With trash bags and brooms in hand, Long Beach residents filed down the streets of downtown at 7 a.m. to clean up the aftermath of last night’s looting.
The protest, which began peacefully, escalated as looters took advantage of the disorder. Businesses around downtown bore broken windows, some filled with merchandise strewn across the floor.
Protests erupted all over the country this week after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin asphyxiated him by kneeling on his neck. Cities across the country have been faced with vandalism and looting that intensified at nightfall.
In an attempt to help business owners affected by the damage, the Downtown Long Beach Alliance organized a cleanup effort.
“We just want to help bring our community back together to recover and show solidarity for our local businesses that were vandalized last night,” Long Beach Alliance communications manager Samantha Mehlinger said. “We stand with the protestors, the peaceful protestors. Absolutely behind them and what they’re trying to accomplish, but we condemn the outside elements that came in yesterday to hijack that message and vandalize our downtown.
With the help of the city’s public works program, they distributed gloves, brooms and trash bags to volunteers. By 7:30 a.m., five waves of volunteers had been directed to different areas of downtown.
Robert McClain was one of those volunteers. He didn’t attend the protests, but drove down to Long Beach from Lakewood to help clean up.
“I saw how ugly it was last night and just wanted to help out in any way I could,” McClain said while sweeping broken glass from a window. “You feel kind of useless when you’re at home watching it.”
Many volunteers expressed similar sentiments. Though many of those cleaning didn’t attend the protests themselves, they wanted to contribute to the cleanup effort.
“I think protests are important for people to show solidarity with those directly affected and indirectly affected,” Lauryn Westbrook, a black Long Beach resident, said. “This is my community and of course I don’t want to see it destroyed or damaged, but obviously people don’t want to see their people losing their lives, so it’s kind of a price that is paid when we’re living in a system that’s really messed up.”
Marie Deary is a black business owner who owns a wealth management office on Long Beach Boulevard. When she saw that vandalism and looting had begun, she came downtown to check on her business.
“I just think it’s sad. It’s anger and it’s not knowing how to channel that anger into something positive,” Deary said. “The level of destruction, it’s unbelievable.”
Deary has owned businesses in Long Beach for over a decade, including multiple bookstores in downtown Long Beach. She said that she’s scared for her fellow Long Beach business owners, especially after the financial strain caused by the outbreak of COVID-19.
“We as business owners put all our life into that business. We put everything, and we may not even have insurance,” Deary said. “We had to close our businesses for COVID-19, and now is the time when we’re thinking ‘Oh god, yes we’re going to open up now,” and then they have to deal with this.”
As volunteers picked up broken glass and debris, garbage bags piled up along the corners of streets. Mario Gonzalez, who moved to Long Beach a week ago, teamed up with two other volunteers and loaded a pickup truck with trash bags.
“I understand both sides,” Gonzalez said as he loaded trash bags into the back of a garbage truck. “I understand why people are frustrated. I’ve been discriminated against myself. But you know what, there’s a way to do things peacefully. They say the pen is stronger than the sword.”
While some blame the protestors for the looting, others believe that looters belong to a separate category.
“The protest is one thing. The people who vandalize, these are not the protestors,” Deary said. “Because the protestors are good people. They are just angry at things and they want to see change. But this is not the work of protestors. You can’t put it in the same category.”[aesop_gallery id=”49517″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]