On May 30, an estimated 2,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Beverly Hills in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer, as well as other African Americans killed by authorities in recent years. In condemnation of racially charged police brutality, throngs of protestors entered the City during the mid-afternoon, after demonstrators clashed with police in the Fairfax District by blocking traffic and setting police cars ablaze. Unrest saturated the City.
The turbulence and chaos that erupted last Saturday is unmatched in the history of Beverly Hills. The anger unleashed was evocative of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which broke out after the acquittal of four white Los Angeles policemen on all but one charge connected with the severe beating of Rodney King.
No actual protests made it to the streets of Beverly Hills in 1992, however. This time, things were different.
On notice of the impending protests, the Beverly Hills City Council held a closed session emergency meeting at 11 a.m. on May 30, to discuss the “current ongoing civil unrest within Los Angeles County.” At 2 p.m., the City sent out a traffic alert, stating that Rodeo Drive was closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic. A little more than an hour later, the City sent out another notice as well as automated telephone calls stating that protesters were entering the city, urging residents to stay home.
The protests had peaceful origins earlier in the day, a few miles east of the City at Pan Pacific Park. But eventually, demonstrators spilled onto the streets. Events took an unsettling turn when crowds began to block traffic up and down Beverly Boulevard. At the intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly, the Courier observed angry protestors atop a vandalized police car strewn in the middle of the street, demanding justice.
Not long after that, protestors in face masks stormed Beverly Hills, crowding the lanes on Santa Monica Blvd. as far as the eye could see. A man holding a megaphone made a dire announcement to nearby business owners. “If you want to go home, I would turn around right now. We don’t want to harm you or your property. We don’t want to cause any damage. We weren’t planning on this, it’s last minute. We’re just like you.”
Although Santa Monica Boulevard was barricaded at Civic Center Drive by authorities, crowds nonetheless were able to gather in front of the Police Department and City Hall. They shouted, “Say his name, George Floyd” and “Prosecute Killer Cops.”
At 4:40 p.m., a woman standing atop the Beverly Hills Civic Center garage sign commanded the attention of hundreds, calling for nonviolent protests and advocating against aggression toward police. While she was met with cheers of support from the crowd, other individuals splintered from the group to vandalize the structure, spray painting “BLM” in red, the acronym for Black Lives Matter. Protesters also managed to deface structures in the Civic Center with graffiti that said, “Kill Cops,” “Fascists Work Here,” and “Eat the Rich” and “Defund LAPD.”
Rodeo Drive and the business district were also hit. Slabs of wood boarding up designer storefronts were pulled apart. Shattered glass littered the sidewalks. A video that soon went viral showed a crowd breaking in the front windows at the Gucci store.
At 5:13 p.m., the City announced an overnight curfew beginning on May 30 at 8 p.m. until May 31 at 5:30 a.m.. The curfew prohibited anyone from being upon public streets, alleys, parks or any public place. As the sun set, the violence increased. One looter was shot by another looter and was taken to the hospital. Shortly after curfew went into effect, a few hundred people were illegally gathering on Rodeo and Santa Monica Blvd. Police used tear gas to break up the congregation.
That evening, Governor Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in Los Angeles County. He approved Mayor Eric Garcetti’s request to deploy the National Guard in the county and City.
“I’m asking everyone to stay at home,” said Mayor Lester Friedman in a statement released on the night of May 30. “Thousands of protestors marched through our City streets on Saturday to call attention the devastating circumstances surrounding the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. While most of the protestors were peaceful and there were no injuries, there were multiple incidents of vandalism in the City. The safety of the Beverly Hills community remains our top priority at all times.”
The sounds of sirens and helicopters reverberated through the night as the chaos continued to play out on local and national news. The death of George Floyd ignited protests throughout the country, united in rage. The Beverly Hills Police Department deployed extra staffing throughout the City, maintaining a highly visible presence while enforcing the curfew. The department made dozens of arrests.
By Sunday morning, work was already underway to undo the damage from a day like no other the City had ever seen. The superficial damage was not difficult to repair. Other damage will take much longer to heal.