Community unites to protect 23rd Street merchants from looters

Community unites to protect 23rd Street merchants from looters
Gonzalo Rucobo, co-founder of Bay Area Peacekeepers, was among hundreds of community members who helped protect small businesses along 23rd Street in Richmond from vandalism and looting Monday, June 1, 2020. (Photos contributed)

By Mike Kinney

As Bay Area cities on Monday braced for looting and destruction from demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, members of Club de Camiones Diferentes and The Hottest Out Car Club, local automobile enthusiast organizations, helped board up popular eatery Phila Burger Station at 23rd Street and Lowell Avenue. Loyal customers of the business came out to help in the effort, as well.

Roughly 200 volunteers, including members of Bay Area Peacekeepers, which put out a community call for assistance, came out to 23rd Street on Monday to help board up businesses to ensure their protection. As night fell, while Richmond police were busy responding to vandalism and looting at the Shops at Hilltop and Target, volunteers remained stationed along 23rd Street to defend any onslaught that might come their way. Some drove up and down the strip to monitor for bad actors.

While the volunteers are outraged over the killing of Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody and support the Black Lives Matter movement, they felt strongly that local, family-owned businesses remain protected.

In the end, the looters didn’t come. But at one point Richmond Police Chief Bisa French stopped by to thank the Bay Area Peacekeepers and volunteers for making a stand.

“This is what it really takes, it takes a community coming out and saying they’re not going to have this in their neighborhood,” Chief French said, “Especially on 23rd Street. These are all mom and pop businesses, and we have to protect them. They worked their whole lives to get what they have, and we can’t let that go.”

A business on 23rd Street being boarded up ahead of the possibility of vandalism and looting Monday, June 1, 2020. (Photo: Mike Kinney)

BAP co-founder and executive director Gonzalo Rucobo filmed the effort live on Facebook, drawing thousands of views.

San Pablo Mayor of San Pablo Arturo Cruz joined in, working late into Monday evening to help keep the peace.

Police began warning commercial corridors early in the day Monday that vandalism and looting could occur. Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston put out a statement encouraging residents countywide to remain indoors from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. for their safety.

In response, Rucobo put out a call to the community to help stand up to the possible threat. Over 200 community members helped place plywood over the windows and doors of the small businesses along 23rd Street, he said. 

Later in the evening, Bay Area Peacekeepers and community volunteers took up posts and started patrolling the street. The Hottest Out Car Club was roughly 50 deep in protecting Phila Burger. This reporter was invited to ride with Mayor Cruz to assist with monitoring and to reassure citizens that they are safe and will have a peaceful evening.

San Pablo Mayor Arturo Cruz helped monitor 23rd Street late into the evening on Monday, June 1, 2020 (Photo credit: Mike Kinney)

“We have the right to peaceful protest and free speech and that is fine,” Mayor Cruz said. “But all of us must restore peace back in the community and that is truly a community effort.” 

Cruz added, “It makes feel great that no looting has occurred here tonight. It shows how our local law enforcement agencies in San Pablo and Richmond, the community and Gonzalo Rucobo and Bay Area Peacekeepers can work together to make a huge difference when these kinds of things occur. “