Sheriff Villanueva, Community Members Denounce Violent Rioters in South Los Angeles Community
Sheriff Alex Villanueva held a press conference today, Thursday, September 10, 2020, to denounce recent unlawfulness in the streets of the Westmont community, spurned in protest of a fatal deputy-involved shooting which occurred last month in the area. The event took place in front of South Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station, which serves the areas of Athens, El Camino Village, Del Aire, unincorporated Gardena, Lennox, Lawndale, Moneta Gardens, and Wiseburn.
Since the shooting, numerous protests staged in front of the station turned into unlawful assemblies and lasted through early morning hours. Crowds upward of 100 people gathered nightly at the intersection, and went from peaceful to assaultive toward deputies protecting the building. Unruly participants vandalized the property, likely to cost thousands of dollars to repair. Rebellious, self-proclaimed anarchists threw frozen water bottles, fireworks, smoke bombs, glass bottles, metal pipes, and chunks of cement to create chaos, damage and injury. It was easy to see these participants did not come to make a civic difference for a good cause; they came armed and clad for battle in protective vests, helmets, shields, goggles, and heatproof gloves; they prevented commerce and travel by blocking the streets; and their loud and dangerous actions kept residents awake and shuttered in their homes for hours on several nights.
To determine the source of unruliness, numerous brave and concerned residents filtered through the crowds and did not recognize the majority of rioters and asked many where they reside. Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Burbank, Hollywood, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Ana, Sherman Oaks, Thousand Oaks, etc.: People came from miles around to an area where they were strangers, to create havoc under the guise of communal regard.
On the fourth night in a row, the peace, flow and quality of life of the community was disturbed. Deputies quelled the situation and engaged the rabble-rousers and anarchists. Over the course of the last several days, 37 people were arrested for civil disobedience-related crimes, including Failure to Disperse at the Scene of a Riot.
Sheriff Villanueva expressed the importance of listening to those who reside and conduct business in the areas we serve, whose voices were overshadowed by the shouting and misconduct by others coming into the area. He wanted them to have a platform to convey their points of view and concerns about the current events. “We’re going to encourage the first amendment right, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to address government, by all means. But it has to be in a manner that does not disrupt local law enforcement (and) does not disrupt our local community,” he said.
A number of speakers at the press conference who live, grew up and conduct business in the area expressed the community’s collective displeasure and exhaustion with those foreign to the area coming in and trampling their city. The destruction of structure and flow by wholly unconnected and unconcerned parties became such a concern, residents wanted to publicly address those responsible or considering it, to dissuade them from further action and let them know they are unwelcome.
Lifetime Westmont resident Kevin Orange said those who come from out of town to protest violence in their community and cause disruption undermine the efforts of locals who work hard to keep the area safe. “So when you come here, like in a disrespectful way…it’s like our value and what we’re trying to do for this community is not warranted no more,” he said. “If you’re not coming here to give us some kind of structure, to get behind us (or) on the side of us, you’re not doing us no good.”
Local business owner Robert Gomez expressed his frustration with strangers who enter the area and destroy what helps the local economy flourish and keeps people employed. “I’m okay with peaceful protest…but I’m not okay with outsiders coming to our community and creating chaos. I’m not okay with them looting and burning our businesses,” he said. “I’m not okay with the disruption and chaos that these outsiders are creating to our community.”
Joe Collins poignantly stated the community’s collective position of self-preservation, not self-destruction, “We understand that black lives matter just as much as everyone else’s lives matter, but we’re not going to destroy our community to prove that. And we will not allow anyone else to come into our communities and destroy it to prove that.” Mr. Collins stated their firm resolve to stay intact, unlike some other national cities which were overrun with violence and lawlessness for months, wreaked under the cloak of cultural concern. “South L.A. is not going to be anyone’s practice dummy. We will not be Portland, Oregon; we will not be Washington State; we will not be Chicago; and we will not be New York.”
Mr. Collins addressed an attorney in the audience, who said she represented one of the
arrested rioters. She decried the use of rubber bullets on protesters, likely rounds launched from an ARWEN (Anti-Riot Weapon EnField), a less-lethal tool specifically designed for riot control. Mr. Collins encouraged her to come to the area at night and observe the type of protests occurring with fireworks, rocks, bottles, and fire being hurled. He pointed out the great danger of one of these objects making its way into a home or car and affecting an unwitting family or occupant.
“Do not come from out of town into our town causing ruckus, causing violence. The community will push back and we’re going to support the Sheriff and their use of force to remove these people from our cities because they are a danger,” warned Mr. Collins, in reference to outsiders who bring calamity and lawlessness to their neighborhood. “I support the law enforcement, we support the law enforcement. And, how we say in our streets, ‘That’s what they get.’”