My phone was buzzing most of the afternoon as the reports poured in from the various news stations about the protests and the looting. Friends were asking if I was okay, and expressing their horror and concern.
The day started off as another gorgeous weekend day, one that was supposed to be about the reopening of the city, the return of life to a sense of normal. I was happy seeing the local businesses return to work. As I drove around I saw people in restaurants for the first time in weeks. Waiters and waitresses were starting to be self-sufficient again. People seemed to be relieved, and dare I say happy to be out.
As the protesters congregated on Ocean and Montana, I stopped by to take some pictures, feel the energy and gauge the crowd. It was a moment in history that would be important for me to note. I didn’t want to ignore it. When I arrived there were about 200 people chanting slogans, the police were staying a respectful distance, all 12 of them on motorcycles.
The crowd was a typical Santa Monica group of moms and dads, young couples and the occasional old rebel hippie. I was taken aback by the presence of children holding signs, kids as young as 5 or 6 were there and I questioned if they even knew what they were doing. As a father lingered around the fringes with his 4-6 month old child on his chest it struck me that this was no place to take baby.
Ignoring the always possible dangers of large crowds, the current COVID19 pandemic would seem to me to have been reason enough to avoid being out with baby in a large crowd.
After about 15 minutes I moved on to see what else was happening around town and it was all very quiet.
Until it wasn’t.
Midafternoon the streets erupted with those who wanted to do mischief. There were taggers and looters and the chaos broke out. The news cameras recorded it and shared it with the unending stare of the media. It was brutal to watch as stores were plundered and lives were destroyed by the unthinking mob.
I was at my friend’s home, as we watched our sleepy city by the bay, become a beaten and battered victim. At one point the news cameras trained on a fire at 4th and Santa Monica. It was Sake House engulfed in flames.
“Oh NO! I was just in there. Oh that poor guy. To survive the past three months and then this” cried out my friend Paul.
Devastating to watch. For anyone who is their own boss, like me, watching someone’s business be destroyed is painful, we have a visceral reaction to the loss. The number of lives that were being impacted by this one act of violence, is tremendous. From the staff who will now have no work, to the vendors who are losing money, the landlord who will likely lose a long term tenant, all because someone was acting out.
The frustration and anger that are behind the looting, the plundering, destruction of property and businesses is something that all too many feel, and thankfully only a few act on. I’d like to believe that the looters were just acting out of selfish self-interest, but I don’t know what that gets me. I also don’t know what the looting and plundering got them.
Will this change minds? Will this help with race relations? No. I know it won’t bring back the George Floyds, the Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, James Byrd Jr., and countless others. This seething anger does not change police policies. It doesn’t change the mind of the bigot, in fact it confirms their thinking, and reinforces their racism.
And yet, there are moments of astounding humanity in the chaos. As we watched the news, the neighborhood erupted with shouts and screams – the corner liquor store, Star Liquors, was under attack and the neighbors were having none of it. Some roving band of looters had broken the windows and a few locals who were in and out that store, sometimes daily, were there to put a stop to the carnage.
They formed a wall of defense as the owner, Ramon, was called so that he could come down and deal with the mess. He’d been there for years, liked and loved by those who were his customers. It was reported that one of the defenders looked at a roving looter and said, “Don’t you even think of attacking this place!” His response, “Oh no, we know Ramon, we wouldn’t hurt his place.”
As day became night, I grabbed a camera and my press credentials and drove around. What I saw was hurtful and heartening. I was hurt when I saw the broken windows of the phone store at Lincoln and Pico, graffiti on the CVS and the police standing guard. But as I drove along Pico, I saw that the driveway to the Chevron was blocked with cars, and a crowd of people was guarding the store. Neighbors were protecting local businesses.
On Broadway there was a burned out car that some hooligans were busy jumping on and taking their pictures with, and literally 180 degrees behind it, was Ladd’s Liquor where more locals were guarding the store. This became a theme for me, I drove throughout the city to find groups of neighbors, protecting that which wasn’t theirs from those who would destroy it.
It was a dark night, but there were many spots of light.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at email@example.com or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra