John Elman

Malibuite John Elman’s optometry office was destroyed during looting in Santa Monica on May 31; the front windows were smashed and nearly all merchandise was taken.

Malibu resident John Elman saw it unfold on television like most of us on May 31—the looting of more than 100 businesses in Santa Monica after peaceful protests against police brutality turned violent.  

Elman’s fears proved right when he got a call from his landlord advising there had been vandalism at his optometry business, but he was unsure of its extent. When the optometrist arrived the next morning, he was surprised at what he found before he made it to his door. “All kinds of people were sweeping the streets, picking up and erasing graffiti. Volunteers came from all over,” Elman, a longtime Rotarian, said. That’s when he discovered the extent of his damage. 

His store windows were smashed and the contents of his store were gone, including displays. 

“They took everything,” the sole practitioner described. That was at least $100,000 worth of frames and merchandise.

After being closed due to the pandemic in March and April, Elman was just beginning to see customers again at his 7th Street location, where he has operated for 19 years. All together, Elman has practiced optometry in Santa Monica for 50 years. The looting will set him back once more.  

John Elman

View from the looted interior of John Elman’s optometry business

With everything stolen or trashed, save for a hidden office computer, Elman has the unfortunate task of putting the pieces back together. Softening the blow is his insurance, which finally approved a professional cleaning service to sweep up the damage and even deal with a blood stain left by a perpetrator. The longtime Malibu resident shared that looters even stole the masks he bought for customers in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, noting the irony that masks have been traditionally used by criminals when stealing things. 

“The fact they had masks makes it difficult to identify them even on surveillance videos,” he said.

Elman noted that protestors warned in advance they would be targeting affluent areas such as Santa Monica. 

“There was no secret about where they were going, but the police should have noticed that, while there were peaceful protestors, at the same time there were criminals intent on looting, destroying and burning,” he said. 

He also stated he has much empathy for fellow merchants who were hit worse than he, including victims of arson. He doesn’t believe all the looting was random, either, explaining, “This was well planned.” He claimed a fellow merchant reported looters with clipboards. 

“They knew what businesses they were going after,” Elman alleged. “There was a hit list.” According to Elman, some businesses were spared.

“The cleaner on the corner who’s been there as long as I have—his windows weren’t broken,” Elman said. “I asked him what he did to avoid being hit. He said he was there guarding his building with a gun. That seemed to be what stopped people from getting looted. I hated to see this because I haven’t been a gun advocate.” 

At 76, Elman is often asked about retiring, but said he’s going to return: “I love what I do.”

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