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Brooms in hand, people patch up stores damaged in protests

A member of the National Guard stands in front of a Nordstrom store as it is boarded up Monday in Santa Monica, Calif., a day after unrest and protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Carrying brooms, shovels, trash bags and cans of paint, thousands of people from Los Angeles to New York swept up glass from broken store windows, covered over graffiti and organized ransacked businesses Monday after protests over police killings of black people turned destructive once again.

Some showed up only hours after taking part in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, a black man pinned to the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer who pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes. Many said cleaning felt cathartic during a dark period for a nation battling the coronavirus pandemic, the job losses that followed and now the worst racial unrest in half a century.

Bill Stuehler donned a mask Sunday and marched with a fellow nurse and other activists in Los Angeles, later trying to stop young people from breaking into stores and stealing. At home, he kept watching the violence on live feeds and fell deeper into despair.

So before sunrise, the 66-year-old grabbed brooms, a rake and a trash shovel and drove to nearby Long Beach to clean up the mess. Soon, more than 2,000 people were working side by side, scrubbing, filling trash containers and repairing what they could in the hard-hit city south of Los Angeles.

“It was pretty amazing to see the number of people turn out for the community,” Stuehler said. “It restored the faith in humanity that I had lost last night.”

Throngs of people nationwide volunteered to help businesses — from small shops to major chains — bounce back from the damage, though some stores had burned to the ground and another night of unrest was expected.

In New Jersey, Chris DeLeon, broom in hand, arrived at 8 a.m. with dozens of other people to sweep up broken glass in the capital of Trenton. The 34-year-old had protested Sunday, then decided to help clean up after seeing videos of people smashing windows.

“It just goes to show there’s at least as many good people as there are other folks out there,” DeLeon said.

In Wisconsin, volunteers in Milwaukee and Madison turned up for a second day to clean up damage from the night before.

Countless businesses already had taken a hit from restrictions designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus and were starting to reopen just as the protests led to more expensive setbacks: vandalism and stolen merchandise.

The owner of the Laugh Factory’s club in Long Beach discovered broken windows and doors, computers smashed and memorabilia stolen, including Three Stooges posters and autographed photos of Redd Foxx and other late comedians. Workers boarded up windows and swept up broken glass Monday.

Owner Jamie Masada was offering an unspecified reward to anyone who returns the memorabilia.

“It is not worth anything to them but it means a lot to me,” Masada said, because it’s tied to those who represent “the height of comedy.'”

In Sacramento, two-thirds of the capital city’s 600 downtown properties took a hit, with more than 200 broken windows, 330 pieces of graffiti, and more than 50 cases of “significant property damage,” said Michael Ault, executive director of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership.

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