As protests against racial injustice continued, law enforcement leaders in Los Angeles County promised the community Monday they will maintain full-force efforts to stop opportunistic looters who have distracted from the dialog about the Minneapolis in-custody death of George Floyd.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he stands by people’s right to protest peacefully, and the cause, calling what happened to Floyd “unacceptable” and “not representative of the profession of law enforcement in 2020.”
But he also emphasized the need for law and order.
“One bad apple can definitely give the impression that the entire crop is rotten, and we have to dispel that notion,” Villanueva said.
The sheriff called for an end to what he called “lawlessness of the last three or four days,” as peaceful protests in Santa Monica, Long Beach and other Los Angeles County cities over the weekend turned destructive. Rocks were thrown at officers, looters broke business windows, merchandise was stolen and fires were set.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic and our economy is struggling to gain a foothold and start again. We’ve lost a record number of jobs, the greatest number since the Great Depression… So we are in unchartered territory here, and to on top of that to then lose more jobs, more livelihoods and more businesses — for a purpose that has nothing to do with the tragic murder of George Floyd — is inexcusable, and we are going to put an end to that.”
The sheriff said the justice system is working together with the community to reestablish the peace.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore emphasized the need for every resident to help bring an end to the chaos of “civil unrest, violence and destruction” — the worst the county has seen in three decades.
“Law enforcement is not going to get this back in control, we need the community,” Moore said. “We are all in, but that will not fix this.”
Moore also reminded residents that police officers — some who have been attacked over the weekend with rocks, fireworks and even claw hammers — are people, too.
“We are a people business, both in dealing with it and being made up of people, and we are by no means perfect — but we are trying,” he said, noting how far the city has come since 1990, when the city reported more than 1,000 murders, and 1991, when there were 115 officer-involved shootings; compared to 254 homicides last year and 26 officer-involved shootings — which Moore said were still “26 too many.”
“This is a complex issue and there are challenges,” he said. “But I’m proud of the work we are doing to recognize it, to acknowledge it and be committed to reform and improve our craft.”
Moore pleaded with Angelenos to recognize “no cause of injustice outranks others” and do their part to end the destruction. He said protests do not have to devolve into violence, citing the example of the Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles that was able to send a message without descending into criminal activity that can muddle the message.
“Protest groups have an ownership in this,” he said. “They have a responsibility just as I do in community policing and shared responsibility in stopping this.”
He emphasized: “This is not a scolding, this is encouragement to remind us that we are better than this.”
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey shared similar sentiments, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when she said: “Nowhere have riots won any concrete improvement such as organized protest and demonstration.”
Lacey said Floyd’s death struck a cord and disgusted her, calling it “vile” and saying she was glad charges were swiftly brought in the case. But she noted that her mother always told her: “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
She reminded people that looting is a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances.
“There are some opportunists out there who have decided to take advantage of law enforcement being tied up managing peaceful protests,” she said. “You cannot and should not go out and loot and steal and set businesses on fire.”
Lacey said the weekend’s destruction is especially devastating because the community was already hurting due to coronavirus, with many local families struggling to put enough food on the table.
“And now to see their business go up in smoke and destroyed over an issue they are not responsible for, it’s up to us in the justice system to hold people accountable for that,” she said. “There will be consequences.”
She said Los Angeles residents need to “be better than this” and expect more of themselves, not just more from law enforcement.
“Looting and breaking the law in violent fashion will not bring along the change that we want to see,” she said.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said the criminal activity that has distracted from the protesters’ narrative is degrading to everyone.
“Violent malicious conduct has no place in this city. We will prosecute it,” he said. “Our city has got to be better than that.”
Despite the way he said criminal opportunists are “hijacking the message” of the protesters, Feuer said he has hope for the future and has been inspired by the way communities came together to clean up in the aftermath.
“I saw my neighbors with brooms and dust pans … they were there to clean the glass and scrape the graffiti off walls and windows,” he said. “We live in a city where neighbors care about each other.”
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