Hamilton police are investigating after a group of masked vandals wreaked havoc on Locke Street businesses Saturday night.
Police were called to the area at about 10 p.m., where about 30 people were reportedly marching all in black with their faces covered and carrying a banner that read, “We Are The Ungovernable.”
Police said the group began setting off fireworks, damaging vehicles and smashing storefronts with rocks.
WATCH: ‘These were criminals’: Hamilton police provide update on vandalism on Locke Street businesses
Police dispatched their ACTION team, mounted unit and Emergency Response Team, and the group quickly dispersed, with many of them discarding their disguises as they fled.
“This was obviously not a peaceful protest, this was not people exercising their rights to free speech. These were criminals committing criminal acts and this will be investigated fully,” Hamilton police Insp. Paul Hamilton told reporters Sunday.
Hamilton said no one was injured but around 10 local businesses and vehicle owners have reported damage. Hamilton said he expects that number to rise.
The chaos on the street caused anxiety inside many local restaurants fielding busy Saturday night crowds, said Tony Greco, Chair of the Locke Street Business Improvement Area.
Patrons hid under tables as they listened to glass shattering and bangs echoing through the neighbourhood.
Hamilton estimated the damage incurred was about $100,000.
Greco said that can take a significant toll on the sorts of independent operations involved in Saturday’s vandalism.
“Insurance covers a certain amount. It puts a big dent in a small business,” he said.
“It’s a hard thing that happened.”
The vandalism came as a particular shock to local coffee and donut outfit Donut Monster, which just opened its doors as a retailer about two months ago after extensive renovations.
WATCH: Masked group vandalizes Hamilton businesses
Owner Reuben Vanderkwaak said he arrived at the shop late Saturday night to find at least half the newly installed windows shattered inside the shop and what appeared to be landscaping stones lying nearby.
“We got hit pretty hard. It was pretty devastating to walk into that,” he said, adding several other storefronts in the area appear to have been similarly hard-hit.
LISTEN: Hamilton City Councillor Aidan Johnson joined The Morning Show on 640 Toronto to talk about the mob of 30 people who caused damaged to vehicles and storefronts on Locke St. in Hamilton.
But Donut Monster was open for business again Sunday morning, and Vanderkwaak said community members appeared eager to show support and move on from the vandalism.
Encouragement came from the political realm too, as NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who represents the riding where the vandalism took place, tried to urge residents to get back out and patronize the damaged shops.
“Let’s come together to greet each other as neighbours, shop local on Locke, and show these vandals that this attack will only make us stronger,” she tweeted.
Vanderkwaak said his shop doors are open to all, including the alleged perpetrators, adding that understanding the mob’s motives for their destructive march could be helpful in preventing similar events in the future.
“Violent actions don’t communicate very well,” he said.
“I wanted an opportunity for people to come together and actually communicate in a peaceful way and … try to bring some reconciliation to whatever issues are at hand.”
Neighbourhood resident Brianna Baraniecki, who witnessed 10 to 15 police cars converging on Locke Street towards the end of the march, shares the desire to understand what motivated the participants.
She said a wish to treat the incident as a one-off is tempered by concern that the unknown group may plan further action.
“I guess I’m just standing here kind of waiting to see what’s going to happen next,” she said. “I don’t really know if I believe that this was a truly isolated event or if they have intention, whoever they are, of continuing to do this. I guess I’m just a bit apprehensive.”
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger also tweeted his disappointment in the situation early Saturday morning.
“Locke street is one of our highlighted streets in the success story that Hamilton is and we shouldn’t allow this to dampen the great success that’s happening throughout our city,” Eisenberger later told reporters on Sunday.
Police are canvassing the area, looking at surveillance video and are asking anyone who may have information to contact police.
“We know there were a number of people out for dinner on Locke street,” Hamilton said. “It’s a well-travelled route and there were a number of people with cellphones going.”
“Somebody knows who is responsible for this,” he said.
Police are asking any witnesses, as well as anyone whose property was damaged in the incident, to contact Detective Jamie Simpson at 905-546-3816 or anonymously call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
–With files from The Canadian Press