Tensions escalated in South Los Angeles on Monday night, as a group that splintered off from a prayer rally in Leimert Park marched through neighborhoods jumping on cars and vandalizing property in the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal in the fatal shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.
Television news coverage showed the splinter group jumping on parked and occupied cars and damaging property as it moved through the Crenshaw area late Monday night.
LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman told this newspaper that at least one man had been arrested as of 9:15 p.m. in the area of 50th Street and Crenshaw Boulevard.
"It's crazy right now," Neiman said. "Young kids are running all over the place. We're doing our best to control them but it's very difficult right now."
It was the third straight night of demonstrations.
Earlier Monday, South L.A.-based community activists joined forces with police to ask for restraint after 10 people were arrested amid demonstrations the previous night.
While most of the activities Sunday night were peaceful, a group of protesters ran through the W Hotel in Hollywood after midnight and spray-painted its lobby, causing an estimated $15,000 in damage, said LAPD spokesman Cmdr. Andrew Smith. Among those arrested were two people who repeatedly egged on a crowd at Crenshaw and West Adams boulevards and allegedly jumped on a vehicle, he said.
On Sunday evening, more than 100 protesters had blocked east and westbound lanes of the 10 Freeway after walking onto the Crenshaw Boulevard on-ramp in South L.A. Police declared a tactical alert after the demonstrators, some of whom had brought their children, were blocking freeway traffic for about 30 minutes but dispersed before they were about to be arrested, Smith said.
"We don't condone that type of protest; we think it's dangerous and it's counterproductive," said Najee Ali, a South L.A.-based community activist, who helped organize a press conference Monday at Leimert Plaza Park. "I don't think they hurt Trayvon's cause. I think they just made themselves look like spoiled children who didn't get their way so they want to act out."
Ali said that South-L.A. based activists have handled themselves with "grace, dignity and restraint" but that some "outsiders," such as anarchist groups, have caused disruption and vandalism.
A 6 p.m. prayer vigil was scheduled to take place at the park Monday, he said, so that people could vent their anger and frustration "in a constructive manner, not a destructive" one.
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the killing of Trayvon Martin a "tragic, unnecessary shooting," and said the Justice Department will follow "the facts and the law" as it reviews evidence to see whether federal criminal charges are warranted.
In his first comments since the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Martin case, Holder said Monday that the 17-year-old's death provides an opportunity for the nation to speak honestly about complicated and emotionally charged issues. He said the nation must not forgo an opportunity toward better understanding of one another.
"I hope that we will approach this necessarily difficult dialogue with the same dignity that those who have lost the most, Trayvon's parents, have demonstrated throughout the last year -- and especially over the past few days," Holder said.
The Justice Department is examining evidence in the case and testimony from the state trial to determine whether criminal civil rights charges would be brought. However, legal experts say Justice officials would likely be saddled with some of the same challenges that complicated the unsuccessful state case. The key to charging Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, lies in whether evidence exists that he was motivated by racial animosity to kill Martin, who was 17 when he was shot during a fight with Zimmerman in February 2012.
At Leimert Plaza Park on Monday, Sunny Sasajima, senior lead officer of the LAPD's Southwest Division, urged the community to not let their emotions get the best of them.
"Most folks who live and work in the community; they've been out there to voice their points, but they don't want to see their community destroyed," Sasajima said.
"They don't want to see the traffic snarl. ... My concern is again, some folks that don't have the same interest and want to stir the pot and make it a more volatile situation that it needs to be."
Overnight Sunday, one man was arrested for alleged battery of a police officer at 10th Avenue and Washington Boulevard. After some protesters vandalized the W hotel early Monday and then some from the same group took over an intersection, police declared an unlawful assembly and arrested five people for failing to disperse. One man was also arrested in Hollywood for throwing a plastic water bottle at officers. Two others were arrested for incitement to riot. Another was arrested for possession of marijuana and released, police officials said.
State and federal lawmakers have continued to weigh in on the verdict.
Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, said he believes there are no winners with the jury's decision to clear Zimmerman of the charges related to Martin's death.
"A young man is dead; in this case Zimmerman is not going to jail but he's not in a desirable place in any circumstances," he said.
Holden, who is African-American, said as a father of four boys, he worries that they could go to the store one day for a bag of Skittles and not return home.
"I'm just holding onto hope that there continues to be civil discussion, that people who have concerns and frustrations are able to voice them peacefully and that the discourse shouldn't harm or injure anyone," Holden said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, called Martin's death a terrible tragedy and said no one should have to bury a child.
"The daily killing of so many young people around the country in gun violence is a national disgrace," he said in a written statement. "We must put an end to this scourge that takes so many lives, and I join in the president's call to discuss what we can do as a community and as a country to stop this senseless loss of life."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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