Long Beach officials summoned the National Guard and declared a state of emergency Sunday, May 31, after initially peaceful protests against police brutality were followed by looting and vandalism.
Thousands of protesters angry over death of George Floyd gathered in front of Long Beach Police Department headquarters on Broadway mid-afternoon Sunday, joining many other demonstrations regionally and nationwide, before fanning across the city. About 80 percent of those gathered were engaged in a peaceful demonstration, Mayor Robert Garcia said Sunday night. However, he accused instigators from outside of the city of joining the demonstration and causing chaos.
Before crowds were dispersed, it appeared at least two stores near the Pike, Guess and Forever 21, were looted along with an Italian restaurant on Pine Avenue. Long Beach fire crews responded to a CVS pharmacy at Long Beach Boulevard and Sixth Street that reportedly had been looted and a fire set inside the building’s entrance. At least seven locations were burglarized Sunday, Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said.
Meanwhile, when demonstrators started throwing water bottles at police officers, they returned fire with less-than-lethal bullets. As the situation devolved into a riot, a state of emergency was declared and the National Guard was summoned to help restore order, Garcia said. That support was en route to Long Beach Sunday evening.
Police deployed four times as many officers as they normally would on a Sunday to prepare for what Long Beach officials expected to be a peaceful protest, Luna said. However, the department had to call on aid from nearby law enforcement units to respond to calls for service all over the city.
“We were everywhere,” Luna said.
People were seen going in empty-handed and leaving with items at the two retail stores, while others nearby urged them to stop. A couple dozen Long Beach police officers in riot gear approached the stores accompanied by a SWAT vehicle and two K9s, although most would-be looters appeared to have cleared out by then.
A similar scene played out at L’Opera restaurant on Pine, with nearby spectators begging them to stop.
A standoff between demonstrators and police at Pine and Broadway left one protester in tears. “Why? It doesn’t make sense,” she cried.
At around 3 p.m., protesters showed up bearing signs that showed support for Black Lives Matter. A temporary metal fence and barricade blocked the police building as hundreds of protesters marched on Broadway heading toward the library.
A police helicopter whirled above. Later, the marchers split into two groups, one headed back toward Long Beach PD headquarters and the other toward Alamitos Beach area.
At the corner of Pine Avenue and Ocean Boulevard, officers in motorcycles weaved into the crowd, some stood on cars and freshly spray-painted graffiti appeared on buildings.
Floyd, 46, was an unarmed black man who died in police custody after a Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes on Monday, May 25.
In widely spread cellphone footage, Floyd told the officers, “I can’t breathe” several times before he became unresponsive and died.
Four Minneapolis police officers involved in the incident were fired shortly after. The officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck was arrested and charged with murder Friday.
Floyd’s death sparked protests and riots across the country, including in Los Angeles where demonstrations turned violent and city officials have imposed a curfew.
By the afternoon, the city said a curfew would be established at 8 p.m. L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva also issued a countywide curfew for 6 p.m. Long Beach officials stuck to the 8 p.m. deadline for clearing the streets, saying in a tweet, “Long Beach & other cities have the authority to issue different curfew hours.”
Lt. James Richardson, a spokesman for Long Beach police, said there were no arrests made related to the protest in the city by the afternoon. He said a dispersal order was issued for Ocean Boulevard and Pine Avenue, but by around 5 p.m. dozens of protesters remained.
“We’re just monitoring the crowds,” Richardson said. “We have a lot of groups moving around.”
Garcia issued a statement at 2:40 p.m.: “America with all of our diversity has a dark and long history with race — and Long Beach has not been exempt from this. Over the last several days and after nearly three months of battling COVID19 as a nation, we are seeing civil unrest and protests. We hear you and are listening.”
Long Beach leaders were expecting local protests, Garcia said.
“For those who are choosing to participate, it is vital that you exercise your first amendment rights safely and without harm to life or property. Take care of each other and our community,” he said in the statement.
“Long Beach prides ourselves in our diversity and our long march towards justice. We can do better — and we will.”
Long Beach police brought in additional officers to work the protest and to ensure there were sufficient personnel available to respond to any other citywide incidents, police spokeswoman Karen Owens said in a Sunday morning call with reporters. More personnel could be added if needed, she said.
“The goal is to try to minimize the likelihood of property damage,” Owens said.
The windows for several Long Beach businesses are boarded, but it’s unclear when they were put up or if it’s related to Sunday’s protest. Many of them, though, have showed support of Black Lives Matter movement, with spray paint on the boards saying, “We stand with you BLM.”