Nationwide protests in the U.S. over the public police killing of a man, George Floyd, detained for a nonviolent crime, devolved in many cities over the weekend into vandalism and looting. Almost no major brand or retailer was left unscathed, just as retail was beginning to reopen after months of mandated shutdowns due to the coronavirus.
Amid a global pandemic, record unemployment and a looming presidential election, stores from Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles to State Street in Chicago, SoHo in New York to downtown Minneapolis were graffitied, looted and in a few instances set on fire after peaceful protests occurred during the day. And as of Sunday evening, the chaos was starting to begin again, with numerous stores in downtown Santa Monica and Long Beach seeing widespread looting, and protests that started off peaceably gaining steam in New York, Minneapolis and Washington D.C., among other cities.
One of the worst hit areas on Saturday night was L.A., a vast city of nearly four million people, which saw a third day of protesting over the death of Floyd, who was accused on Monday of using a fake $20 bill, arrested and killed in police custody while being held to the ground by the knee of a police officer. While actions during the day in L.A. were largely peaceful, as night fell destruction of public property, almost exclusively retail establishments, began, along with widespread looting and aggressive and violent police action in some regions.
“As I see these criminal acts, I think about what we’re already going through as a city,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in an address Sunday afternoon. “The businesses hoping to reopen, so badly beaten down by COVID-19. The businesses that had a fighting chance, hoping to welcome customers back this weekend, but are now closed, damaged and looted.”
He declared a state of emergency and promised the city’s support to damaged businesses.
More affluent shopping districts on the Westside of L.A. were largely targeted after Friday night saw a number of smaller businesses in Downtown L.A. vandalized and looted.
On Saturday night, storefronts across main shopping strips in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood received the same treatment. While many stores — particularly luxury brands or operations with higher-priced goods — began boarding up preemptively on Saturday afternoon as protests in cities like Atlanta; Portland, Ore., and Minneapolis in the days before had led to severe vandalism and looting, it wasn’t enough to protect them.
Michel Moore, L.A.’s chief of police, said Sunday that the damage seen on Saturday was “an exponential increase” compared to the night before. Just under 400 arrests were made on Saturday night in L.A., primarily related to looting, he said.
By Saturday evening, Gucci on Rodeo had its blue plywood barricade torn down by a group of what appeared to be only young men and Alexander McQueen had its glass facade broken and was looted of nearly all merchandise. As the night went on, Nordstrom was broken into and looted; Flight Club, a popular high-end sneaker store, had essentially all of its merchandise stolen after looters managed to lift a metal gate; Target was broken into and looted, as were Marc Jacobs, Adidas, The RealReal, Reformation, Bandier and Kitson. Macy’s said it had “sustained damage in a number of our stores. We are currently assessing the impact.”
Flight Club said it’s “saddened” by the looting of its store, but “we know that our property can be rebuilt, our merchandise can be replaced, but the lives that have been taken cannot.”
“The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others have ignited a fire in all of us as we continue to witness the racism that has terrorized the black community for centuries,” a representative of the brand said. “The sneaker industry, and businesses like Flight Club, would not exist without black culture and the support of the black community. We share in the anger and frustration that so many people are experiencing right now, and we will continue to stand up for and alongside those that are demanding change.”
Some stores, like Sephora and Rag & Bone, seemed to be spared mass looting, even though glass doors and windows had been shattered. A woman in Beverly Hills who came with her dog to survey the damage of the night before thought Sephora was spared “because it’s mostly young men doing this.”
“What do they want with makeup?” she said.
Another woman walking her dogs and surveying the scene on Rodeo (which was blocked to pedestrian traffic as police and store owners cleaned up debris and workmen re-barricaded storefronts that had been tagged and broken down) said she’d lived in the area for decades and had “never seen anything like it.”
“It’s just awful, and what does it accomplish?” she asked.
Protesters in L.A. planned on marching from the area around The Grove shopping center — where stores were looted and vandalized on Saturday evening — westward toward the monied areas of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood as a statement on wealth inequality and social divisions among these predominantly white neighborhoods and essentially everywhere else, according to numerous accounts on social media. Amid retailer concerns over reopening, L.A. — like in many regions in the U.S. — is seeing roughly 20 percent unemployment and scores of people making bi-weekly pilgrimages to stand in line in front of churches, charity shops and food banks for food.
