A fourth night of protests in Los Angeles against the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was peaceful Tuesday night after Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck vowed the department would take a much tougher stance during future protests to prevent the repeat of the violence following prayer vigil and rally at a Leimert Park on Monday night.
In Hollywood, however, the scene was far from peaceful as 30 to 40 people conducted a rolling crime spree that included random attacks on individuals and businesses, according to police.
It appears the roving band of marauders was aware that police were on tactical alert in other parts of the city where protests marches were scheduled to take place. Police say they may have used social media to engage people in the robberies and assaults. They grabbed purses, phones, jewelry and other items from pedestrians and stole items from several businesses.
The crime spree began around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. The initial call indicated that 15 to 17 men and women were robbing people around Hollywood Boulevard and Gower Street, according to Los Angeles police Officer Christopher No.
“They kept moving from location to location,” No said.
Police said about 30 to 40 people were involved in the crime spree, with the perpetrators, mostly males in their teens or early 20s, breaking into smaller groups. At least one of those groups wound up at the popular tourist destination of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, police said.
There were no reports of weapons being seen during the robberies.
Officers arrested 12 people — 11 juveniles and one adult, said Lt. Ray Valois of the LAPD’s Hollywood Station. Eleven of those arrested were booked on suspicion of robbery and one was booked on suspicion of receiving stolen property, he said.
In addition to robbing individuals’ property, the suspects also took items from businesses, leaving a mess behind them as they went, Valois said.
One victim suffered a hand injury while being robbed of her cell phone, but she was not hospitalized, police said.
Police initially indicated the crime spree may have been related to recent protests over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said at a Wednesday mid-morning news conference the group was likely just taking advantage of the department’s focus on the protests.
“What we’re thinking is these youngsters took advantage of our redeployment of officers down to the Crenshaw district last night, and decided this would be a good night to come up to Hollywood and act a little crazy,” Smith said.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said Wednesday that the youth responsible for the melee and vandalism in Crenshaw on Monday and the crime spree in Hollywood Tuesday have “hijacked” the message protesters against the George Zimmerman verdict have been trying to get out to the public.
For more than a year organizations have been constructively trying to get out the message that the case is about “justice and fairness, and all of a sudden you have people take it into their hands and taint that,” the Times reported he said.
“It’s been hijacked,” he continued. “I think that’s a fair way to put it. People we talked to, they were not shy and they didn’t shirk away from using those terms.”
City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the area, insisted that the Hollywood area is still a safe area to visit, despite recent violent incidents — including last night’s robberies and last month’s fatal stabbing of a woman, allegedly by a transient, near the Hollywood & Highland Center.
Meanwhile, Smith said investigators were reviewing surveillance video from the various cameras positioned in the Hollywood area in hopes of identifying additional suspects in the crime spree.
On Monday night, a 150-strong mob split from the Leimert Park prayer vigil and rally and went on a rampage along Crenshaw Boulevard, damaging several businesses, assaulting people, vandalizing cars and blocking traffic, police said. Fourteen people were arrested.
No arrests were made during a march and rally Tuesday that drew about 100 people to City Hall, or during a similarly sized gathering that night at Leimert Park.
A large and diverse group of people also gathered Saturday at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights to demonstrate their opposition to the Zimmerman verdict. The event was peaceful and provided a positive forum for people to weigh in on a Florida jury’s decision to acquit Zimmerman of murder charges, according to information obtained from people at the scene.
The LAPD said Wednesday they are monitoring social media sites and preparing for the possibility of more flash mob crime sprees across the city.