Fearing election unrest, businesses in U.S. cities board up and governors ready National Guard

board up

Ahead of the polls opening on Tuesday, businesses in cities from Denver to Detroit to Washington, D.C., were boarding up their windows with plywood as they readied for the possibility of civil unrest. Some governors were readying the National Guard, said a report by The New York Times.

The report said:

“Everyone is starting to panic,” Fernando Casas, a construction worker, said as he pounded nails into a plywood frame at a storefront in a trendy shopping district near Los Angeles.

Other media reports said:

Judging by the plywood, it’s shaping up to be an Election Day like no other.

Amid the concerns, some retailers have started boarding up their stores in hopes of avoiding property damage from any acts of violence. Such preparations have already been seen in New York, Washington, Seattle and Los Angeles.

“If Trump wins, our risk analysts, who look at this every single day, are expecting widespread mass anti-government demonstrations in every major city,” Matt Hinton, a partner at security consultant Control Risks, told Bloomberg News.

In downtown Washington, the sounds of hammers and power tools echoed through the streets Monday as workers boarded up dozens of businesses.

In New York City, businesses from Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square to high-end shops in Manhattan’s chic SoHo neighborhood had already covered their windows.

Similar scenes played out in some other major cities across the U.S., with business owners fearing that Tuesday’s election could lead to the sort of unrest that broke out earlier this year.

Just a short walk from the White House, construction workers were carrying large sheets of plywood. For block after block, most stores had their windows and doors covered. Some kept just a front door open, hoping to attract a little business.

“We have to be ready,” said Ali Khan 66, who works at a now-barricaded downtown Washington liquor store where thousands of dollars in merchandise was stolen in June protests. “They smashed the windows and just walked out with everything.”

Washington authorities pledged to keep the peace, with police officials saying the entire department would be on the job on Election Day.

“Some people would like to cause mayhem and trouble,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said. “We are preparing to ensure the city’s safety.”

Activists are preparing for another long-term occupation of Black Lives Matter Plaza, one block from the White House.

In New York City, a police department memo to officers called the vote “one of the most highly contested presidential elections in the modern era” and noted that the winner “may not be decided for several weeks.”

Police there have been holding tabletop exercises to prepare for potential unrest and shifting hundreds of officers to patrol duties.

“We want to be very careful not to either over-police, because that that could send a signal, or under-police,” said John Miller, the department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking last week on a local radio show, said it was too early to predict what would happen, but that the city would be ready.

“We’re going to be prepared for a lot of protests, prolonged protests, potentially different protest groups confronting each other,” he said. “If anything turns violent, we’re going to move to stop that immediately.”

“White House on lockdown”: “non-scalable” fence

A report by Salon said on November 2, 2020:

Federal authorities are expected to erect a “non-scalable” fence around the White House ahead of Tuesday’s election amid concerns of civil unrest.

Federal law enforcement agents will erect the fence around the perimeter of the White House complex, the Ellipse and Lafayette Square, NBC News’ Geoff Bennett reported as he described a “White House on lockdown.” About 250 National Guard troops have been put on standby, according to the report.

CNN confirmed the development, noting that a similar fence had been erected during Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. The Secret Service reportedly rushed President Donald Trump and his family to the White House’s underground bunker during a protest against police brutality following the death of George Floyd.

“We’re going to go in the night of,” Trump declared on Sunday during a rally in Charlotte. “As soon as that election is over, we’re going in with our lawyers.”

The nation’s capital has been on edge ahead of the election, with some businesses boarding up windows.

“It is widely believed that there will be civil unrest after the November election regardless of who wins,” D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham told the city’s lawmakers last month. “It is also believed that there is a strong chance of unrest when Washington, D.C., hosts the inauguration in January.”

The new fence will go up ahead of Trump’s election night party at the White House after plans were scrapped to host it at his Washington hotel, according to The New York Times and Reuters.

The event was supposed to be a “small gathering,” but it is now expected to pack in about 400 attendees in the East Room amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to The Times.

Biden, meanwhile, plans to spend election night in his hometown of Wilmington, Del., according to his campaign.

Other media reports said:

Federal authorities are expected to re-erect a “non-scalable” fence around the White House on Monday, a day before a presidential election many fear may lead to mass protest, civil unrest and even armed insurrection.

Amid speculation that the election result will not be immediately known and signs Republicans will either declare victory early or mount legal challenges if Donald Trump appears to have lost, multiple news outlets reported the White House plan, citing anonymous sources.

“A federal law enforcement source tells NBC that beginning tomorrow, crews will build a ‘non-scalable’ fence to secure the [White House] complex, Ellipse and Lafayette Square. Two hundred and fifty national guardsmen have been put on standby, reporting to metro police officials.”

Significant deployments

Law enforcement agencies are preparing to deploy. Patrick Burke, executive director of the Washington DC Police Foundation, recently told CNN: “If there’s no winner, you will see significant deployments of officers at all levels across the capital.”

Protests could continue through Inauguration Day in January, Matt Hinton added.

D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham, speaking with lawmakers this month, also warned of possible unrest.

Earlier reports said:

Alex Provenzano, who owns a salon in downtown Washington, D.C., installed his door and window coverings Wednesday, not knowing whether next week’s election would prompt a replay of the protests earlier this year in which some businesses were damaged.

