The LA Times interviewed various people who looted from stores in Southern California and asked they why they did it.
The young man flanked the shattered entry of a ransacked CVS in Santa Monica, where people had swept the shelves clean of everything from diapers to detergent. The man, who did not cover his face, admitted he was a looter. He did not apologize.
“We’ve got no other way of showing people how angry we are,” he said.
Out of the store ran another young man, this one holding a carton of eggs. He grabbed a friend and started scanning the street for targets: police cars. “We’re doing it because we can,” he said.
Over in Van Nuys, a teenage boy standing outside a ravaged Skechers store held up a backpack. That was all he took. But it was enough, he said.
“We are just trying to provide and take up the opportunity that we are getting right now. That’s all.”
In the unprecedented reaction to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, peaceful protest marches across Southern California in the last week have already dramatically changed the debate about police brutality and race relations.
But the massive demonstrations have been accompanied by looting in some cities around the Southland. Authorities believe most of the thefts and vandalism came from people not directly connected to the protests who used the teeming crowds as cover to steal merchandise.
Some of the looting appears to be organized, with groups driving around hitting multiple stores. For others, it was an outgrowth over the deep anger and frustration about the way blacks and others are mistreated, and they cited a host of other issues: President Trump, the privilege exposed in the college admissions scandal, and widening inequality.
“If Donald Trump is saying shoot us tonight, that is not giving us no leeway,” said a teenager holding the stolen Skechers backpack Monday in Van Nuys. “That’s just making things worse. If that’s giving permission for the police to shoot children, innocent teenagers, things like that, that’s not right.”
Times reporters interviewed people of different races and backgrounds who stole from stores over the last few days. The looters, unwilling to risk prosecution, declined to provide their names.
Hundreds of stores were hit over a three-day period, in many cases broadcast on live television. The stealing was largely limited to a few business districts including Fairfax, Santa Monica’s shopping district, parts of Long Beach, downtown Los Angeles, Van Nuys and Hollywood. Merchants — already reeling from coronavirus closures — were left with battered stores and even more losses. They and others expressed alarm at how the stealing was able to go on so long before police arrived.
Some have argued that too much attention is paid to the looting, which they say distracts from the powerful political movement fueled by Floyd’s killing. Yet the images had a larger symbolism.
“Part of it is simply an assertion of power. Riots nearly always have a carnival aspect because people who for nearly all their lives have felt under the thumb of other groups suddenly have a sense of power,” said Stephen Reicher, who studies crowd psychology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
“People who have been invisible and whose situation has been ignored all their lives suddenly become visible.”
Some looters have often been strategic, hitting high-end spots such as Nordstrom and the Apple Store at the Grove and the trendy retail strips of Melrose and Fairfax.
Many looters appear to be working in caravans that methodically block off certain streets with their vehicles, which serve as getaway cars for those running off with merchandise.
Those tactics were on display on Sunday in Santa Monica, where teams of young people ransacked some stores completely clean within minutes as protesters marched nearby. Others returned again and again throughout the afternoon to the same stores for more.
Some paused on the street to distribute the goods among themselves or stuff them in backpacks, suitcases or boxes.
“Get my portion! Get my portion!” one man shouted as looters hammered and kicked an ATM at Ye Olde King’s Head Gift Shoppe.
The looters, most of them wearing dark colors and bandanas or masks, blended in among crowds already wearing face coverings because of the coronavirus. They seemed to know one another and were fast and coordinated, calling out commands.
“The jewelry store!” one looter screamed, announcing the next destination. At Santa Monica Jewelry and Loan, the sound of gunshots erupted when looters attempted to break in. They fled.
Two security guards could be seen through the broken glass, guns drawn.
Some appeared to be spontaneously joining in, taking what was left of the destroyed businesses.
At a vandalized 7-Eleven, a homeless man approached the store, his jaw dropping in awe of the scene. He walked in and carried out a beverage.
A South Los Angeles man who was tagging along with a group of looters Sunday afternoon said he had been in Santa Monica just to get something to eat. But when he saw the protests forming, he decided to jump in.
The man, who didn’t want to share his name for fear of legal repercussions, said looters didn’t concern him.
“The real answer is everybody knows this world works for white people. They do anything and get away with it.”
He cited the college admissions scandal that has resulted in short prison sentences for wealthy white people. If that had been him, the punishment would have been more severe, he said.
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