SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Bay Area businesses suffered widespread damage during the George Floyd demonstrations but most of the looting happened far away from the marches.
Seven different shopping districts were hit in just four days — almost all of it caught on security camera video. KPIX has learned investigators are scouring through hours of footage and have already connected some dots.
As protesters held signs and chanted in downtown Oakland Memorial Day weekend, police in neighboring Emeryville got wind of a different kind of action.
“It wasn’t like Black Lives Matter or Occupy, these other bigger things that we’ve dealt with in the past, that have an essential organization that we can reach out to. There was none of that,” said Emeryville Police Captain Oliver Collins.
Captain Collins says different groups were communicating on social media. Telling each other to gather at the Emeryville shopping center on the Oakland border.
“Information had gone out on social media sites saying, it’s here, it’s now let’s go,” said Collins.
He says these groups appeared to be a completely different crowd, intent on only one thing: Looting. The first target that night: Gamestop. Once the security gate came down it was a free for all. In and out went the thieves, wiping the store clean.
Every time police tried to protect one store, the looters were on to the next, travelling in what looked like an organized caravan of cars. “We would go from business to business and clear out looters, by the time we’re two businesses away, the looters were back in the first business and it was whack-a-mole all night,” said Captain Collins
At the same time across the bay in San Francisco, police were also outnumbered. The looters’ target there: The downtown shopping district.
“Everything from clothing to jewelry to housewares,” said San Francisco police officer Robert Rueca.
In a scene caught on security camera at the Westfield mall, hundreds of looters were swarming the building, ransacking store after store.
“We as a police department have never seen this level of looting, this level of damage done to businesses,” said Rueca.
Some 127 stores were hit in the Union Square area that night according to Rueca. Much of the action was caught on hundreds of cameras, all now being reviewed by police.
Rueca said the looting seemed well-organized with the same modus operandi as the thieves across the bay in Emeryville. Caravans of cars were dropping looters off then picking them back up and among the crowd, he says, were some faces that looked familiar.
“Some of these people have been identified as people that are known to burglarize throughout the Bay Area,” said Officer Rueca.
So who are the looters?
What we know, so far, is their targets were shopping districts, many of them miles away from the thousands of demonstrators marching and calling for justice for George Floyd. They happened in sequence: Downtown Oakland on Friday, Emeryville and San Francisco on Saturday, Walnut Creek and San Leandro on Sunday, and Richmond and Fairfield on Monday.
From what our cameras observed, some of the looters like the ones at Ashley Home Furnishings seemed to just be grabbing what they wanted for their own living room. The scene looked much like any other Memorial Day sales crowd, except everything was free.
Others appeared to have bigger plans, like one man we spotted stuffing a pile of men’s suits from Joseph A. Banks into his car.
We traced several license plates back to Oakland. Others we spotted came from as far away as Antioch.
On Tuesday morning, as merchants on both sides of the bay were picking up the pieces and boarding up their shattered windows, a group called the Anti-Police Terror Project https://www.antipoliceterrorproject.org/ led a car parade through Oakland.
“I don’t think property damage is violence,” said organizer Cat Brooks.
The former mayoral candidate later told KPIX 5 looting is its own form of protest.
“We are talking about people that have lost their jobs. We’re talking about gentrification and a rise in rent. People are angry and they’re righteously angry. And so people are choosing different ways to express that anger,” said Brooks.
She says even if organized crime groups got involved, it’s irrelevant.
“Why is that where their focus is right now? There is a national movement to end state terror. To me, their focus should be on how do we work with the community to eradicate bad police practices,” said Brooks.
So far, 10 people were arrested for looting in San Francisco and one in Emeryville that Saturday night. San Francisco police say more arrests are expected. If charges are filed they could be enhanced, for looting during a public health emergency.