Melrose Avenue was one of the main hotspots affected by rioting and looting overnight.
Fireworks exploded in the street. Dozens of police officers swarmed from one flashpoint to another. Masked thieves casually made off with sneakers, skirts and other merchandise from proudly upscale establishments.
One person threw a rectangular box onto Melrose Avenue, which was promptly run over by a vehicle, briefly snarling traffic.
Despite the 8 p.m. curfew put in place by the city of Los Angeles, Saturday night had shaped up to be a battleground the likes of which Los Angeles hadn’t seen the 1992 riots, as protests against police brutality caught fire — figuratively and literally.
As of midnight the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s West Hollywood Station had arrested eight people for looting, according to Sgt. Gabriel Akchyan, of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau.
The Los Angeles Police Department media relations office declined to provide specific details about arrests or police actions in the West Hollywood area.
Shelton Hairston, the CEO of Enigma Brands clutched his Desert Eagle semi-automatic handgun as he tried to protect what was left of his property on the north side of Melrose Avenue west of Fairfax Avenue.
“I’ll tell you right now, it’s the cops’ fault that this happened to us,” he said from beside a monogrammed chair barricading the entrance, referring to the smashed-out window and other damage.
“We’re dealing with the repercussions of someone else’s actions against our own people, and our people can’t differentiate between what is ours and what is theirs, in the middle of what is usually on the side … of corporate America.”
And while he said he understood why the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white police officer resonated locally, he suggested many of the rioters had misplaced their anger.
”I don’t feel no way about it,” he said, thinking about the vandalism at his shop. “The kids that actually did it were white kids — we got ’em on video.”
Hairston is behind 24 minority-owned brands and had a “BLACK OWNED” sign up in the window, which elicited positive reactions from some of those passing by in violation of the curfew.
“So, at the end of the day it’s just foolishness and unruliness … that has no real motive or any real premise behind it,” he said. “It’s just using a platform of Black Lives Matter — this man who lost his life — they’re just using that platform as a reason to be radical.”
Hairston said he hopes people will be more focused on working out their frustrations with police injustices.
“Bring the war to the right people,” he said. “If you’ve got a problem with somebody, bring it to the person you have a problem with.”
Compton resident Christian Tate, 30, said he came to Melrose Avenue around 9 p.m. Saturday just to see the mayhem for himself. He said he wasn’t motivated to break curfew out of a sense of activism, but did empathize with those protesting police brutality by looting high-end shops.
Anthony Limon, 34, from San Fernando, said he felt the same way. He’d been taking in events in the area all day — as an observer — he claimed.
“To be honest with you, a lot of s***’s going on here,” he said. “A lot of tagging — just craziness — just people taking back their power, you know? Because the government has us too in a bubble, and this is what happens.”
Limon said he hopes authorities listen to the underlying frustrations that allowed the political activism to take such a hold on the city.
“It ain’t easy, but somebody had to do it — so we gotta do it ourselves,” he said. “I think they got the message. And if they don’t do something about it, it’s gonna be another type of message.”
Killeenaraye Rodriguez, 37, a Mid-City resident who is originally from the New York City borough the Bronx in New York, said she understands why some people chose to loot as a protest tactic against police brutality.
“We hit ’em in the pockets,” she said, noting she’s become more concerned about the actions of law enforcement across the country the more she’s studied the issue. “I’m not proud of America no more. I used to be.”
As she spoke, a young smiling man carrying a large plastic bin, overflowing with shoes, walked by.
Rodriguez said she was also annoyed to see so many officers without masks on, because everyone else in Los Angeles is supposed to be wearing them while in public.
“The system was not meant for us to win,” she said. “How can we trust the police if they’re not policing themselves.”
Moments later, some fireworks went off with a BANG! in the middle of Fairfax Avenue, ushering in a number of police in riot gear.
Less than a mile west, Sarah Haugen, the owner of the organic restaurant Vitalist, stood outside her business — which had been spared, as of 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
“I just don’t want it to be broken or tagged, so I think it’s wise for me to stand here,” she said, adding she wasn’t afraid for her personal safety. “If that happens then I guess it does, but I don’t think that’s what this is about.
“I think injustice has happened, and people were locked up in their homes for a long period of time, and then … went crazy. You can’t mistreat people and not expect the world to go into an uproar.”
Haugen stood in place until police formed a line across Melrose Avenue and began advancing eastward toward Fairfax, shouting ”Clear the area!”
When the officers — about a dozen or more — reached Vitalist, the entire line paused, as one of the authorities spoke to Haugen for a moment. Then, she disappeared indoors.
A mile-and-a-half east, Sal LaBarbera, a retired police officer and television producer, took to Twitter for assistance. It was just before midnight, and he was stuck at Osteria Mozza. It had been broken into, he said.
“I can use some help at Highland and Melrose,” he wrote, “Chased several looters out. I’m all alone.”
LaBarbera said he was sheltering at the Italian eatery with writer Michael Krikorian.
Rioters had set so many businesses alight, the fire department was unable to confirm whether Osteria Mozza was one of them.
After all, Los Angeles Fire Department spokesperson Brian Humphrey said, the department responded to 49 calls within the first 30 minutes of the day.
But he had some good news.
“At this point in time we’re not aware of any pre-hospital loss of life in the areas impacted by social insurgents,” he said.
At 12:52 a.m. Sunday, LaBarbera reported the Los Angeles Police Department’s North Hollywood division had come to his aid.
“God Bless everyone who has tweeted for me,” he wrote. ”LAPD has been extremely busy.”
Then, he added, “We’re all in this together.”
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