers called for less public money for police departments and for schools and prisons to be overhauled.

“We’re living in the middle of an uprising,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors told the group. “Let’s be clear: We are in an uprising for black life.”

The scene turned more violent as the day wore on.

About a dozen destroyed or defaced LAPD cruisers sat abandoned on 3rd Street, yards from where a loud crowd of protesters faced a row of police. The odor of charred rubber wafted through the area. The cruisers’ windows were smashed, mirrors ripped out and the vehicles’ bodies scrawled with anti-police slogans.

Protesters spray-painted “Cops and Klan go hand and hand” on the side of a Citibank on Fairfax Avenue. Across the street, “Eat the Rich” was scrawled on the Writers Guild of America building.

Around 6 p.m., police arrested about 20 people, who were then loaded onto a sheriff’s bus. Dozens of protesters — many dressed in black and wearing masks — posed for photographs, each with a fist in the air, while standing atop a burned and graffitied car by Edinburgh Avenue and Beverly Boulevard.

At The Grove nearby, looters broke into the Nordstrom department store and the Apple Store and ran off with merchandise. As looters approached two security guards outside the Nike store, the guards begged them not to enter.

“We’re one of you,” one guard said.

Eventually, some set a small police kiosk at the mall on fire.

The police chief was personally leading the operation in the Fairfax District and rushed to the Grove after the looting began. Moore said he was troubled by how things had gotten out of control. He said he understood people’s anger and frustration but that the city needed to pull together.

“This is not the solution,” he said, standing next to broken glass from the Nordstrom facade. “We haven’t given up on L.A., and L.A. shouldn’t give up on itself. We can pull around this. … Policing doesn’t fix these kinds of societal problems. I need all of L.A. to step up right now and be part of the solution.”

There appeared to be divisions among the protesters.

When one smashed the front window of a nearby Whole Foods on 3rd Street with a hammer, some screamed, “Don’t do that! Please!” while others cheered.

The protesters also began to clash among themselves. Some who urged peace created a barricade of shopping carts around the store’s entrance to protect it, but moments later, another group jumped the barrier and broke down the store’s door.

The Spokes ‘N Stuff bicycle shop closed Saturday at 6 p.m. The owner, Joey Harris, saw people breaking windows at Sorella’s next door when he left.

“And that’s a black-owned business,” he said. “It obviously wasn’t about protests.”

He’s had his store here for 20 years. The store stayed open during the COVID-19 pandemic because it’s considered an essential business.

“They not only took my bikes, they took customer’s bikes as well,” he said, estimating that the losses could total $100,000.

Travon Walton, a 25-year-old student from Long Beach, arrived in the Fairfax area in the afternoon to join the protests. He said he saw many non-black protesters inciting the police from up close and said he worried that the black community would receive the blame.

“All the white people are in the front,” he said. “We’re going to be the ones that get the backlash.”

As the night wore on, there were more reports of looting on Fairfax and Melrose avenues, where several stores were ransacked and a Starbucks coffee shop was set ablaze.

“It’s horrible — they need any excuse just to take something,” said Mel, a 39-year-old Compton resident who would provide only his first name as he watched from across the street. Mel said he came to the area to witness history.

“It’s going to be in the news,” he said. “It’s going to be like the Watts riots. I wasn’t really alive for it, but I was alive for this one. I’ll tell my kids and family members what happened.”

What Lindsay Pierce saw on her security cameras Saturday night made her ill.

The Melrose Avenue business owner was monitoring her shop, Wax, by way of security cameras as the protests moved through the Fairfax District. At about 11 p.m., she said, three young men darted inside her store after its windows were shattered. They immediately moved to the business’ internet router and disconnected it, cutting off Pierce’s connection.

“I started sweating, I got sick to my stomach, I was just thinking, ‘Please don’t light it on fire,’” Pierce said Sunday morning.

She said she got only about an hour of sleep before she was up at 6 a.m. and headed to the store to survey the damage. All the business’ electronics were stolen along with some small merchandise, she said.

Around midnight Saturday, for at least half an hour, a procession of cars, SUVs and pickups pulled up in front of the Melrose Mac store at 6614 Melrose Ave. and disgorged their drivers and passengers.

With no police in sight, they scrambled empty-handed into the store through shattered windows and emerged moments later with what appeared to be boxes of computers. The looting was broadcast live on L.A. news outlets.

“It was like a McDonald’s drive-through outside the Mac store, where cars were pulling up and others were throwing in looted goods and driving off,” Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz told KTLA News on Sunday morning.

“They were in a line, one by one,” he said. “It was something the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere.”

By early Sunday, the chaos was replaced by an eerie quiet.

Around 1 a.m., a few stragglers remained in the Fairfax District, the center of the prior day’s protests and looting. Fire crews doused storefronts that had smoldered for hours.

Metro buses, flanked by police motorcycle escorts, carried detained people who had zip ties on their wrists. Broken glass glittered on the sidewalk and hung from window frames.

Koretz, who represents many of the areas that incurred damage, said business districts along Fairfax Avenue and Melrose Avenue had been “devastated” by looting, vandalism and graffiti.

“This was the weekend that the city had given permission for restaurants and retail to emerge from COVID,” he said. “And instead, businesses that were already hanging by a thread are now destroyed.”

