Images of an armed vigilante trying to stop a bank robbery have emerged in Santa Monica, where a peaceful protest over the death of George Floyd descended into chaos.
Hundreds of people gathered around midday local time to march down Ocean Boulevard, carrying signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe”, among others.
While law enforcement prevented the protesters from moving further up the street – causing the crowd and police to disperse – a smaller group began lighting fires, buildings and bins and looting stores.
According to reports from the Los Angeles Times, looters swarmed the downtown area in what appeared to be an “organised attack”.
“Cars dropped them off in front of businesses, they smashed windows and grabbed what they could, and when police approached, they jumped back into the waiting cars,” the reports said.
Dozens reportedly stormed the Santa Monica Place mall, smashing windows of a Louis Vuitton store and several other shops.
The crowd pushed through a barrier at the entrance, leaving with armloads of clothing and other goods before police arrived.
Images from this afternoon have also shown a building on Santa Monica Boulevard burning, filling the area with smoke.
Officials, who called it a “devastating day” for the city, announced they were moving up the initial curfew of 8pm to 4pm and closing the highway ramps into the city.
After the 4pm curfew began, police stood in lines in front of protesters, who began throwing rocks and firecrackers at police, the Santa Monica Daily Pressreported.
They were then fired at by officers with rubber bullets, and smoke grenades were thrown into the crowd.
“The Santa Monica Police Department is here to support peaceful protest, but we will not stand for civil unrest and criminal behaviour,” Chief of Police Cynthia Renaud said in a press conference.
“There is a curfew in place. We are asking you to go home, and those who don’t, we will begin notifying you and making arrests for the curfew violation.”
Santa Monica’s interim city manager Lane Dilg painted a very different picture on Saturday, saying protests hadn’t disrupted the city very much and only one commercial burglary had been reported.
“Our community remained largely peaceful and safe throughout the evening,” Mr Dilg said in a statement.
“With the initiation of the curfew last night, our Santa Monica Police Department was present across all areas of our city. The Department responded immediately to one commercial burglary and to one broken window at a business. No arrests were made for violations of the curfew order.”
Santa Monica is one of at least 30 US cities where protests have erupted over the death of Mr Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last week.