Protests for George Floyd have seen considerably less violence in the last several days compared to the past weekend, probably at least partly a result of a shift in police tactics, a law enforcement training expert says.
Last weekend, rampant looting took place simultaneously as protesters were chased and routed through the streets of downtown Los Angeles on Friday and Saturday, and tear-gassed on Santa Monica’s Ocean Avenue on Sunday.
“The more violent (protesters) get, the more violent (police) will get, so we’re trying to be as peaceful as possible,” said Imorie Recio, a 19-year-old in Los Angeles during an interview this week on the steps of City Hall. Days earlier, Recio, who had been protesting downtown, was struck by a baton and hit by rubber bullets. “We don’t need anybody dying or anybody getting shot,” she said.
After protests and unrest in LA and elsewhere in Southern California were met with rubber bullets and other nonlethal weapons, followed by overnight looting and destruction, some said they observed a shift in law enforcement.
Thousands of marchers who descended on Hollywood Boulevard on Tuesday, June 2, were not met with rubber bullets or tear gas. Police reinforced specific areas, like freeway on-ramps and some residential streets, but appeared to be guiding the crowd, not trying to disperse them as officers did over the weekend.
There are a couple of explanations for the shift, said police tactics instructor Charles “Sid” Heal, a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Commander.
First, watching the protests on TV, Heal observed they had become more peaceful. There was a conscious effort among many protesters to keep the gatherings that way after seeing the weekend’s destruction, protesters confirmed.
Many, in crowds from Santa Monica to Downtown LA and Long Beach, called for peaceful demonstrations and demanded that troublemakers be removed.
Recio and others also said they’ve seen less violence toward protesters in recent days and, when it does happen, it’s typically after curfew and substantially less heavy-handed than the response seen during the weekend unrest.
That’s the other side of the coin, Heal said.
After dispersing large groups of protesters, officers can quickly get overwhelmed by the number of small groups running around, according to Heal, who currently teaches classes on nonlethal options and had served as the president of the California Association of Tactical Officers.
“It’s like corralling mercury,” Heal said. “When you squeeze it, it doesn’t go away. It spreads out someplace else.”
That’s part of the thinking behind the curfew, he said. It’s to get protesters off the street to free up police resources to deal with looters.
“The same officers who will prevent the looting are involved with the protesters” and the police are forced to choose, he said. “It creates a competing interest.”
Heal says it’s not just a possibility, but a probability that officers have made a conscious decision to keep protesters contained in a bid to stop rampant looting.
When protesters are dispersed, it creates openings for looters, he said, as they’re often running around in small groups, capitalizing on the chaos of rubber bullets and tear gas.
When officers are forced to choose between managing a protest where people’s lives are at stake, versus chasing looters who are destroying personal property, Heal said, “We opt for public safety over property. That’s almost a default.”
At a T-Mobile store in Downtown LA on Saturday, looters ran out carrying armfuls of phones. One man carried a TV that had been ripped off a wall.
Officers showed up five minutes later. They couldn’t get there fast enough, one said. Too much going on.
The scene was repeated at store after store. Looters hit Santa Monica and The Grove in Los Angeles and Long Beach on Sunday, May 31 and in Van Nuys on Monday, June 1. They smashed and tore their way into businesses.
A friend told Anna Sarkissian that their store, Jack’s Jewelers on 4th Street in Santa Monica, had been broken into. They had already gotten notifications from the alarm going off.
“We were too scared to come ahead of time,” Anna Sarkissian said on Sunday, May 31, as smoke trailed out of the building where her husband, Jack, sifted through the wreckage.
“Because we didn’t know what the situation was or how dangerous it was. But when we saw that the building was on fire, then we thought we had to come out,” she said. “Grab some things that are important if we can.”
The looters took one of the safes full of jewelry. Jack Sarkissian said he called police and asked them to check on his store. He said police didn’t do anything.
Requests to talk to Santa Monica Police Chief Cynthia Renaud for this story were referred to a police spokesman, who did not return calls for comment.
The LAPD denied a request to interview Chief Michel Moore. “We don’t discuss tactics,” LAPD spokesman Officer Drake Madison said.
However, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, asked about the use of rubber bullets, later said, “Those tactics will sometimes be out there. But it is my direction to minimize those and if we can, to not use those at all, especially if there’s peaceful protesters. And I know for folks who are sometimes on the front, they don’t know that something just happened in the back where bottles or bricks were just thrown.
“But we have to figure out a way to make sure that peaceful protesting anywhere in Los Angeles does not meet that.”
At a June 1 news conference, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia blamed the violence and looting that occurred the day before on a group of individuals he claimed were organized and hitting cities across the state and country. Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said the majority of protesters in that city were peaceful and were there for the right reasons.
“There was a smaller group who created chaos and eventually hit a lot of our businesses,” Luna said. “And yes you saw on live television some of our businesses being looted.”
He said police were getting calls asking, “How do you let this happen?”
“We didn’t allow it to happen. We were responding from hot spot to hot spot, getting there sometimes minutes, sometimes 10 to 15 minutes afterward,” Luna said. A police spokeswoman later declined to discuss the department’s tactics.
Long Beach police receives about 1,726 calls for service per day, according to Luna. But on May 31, the calls for service reached 4,686.
Anger should be directed at the individuals who interjected themselves into a protest with a good cause, Luna said, and decided to throw objects at officers, destroy police cars, break windows and loot local businesses.
In Santa Ana on Saturday night, fireworks were thrown at officers, while police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. A strip mall was looted and small fires were started.
“The group sat in an intersection and threw rocks and bottles at police,” Santa Ana Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said. When they ordered the group to disperse, he said, the protesters refused.
“When protesters are no longer just looking to protest peacefully and march, when they take over an intersection, assault officers, we declare an unlawful assembly,” he said.
There was another protest the next day. That weekend, Santa Ana police arrested 11 people, including one accused of brandishing a gun.
At some protests, police find themselves dealing with different groups, Heal said.
One is legitimate protesters who have a Constitutional right to be there, while the others are looters who bring tools, cover their license plates and exploit the demonstrations, he said.
But lines can get blurred quickly.
Jackson Loop, a recent USC graduate student from Pasadena, was among 100 people arrested at a Downtown L.A. protest on June 1.
Loop said the group was out around 6:15 p.m., just after the start of the county-wide curfew. LAPD officers ordered the group to the ground and started arresting them. He said a woman speaking through a bullhorn was tackled.
They were near the Skid Row Housing Trust, a supportive housing facility, and numerous homeless people were in the area, according to Loop,
Loop, 28, noticed officers starting to round up people nearby who weren’t part of the protest. Some being arrested appeared to be homeless.
He never heard LAPD make an announcement they would arrest the protesters for violating the curfew, he said.
Police sat Loop next to a homeless man on a bus carting dozens of people to Jackie Robinson Stadium at UCLA to be processed. Many of them were left zip-tied and handcuffed on the buses for hours, with no access to bathrooms, food or water.
Loop was held for four hours, he said, then released to find his way home.
Staff writer Josh Cain and Pierce Singgih contributed to this report.
Source: Orange County Register
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