Despite wanting to make a point in neighborhoods that have been more insulated from economic strife and racial injustice, the protests were not designed to become violent or devolve into the destruction of property, according to statements on social media and statements by protesters aired on TV. That’s how some protests ended up, nevertheless.
Sunday was something of a spectacle in all of the worst hit areas of L.A., including the Fairfax/Grove district, Melrose Avenue and Rodeo Drive as groups of people showed up on foot and on bike to see the destruction of the night before, take photos and discuss what they were seeing. One woman talked on the phone of protesters being unable to grieve the many deaths of black and brown people at the hands of police that have been publicized in recent months and years. A teenager on a bike with at least five members of his family kept shouting, “Where’s Alexander McQueen?” hoping to catch a glimpse.
Maison Margiela, too, had its front glass shattered and the store looted. A store employee was seen Sunday morning speaking with police, standing before a destroyed storefront that the day before was an artful display.
Graffiti was everywhere on storefronts throughout west L.A., although all houses of worship and religious centers were left unscathed. The Webster at the Beverly Center was boarded up with pink plywood and tagged all along the outside with phrases like “Never met a good cop,” “F–k your mall,” “GFLOYD,” “F–k 12” and “ACAB” phrases tagged all over the city by Sunday morning. As for the last two, the first is a reference to the police drug unit, the second is an acronym for “all cops are bastards.” Gucci was heavily tagged with “Eat the rich,” “Make America pay” and “BLM,” among other graffiti. The Dolls Kill store on Fairfax was tagged with the phrase “F–k fast fashion — make your own,” and many of the vandalized storefronts had phrases decrying capitalism and consumerism.
Kitson’s outlet store on Robertson Boulevard was broken into and looted, according to the owner Fraser Ross. He said at least $300,000 worth of goods at retail value was taken. He was preparing to fully reopen his store on Monday, as L.A. less than a week ago suddenly announced that in-store retail could resume.
Many stores were planning the same, and others, mainly luxury players, had already reopened their stores to customers. On Wednesday, Gucci on Rodeo was teeming with shoppers allowed to enter the store for the first time since early March. One man, visibly excited to see that the store had reopened, ran to get his face mask from his parked Mercedes so he could go inside.
“I’m fixin’ to spend $5,000 to $10,000 right now,” he said. “I don’t like shopping online. I want it now.”
At least half-a-dozen people in the next 20 minutes walked out of the store with one, two, three bags of merchandise in their hands.
What a difference a few days can make.
Now Gucci is not only closed again, but entirely boarded up. Representatives of the brand did not respond to requests for comment on damage or re-reopening plans. Louis Vuitton had also just opened up and is now closed, with no plans to reopen, according to a spokeswoman.
The Beverly Center, a Taubman property, reopened on Friday, closed again on Saturday due to the protests and hoped to reopen again Sunday, but didn’t. The outside of the mall has visible damage to street-level windows and entrances, but it’s expected to be fixed quickly. Taubman also closed centers it operates in Utah, Missouri and Tampa. “A few tenants at Country Club Plaza [in Kansas City] and City Creek Center [in Salt Lake City] had stores that were broken into overnight,” a Taubman representative said.
Nordstrom is keeping all of its stores closed throughout the country and a spokeswoman only said that the company “hopes to reopen as soon as possible.” She added that more than just the Nordstrom in L.A. was damaged and the extent of it is being assessed.
Adidas also closed all of its U.S. stores “Until further notice.” A company spokesman confirmed “some Adidas stores were damaged during protests across the country,” but did not specify where or the extent of the damage. In L.A., an Adidas Originals store was looted Saturday of nearly all merchandise. All Reebok stores have also been closed and the company will evaluate reopening each day on a case-by-case basis, a Reebok spokesman said. “We have no reports of damage but we have boarded up a small number of stores.” he added.
Target, which is headquartered in Minneapolis — the center of the current wave of protests where Floyd died and one of the policeman who arrested him was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter — and which has been open during the coronavirus shutdown as an essential business, closed 22 stores in L.A. due to the protests and closed 150 throughout the U.S. Many are listed as closed “until further notice,” including locations in Oakland, Atlanta, Chicago, two outposts in Minneapolis and Philadelphia. Target said it plans to reopen the Lake Street Minneapolis store that has been damaged during protests by the end of this year. Employees displaced by these closures are expected to continue receiving pay and benefits in the coming weeks, Brian Cornell, Target’s chief executive officer, said.
