For most of Saturday afternoon, downtown Los Angeles felt eerily quiet. Few people were out, besides carpenters boarding up windows and security guards making their rounds. Following Friday night’s protests against police violence in the wake of the murder of Minneapolis man George Floyd, shattered glass still lined Figueroa Street, and building after building was tagged with messages like ACAB (“all cops are bastards”), FUCK THE POLICE, and FUCK12 (“12” being a reference to police).
On Friday, protests turned violent after the LAPD declared a nearly four-square-mile section of downtown an unlawful assembly area. As the police pushed protestors south along Spring Street from City Hall, people began smashing windows, looting stores, setting fires, and clashing with officers. “Things picked up around 9 or 10 p.m.,” a security guard at a construction site on 7th and Grand told Los Angeles. “There were too many people for the cops to do anything.”
A few blocks over, on Spring Street, carpenters boarded up the windows of Bolt Barbers and Buzz Wine, two shops that had been broken into and looted the night before. “We’ve been here since 4 a.m.,” a man told me at around 4:30 p.m. A block away at Living Room Vape & Smokeshop, which had also seen its windows smashed in, customers were lined up outside, entering one by one to make their purchases. “We’re going to close at 5:30, tonight,” the owner said. “I don’t want to be here by the curfew.” In response to the previous night’s unrest and actions in the Fairfax District on Saturday afternoon, Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered a citywide curfew that began at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
“I woke up to 30 missed calls from my security guard at 7 a.m.,” Aidan Nelson, co-founder of the Wonzimer art gallery at Pershing Square, said. Nelson had only left the gallery a few hours earlier, at 2 a.m. on Saturday morning. By 4 a.m., the door to his gallery had been smashed open, the front office looted of computers and projectors, and six paintings were stolen off the wall from the exhibition space in the back. At 6 a.m., when his security guard showed up, he found a man with a can of gasoline and a blowtorch attempting to burn down the building. “The security guard chased him off,” Nelson said, “and we’ve spent the day cleaning up and installing a gate” across the entrance.
Nelson said he called the police and attempted to file a report, but was handed off from one line to another, and eventually gave up. When two cops passed by the gallery, “they told me the best thing to do is just board up the place and get out of downtown.” As night approached on Saturday, Nelson wasn’t feeling optimistic about getting help from the police: “They’re not going to help.”
At 6 p.m. on Saturday evening, a procession of protesters drove south down Hill Street, honking their car horns and cheering loudly out of their windows. People began gathering along the sidewalk to watch the procession, cheer, and film them with their phones or raise a fist in solidarity. Then, at around 6:30 p.m., a large group of people marched south down Olive to Pershing Square and turned up Fifth Street toward the Central Library. The crowd was mostly young—teenagers, people in their 20s and 30s; only some wore masks.
“This is our first protest,” Veronica and Crystal, two of the protestors in the crowd, told me. “We are protesting to take down the whole racist system that is the basis of the U.S. Arresting one officer is not enough.” Another member of the group explained that they’d been an Mariachi Plaza, and had marched downtown.
Shortly after, police began to arrive, and the energy of the group of protesters changed instantly. At Flower Street, the group turned south as a wall of police began marching behind them in full riot gear.
The march continued down Flower until, suddenly, a second line of police cut them off at Eighth Street. The police fired a loud shot directly into the crowd, and many people scattered back up Flower. I spotted a man bleeding from a large gash in his shoulder; he explained to a person filming him that he’d been hit with a baton.
By 7 p.m., several helicopters circled overhead as bands of police played cat-and-mouse with groups of protestors, most of whom were peaceful, although a few bottles and rocks were thrown at officers.
From what I could tell, the police’s method of dealing with the crowds was to trail a group from behind, cut them off from the front, press in, and arrest everyone. In fact, I was caught in one such group. In front of Staples Center, at around 7:10 p.m., two lines of police pressed in on some 20 protestors. They fired rubber bullets into the group, but there was nowhere anyone could go. A few people tried to hop the barricades in front of LA Live to flee, but security guards immediately stopped them.
“Lay down!” one of the protestors instructed, so we all sat. Some panicked, others were silent as two lines of police marched at us, then arrested us one by one. We were placed along the curb, our hands bound with zip ties behind our backs, as we waited for about 30 minutes on a bus to come transport us to the Men’s Detention Center jail. “You’ve all been arrested for failure to disperse,” an officer explained. Ultimately, the bus never arrived, and just before 8 p.m. an officer gave the order to release us all. “You are being released, but if you are detained again, you will be arrested and sent to jail,” he said. Our zip ties were cut and we were sent on our way.
As the 8 p.m. curfew approached, police sirens, flash bangs, and blasts of rubber bullets could be heard throughout the streets. At Broadway and Fifth, the windows of a Rite-Aid were shattered and waves of looters rushed in. A column of police eventually arrived, and the looters scattered. A similar scene took place at the Urban Outfitters at Broadway and Eighth.
For the next few hours, skirmishes flared up around downtown, but by 11 p.m., the streets emptied. Helicopters circled, their lights searching for any remaining looters or groups in violation of curfew, but there was nearly no one to be found—only formations of police at key intersections standing still. Downtown returned to an eerie quiet.
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