By 8:30 a.m., a Los Angeles beautification team was out along Melrose Avenue, near La Brea, beginning the long task of covering up profanity and other tags left on buildings down the street.

Helicopters flew overhead as the crew worked. The crew of five had started at 7:30 that morning.

“We haven’t even moved one half block,” said crew supervisor Ernesto Fabian as he scrubbed graffiti off a window with steel wool.

In the window were paper signs that read, “Black owned.”

“They don’t respect that,” he said. “They just keep tagging.”

The crew was supposed to work its way down to La Cienega Boulevard.

“I don’t think we can make it today,” Fabian said. “It’s going to take a couple of days to clean everything.”

Rodney Beckwith, who goes by his artist name, Flewnt, is the manager of Resist 323 on Melrose, a store selling custom clothing and art that saw one of its windows smashed.

He spent the night inside the store, where a garage door security gate was pulled down in front to protect it.

Beckwith was inside Saturday night when he heard people trying to break in through the back door. He shoved a table saw against the security door.

Eli Ventov has had his store, Reloaded L.A., along Melrose for nearly 12 years. The store had just reopened Wednesday after being closed because of the pandemic.

On Saturday, as they saw the protests start to grow, workers rushed to Home Depot and got painters paper to cover the windows so no one would break in.

No one did break in that night. But in the same building, people broke into the Dr. Martens store. Around 7 p.m., someone threw a bottle with gasoline inside the store, Ventov said.

“It went from this store, to this store, to this store,” Ventov said of the resulting fire, gesturing to shoe store Tony-K and then to his store.

Ventov stood across the street and watched his clothing and jewelry store burn.

“You see all your life running across your face,” he said. “I can’t believe it.”

“I understand where they’re coming from, but did you really need to come that way?”

“He stayed the whole time. We saw him on the news across the street watching his building burn down,” said Ramon Pazos, who works at the store. “There’s nothing we could do but watch.”

On Sunday morning Ventov stood outside the blackened store, where the roof appeared on the verge of collapse and the sky was visible through patches. He grew teary-eyed as a friend embraced him and told him it would be OK.

Ricky Flores swept inside the clothing store Flashback, where a sign out front read “Now open! Please wear a mask for entry.”

He and his friend had opened the store four years ago, with help from investors whom they eventually bought out. A year ago, business was going so well they moved from a smaller space next door to a larger one.

The store had just reopened Friday after being closed since March. But they closed Saturday because of the protests. They watched on the news as buildings across the street burned.

When Flores arrived Sunday morning, around 7 a.m., people were still stealing items from the store, he said. The alarm was blaring and people had broken the security gate the night before.

“I thought this was going to be cool,” Flores said, shaking the broken gate. “… They got through it easily.”

People stole three televisions off the wall, shoes and clothes. They even stole the ice cube trays from the freezer.

“What kind of a sick person takes the ice cube trays out of the freezer?”

He estimated losses totaled $200,000.

“It’s going to be hard to open back up with all the inventory gone,” Flores said. “If they say it’s safe to open back up in two days, it’s like, what are we going to sell?”

In Santa Ana, where protesters and police clashed, the streets were quiet by 2:30 a.m.

At the intersection of McFadden Avenue and Bristol Street, where many of Saturday’s skirmishes took place, the scent of melted plastic lingered in the air. Broken glass was scattered across the intersection.

One man standing with friends outside a nearby house described the entire episode as “dumb.”

“Do you have to loot?” he said. “You’re just making the city look bad.”

The man, who declined to provide his name, said he watched police officers fire tear gas at demonstrators, who threw rocks and other items at officers.

Workers at a Smart and Final on Edinger Avenue were cleaning up broken glass. A small cardboard sign that lay close by read: “Make lynching a federal crime.”

Nearby, Julio De La Chica said he had watched demonstrators break windows at the Smart and Final and an O’Reilly Auto Store, whose walls were scrawled with anti-police graffiti.

“I was stunned,” he said. “I’ve never really seen anything like that before.”

Jose Rodriguez has sold fruit from a cart on Fourth Street in downtown Santa Ana since the early 1990s. He remembers that when the riots that happened in the wake of the Rodney King verdict nearly 30 years ago, “no one down here cared.”

But as he prepared some mango with chile before closing up early on Sunday, the Mexican immigrant looked upon a Fourth Street he had never seen: empty. Boarded up. And nervous of what was to come.

Small business owners frantically put up plywood on their storefronts in anticipation of two rallies nearby. The sound of buzzsaws cutting down planks and nail guns fastening wood to concrete peppered the humid air.

The night before, a rally In another part of Santa Ana led to looting and soul-searching in a city long maligned by the rest of Orange county as a dangerous place. Rodriguez saw footage of the aftermath and didn’t like it.“I understand why everyone so upset,” he said. “But breaking windows and harming your own community isn’t the way.”

He added a dash of lime to two mango containers.“Let’s see what happens in a bit,” Rodriguez said. “You can’t be open right now. Because what’s coming might hit everything hard.”

Times staff writers Hailey Branson-Potts, Kim Christensen, Dakota Smith, Laura J. Nelson, David Zahniser, Kevin Baxter, Matthew Ormseth, Leila Miller and Emily Baumgaertner contributed to this report.