“We are a community in pain,” Cornell said. “That pain is not unique to the Twin Cities — it extends across America. The murder of George Floyd has unleashed this pent-up pain of years, as has the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. We say their names and hold a too-long list of others in our hearts.”
It’s expected that most of the stores in L.A. and cities elsewhere affected by protests will remain closed until the unrest is settled and then those stores that have experienced damage can begin to be repaired.
More protests are expected in L.A. in the coming days. The city imposed an 8 p.m. curfew on Saturday then moved it up to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Protests are expected to continue in dozens of other cities as well, which have seen public demonstrations over the last week in cities including Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; New York; Philadelphia; Chicago; Dallas; Oakland, and of course, Minneapolis. As of press time Sunday, marches had already begun in many of those cities, while there was further looting in some locales.
On Saturday, the Portland Business Alliance said in a social media post that “tens of millions of dollars” worth of damage had been caused just as stores were starting to reopen and retail employees allowed to return to work. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler also extended the city’s curfew through Sunday night. “I drove through downtown Saturday morning and it looked like a war zone,” he said over the weekend.
“Our Apple store is all glass on all sides similar to the one by Central Park in New York City. There was nothing left of it except vast openings where the windows had been. The remaining glass was shattered, the shelves were stripped bare. The Louis Vuitton store has been completely gutted. The Target store was ransacked. Practically every building in the core district was spray-painted, including the statues from the 1800s.
“Literally every business has plywood covering it up,” he continued. “It’s like an abandoned city.”
In Philadelphia, there was weekend looting, too, and Mayor Jim Kenney enacted a curfew as well. The city reported 54 arrests between Saturday night and Sunday morning for looting, but Kenney noted that such acts were the exception among protesters, not the rule.
“I’m sure it saddened every Philadelphian who takes pride in our city, especially the thousands of Philadelphians who came out earlier in the day Saturday to peacefully yet forcefully protest,” Kenney said. “They made a tremendous statement about their decades of anger over a system that degrades black Americans because of the color of their skin. That statement was important. And in no way should be diminished by the organized groups of people who tried to cause chaos in our city.”
Chicago has also implemented a curfew, in effect until further notice, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Saturday after witnessing widespread looting of retail in her city.
In addition to Macy’s on State Street, Macy’s Water Tower Place, Neiman Marcus, Nike, Bloomingdale’s, Gucci, Versace, Dior and Intermix around Gold Coast and Michigan Avenue were all broken into and tagged with phrases like “Pig F–k 12” and “F–k Trump.” The city’s oldest camera store, Central Camera, open since 1899, was set on fire.
“What started out as a peaceful protest has now devolved into criminal conduct,” Lightfoot said. “I saw protesters armed with shovels, bats, hammers and metal pipes. I’ve marched in a few protests in my day. But neither I nor anyone I was ever with saw the need to bring weapons in order to lift up our voices and express our First Amendment rights.”
New York is one of the few cities that has refused to impose a curfew, despite seeing a night of continued protests and 345 related arrests between Saturday night and Sunday morning. A New York Police Department spokesman on Sunday was unable to provide an estimate of the damages that local businesses have faced due to protesters and looting.
There were numerous videos on social media of the night’s events, many showing New York police brutality, even one instance of two police vehicles simultaneously accelerating into a crowd of protesters. Actor John Cusack posted a video of a police officer on horseback in Chicago screaming and cursing at him to “get back on the sidewalk” as protesters were forcibly moved back.
During a Sunday address on the night’s protests, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he has asked the state attorney general to “review the actions of police” and get a report to him within 30 days. He is certain there will be more protesting and unrest in the coming days and said the city is “preparing.”
“The big issue is that people are outraged and I understand that, I’m outraged, too,” Cuomo said. “It’s not just Floyd’s killing, although that’s enough to outrage a nation. We see this over and over, where only the name changes and the color stays the same. The real issue is the continued racism in this nation.”
But, like other state and city officials, he did not condone the actions of some that turned a moment of civil unrest into criminality.
“We preach a high standard in this country but we still dictate on the color of skin, that’s the simple painful truth,” He said. “But it’s equally true that violence never works. How many protests have we had? How many nights have we gone through like last night? Burning down your own house never works and never makes sense.”
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