At a client’s block-long apartment complex in downtown L.A., one of my firms provides 24-hour security coverage. Because over the weekend the rioting and looting was just up the street a mile, we thought it wise to double our security force. Given the volatility of the situation, I also put my boots on the ground and joined with our security teams in the evenings of these very difficult last few days.
Friday night was the worst as trouble was literally at our doorstep.
At night the sour smell of tear gas was detectable but fortunately not too irritating. Helicopters buzzed overhead, circling specifically over crowds, flood lamps alight. Rows of black and whites with sirens blaring and lights flashing traced their way up and down the narrow downtown streets.
By 9 p.m. Friday most of the protesters at 5th and Grand had already started going home. Our concern was that bands of vandals and arsonists would migrate down Flower or Grand and endanger the 3,000 residents and this high-end property.
Luckily, posting teams of our uniformed officers on the street corners to supplement the regular security staff seemed to deter interest by the stream of mostly men in their teens and 20’s, of all races, who walked and drove by on their way northward to join in on the looting and destruction. I saw none carrying signs of protest.
It was apparent that chaos attracted mostly those eager to take advantage of civil instability.
For me this was profoundly different experience than the Rodney King L.A. riots of 1992.
In 1992 I had posted and directed more than 100 armed and 300 unarmed security officers in concert with the National Guard and local law enforcement down the Wilshire corridor. We saw no action other than removing homeless encampments from burned-out businesses and dealing with curfew violators and a handful of want-to-be looters.
After a few days of rioting, the serial arsonists were the dominant issue in L.A. back then. It seemed that looting in 1992 was a localized byproduct of opportunity, and not an intention.
This weekend it was clear that looting for thousands and thousands had become a primary enterprise.
Burglary teams comprised of two or three cars full of criminals targeted stores of choice while the police were distracted with dozens of other more important alerts. People with backpacks and even suitcases followed behind the masses of protesters, using the crowds as a buffer so they could break into stores and loot and steal unchecked.
I also witnessed self-proclaimed white supremacist-types, screaming anti-black epithets, banging out windows with hammers as they travelled down business corridors while encouraging others to come in and loot and burn.
My point is that in 2020, a significant population of those with criminal intent, easily in the thousands, were delighted and anxious to use the protests as cover for committing criminal acts. These thieves and vandals were of every race, but generally young adults.
Others engaged in trying to sow seeds of hate and perpetuate racial tension. Like those I just described with hammers, some joined in protests to promote a political narrative not aligned with the protesting majority.
The looting, burning of police cars, and graffiti were from my view not perpetrated by the protest marchers who were understandably angry and frustrated, but for the most part exhibited self-control and a respect for property. Sunday on the news I watched as protesters even tried to defend stores from gangs of looters.
Sadly, those with a peaceful message were overshadowed by those whose tragic and twisted need for “justice” translated into selfish acts to steal and loot. And a third group, sometimes hurling stones brought to the scene in backpacks, participated with the intent to harm others and were there solely to promote mayhem, stoke the fires of hatred, and could care less about the protest message itself.
We can acknowledge that the filmed recent murder of a black man in Minneapolis is an outrageous and unforgiveable act. But it is also important not to cast a broad shadow of disdain over all law enforcement because of the acts of a few.
In like manner, please acknowledge that to cast a similar shadow of disdain for all protesters for the looting and burning by others whose purpose was criminal intent is also inappropriate and unfair.
While a peaceful protest is our right we wish to preserve, there can be no excuses for attacking our law enforcement heroes, and for looting our stores, and burning our property.
Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations firm, is the CEO of a private security firm, is the COO of an acting conservatory, is a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.