“When the protests broke out in May, the entire street was vandalized,” said Provenzano, who owns AP Salon just off McPherson Square, a block north of the White House. “I decided then that we had to board up.”

He said the plywood remained in place until July, but with the contentious election looming, Provenzano pulled the boards out of storage and re-covered the windows and front door.

“I’m usually a very positive person; I hope for the best,” he said. “But the people are very stressed out, and there is a lot of uncertainty in the country right now. It’s pretty scary.”

Large swaths of downtown Washington, within blocks of the White House, resembled a coastal community girding for a powerful hurricane. Hotels, office buildings, coffee shops and restaurants were sheathed in plywood, with some of the makeshift barriers stretching nearly entire blocks.

Officials say they’re not aware of credible threats of violence on or after Election Day, but businesses, drawing from the lessons of last summer when protests erupted across the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, are bracing for possible violence, looting and vandalism.

An anxious country

Across the country, Americans are increasingly worried about the possibility of violence over the high-stakes presidential election, which analysts say could be marred in chaos as an anxious country waits days or weeks for the results. Three of 4 voters say they’re worried about possible violence, while only 1 in 4 say they’re “very confident” the country will see a peaceful transfer of power if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden defeats President Donald Trump, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll finds.

In Chicago, the police department has canceled November days off for police officers in charge of managing protests, Police Superintendent David Brown said.

“Everything is uncertain. We don’t have any specific credible threats at this time, although we are well aware of what happened with the Michigan governor, Virginia governor and the militias planning to do something on Election Day,” Brown said, referring to members of an anti-government group accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

In New York City, there have been no specific and credible threats targeting the election, according to the police department. But preparations have included crowd control re-training for street officers in the event of protests and having “hundreds” ready to respond to election-related demonstrations.

“It’s no secret that this election is more contentious than in years past,” Terence Monahan, the New York Police Department’s chief of department, said last week while outlining election security plans.

In Portland, Oregon, where demonstrators and federal officers clashed during nightly protests outside the city’s downtown federal courthouse, business owners wondered if they should close or board up their properties, Police Chief Chuck Lovell said in a letter last week.

“While we do not have any current intelligence to suggest violence, we know there is a lot of uncertainty and tension in our community during this time,” Lovell said, adding that the department will beef up staffing on and after Election Day.

Downtown ghost towns?

In Chicago, dozens of businesses along the Magnificent Mile shopping strip and throughout the downtown Loop area did not remove temporary barriers that were installed over the summer, when the city saw two incidents of late-night lootings.

Restaurants and luxury retailers are operating through windows covered in plywood or other barriers, and shoppers pass through entryway cut-outs. City officials have been holding workshops in recent months to prepare for possible civil unrest after Election Day.

Dozens of businesses in downtown Chicago are boarded up on Oct. 14, 2020. Many have been boarded up since incidents of looting earlier in the summer.

“The city is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to planning for this event,” Rich Guidice, executive director of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said in a press conference this month. “We have been performing drills and holding workshops to be ready to respond to any situation or possible event that should occur in this city before, on or after Election Day.”

In Washington, D.C., officials are not recommending that businesses board up their buildings, but they have set up a website for people to report suspicious voting activities to police. Businesses are also encouraged to install security cameras and to keep important documents, such as insurance paperwork and lease agreements, secure.

The DowntownDC Business Improvement District said businesses, especially those that were hit the hardest over the summer, are taking precautionary measures ahead of the election. The group said it is aware of at least 12 properties around the White House and in the Chinatown area that are being boarded up.

“The DowntownDC BID encourages each business take precautions such as securing outdoor furniture and signage that can be used as projectile,” the group said in a statement, adding that staffers will remove bike racks, newsstands, unbolted trash cans, loose piles of bricks or rocks, construction materials and other items that can be used to harm people.

On K Street, the owners of A-1 Wines & Liquor were fitting their front windows and door for plywood covers Thursday.

Nitish Thiruchuri, the store manager, said they were acting early after learning a hard lesson earlier this year when some of the protests turned ugly.

“The windows were broken, a lot of the stuff was taken,” Thiruchuri said, motioning to the shelves of liquor, wine and beer.

He estimated the damage at between $200,000 and $300,000, forcing the business to close for three months.

“There was nothing we could do,” he said. “Now, we are being a little more cautious.”

Leona Agouridis, executive director of the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District in Washington, D.C., said while some businesses are boarding up their properties, others are choosing not to. Some businesses, she said, have been boarded up since summer and have not been able to repair or replace their glass windows.

Provenzano, the salon owner, said his plywood would remain in place through the inauguration, regardless of who is elected. He has not decided if he will be open.

“I don’t want to put my people or customers at risk,” he said. “I’m going to play it by ear.”

Shain Jenkins, manager of Compton Lumber and Hardware near downtown Seattle, said demand for plywood has surged by nearly 40% in just the past two weeks as “rumblings” about a new round of protests are being discussed.

“Business is definitely up, but it’s not the kind of business you really look forward to,” Jenkins said.

Mae Pease, manager of the Oregon’s Finest dispensary in Portland, said they’re installing metal gates so that looters or burglars can’t get in even if glass windows are broken. The business has been broken into three times since May, Pease said.

Half of their windows are still boarded up after the most recent break-in, and they are debating whether to cover the rest.

For now, Pease said, “It is really quiet outside. It is dead. For me, I think it is the calm before the storm. We’ll see what next week brings.”



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