Geoffrey Patterson, owner of Hi De Ho Comics in downtown Santa Monica, witnessed the 1992 Rodney King uprising as a teenager in Gardena.
After the four Los Angeles Police Department officers who beat King were acquitted, he saw people enraged by the decision break store windows and take merchandise in an act of defiance against the racist criminal justice system.
What happened in Santa Monica Sunday afternoon was different, Patterson said. Using a heavy-duty drill, looters bored three-inch wide holes in Hi De Ho’s door until the doorknob fell off.
“If this was a riot, they would have just broken this glass door and come in through there,” he said. “But the fact that they brought these professional tools — they were obviously here to loot.”
As hundreds of people protested against police violence in downtown Santa Monica Sunday, looters broke into dozens of stores in downtown Santa Monica and on Main Street.
With police blocking off the Third Street Promenade, they broke into Santa Monica Place and targeted clothing, jewelry and shoe stores, banks, restaurants and a Vons grocery store. Nine fires were set during the chaos.
Officials said more than 400 people were arrested later that evening but have not disclosed how many were charged with looting or burglary. More than 150 businesses sustained significant damage.
On Monday morning, about 100 members of the National Guard, who had arrived in Santa Monica Sunday evening, stood throughout the city as hundreds of people came to help clean up debris from broken windows and scrub graffiti.
Patterson said more than $40,000 worth of merchandise was taken from Hi De Ho, which is considered Los Angeles’ longest-running comic book store. He said he was already worried about how the business would keep going with the shutdown and the loss of the summer tourism season. He’s established a fundraiser to help pay for repairs.
“It’s a huge setback,” he said.
Without rent forgiveness or additional loans, Patterson said he predicts a wave of small businesses to close in two or three months.
“It’s going to be a ghost town,” he said.
Many residents have criticized the way the Santa Monica Police Department handled the situation on Sunday, saying that the scores of officers who were deployed to block protesters — and used tear gas and rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse them — should have focused on looting.
A petition circulated on Change.org that had amassed more than 8,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning called for SMPD Chief of Police Cynthia Renaud to be recalled.
The petition’s organizer, Oliver Greene, said it appeared that police stood by while looters hit dozens of stores without clear direction from Renaud.
Andrew Kirschner, the owner and chef of Tar & Roses, said his restaurant was ransacked and looted for an hour without any intervention by police.
Kirschner said cops standing near the restaurant while it was being looted told his landlord that there was nothing they could do because the looters outnumbered them.
But there were plenty of cops monitoring protesters, he said.
“There were hundreds of cops standing there at the protest — just standing there all in one spot — while all the looters were destroying properties behind their backs and not doing anything about it,” he said.
Kirschner said Tar & Roses was destroyed “from top to bottom.”
“They destroyed everything in there, from the tables and chairs, to the counters, to the light fixtures, walls and mirrors, plates — every bottle of wine was smashed or stolen,” he said. “It’s like a hurricane tore through there.”
He said insurance will likely cover the damage, but his staff, who were preparing to return the following week for “COVID-19-style dining,” will be left out in the cold.
“That’s the tragedy of the whole thing. People were dying to get back to work and that’s not going to happen now for at least four to six weeks while we put the place back together,” he said.