Photos from Santa Monica, California show armed business owners protecting their storefront amid the ongoing civil unrest around the U.S. Bill Melugin, a reporter from a local Fox News affiliate shared pictures of men with rifles standing outside of a store in town, and other reports indicate that more business owners are taking matters into their own hands. Many Twitter users were put off by the sight.
Melugin shared two pictures on Monday — both showing men guarding a bicycle shop in Santa Monica. Two stood outside of the store's front entrance with rifles, leaning against a bike rack which was used to barricade the door. Another stood on the roof the building, with an assault rifle slung over his chest and something else strapped to his hip. Other reports tell similar stories — according to CBS News' KCAL 9, the owner of Broadway Wine & Spirits stood outside of his store with friends on Sunday, all armed with AR-15 assault rifles as the protest passed by. He told reporters that they did not approach.
"It was a good thing I had my customers and friends by my side, because it was pretty scary," he said.
Critics of these business owners on social media have asked why they do not file insurance claims for their lost inventory and business rather than risk all the tragedy that violence could cause. In addition, many pointed out that openly carrying a long gun in the state of California is illegal, and questioned why the police were focusing on unarmed protesters rather than these potentially dangerous men.
Santa Monica was hit hard by looters over the weekend, with many shops in the affluent town broken into, and merchandise stolen or destroyed. On Monday morning, members of the community came together to begin cleaning up, although the city's strict curfew means that they had to disperse by early. Santa Monica itself officially closed at 4 p.m. local time, although the business district closed at 1 p.m. — the same time as near by Los Angeles.
Demonstrations around the country have begun peacefully in the last week, though many have turned violent and destructive. In some cases, police believe radical groups within the crowds have incited violence, while the organizers themselves have pleaded for peace. In other cases, witnesses claim that the presence of police in military-style gear has tipped tense situations over the edge.
"I can say that the [Los Angeles protest] was entirely peaceful until the [LAPD] arrived and escalated it," tweeted actress Tessa Thompson on Saturday. "[Mayor Eric Garcetti] are you seeing this? Also where was the robust media coverage then?"