Looting. What is it? Why does it happen? And why is it such a big part of the conversation when what we’re really talking about right now is systematic, state-sanctioned murder?
We all experience feelings during times of civil unrest when we watch television footage of our people breaking shop windows and helping themselves to goods they have not paid for. They tend to run this over and over and over.
Maybe it’s embarrassment or righteous indignation because looters and rioters give the media just the ammunition they need to undermine the point of a protest. Maybe it’s frustration because right-wingers love to focus on this sideshow, no matter how insignificant a part it plays in the overall event. They pretend to believe that life and property are of equal value. Even this President supports the notion that looters should be shot. A point he underscored when he tweeted “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a phrase first coined by Miami Police Chief Walter Headley.
But we know that, at the end of the day, the concept of “looting” in the current context is a trope.
White Folks Didn’t Always Have a Problem with Looting
A Time magazine article this week reminds us that looting is very much part of American history, and has been from the very beginning when the soon-to-be-American whites saw themselves as the oppressed. Remember the Boston Tea Party? What was that? Looting!
“The founding fathers used looting as a supplement to protest. You can go back as far as the Boston Tea Party at the time the United States was a colony of England, and they saw fit to literally go and loot and destroy cargo on ships that were owned by England,” says Hall. “From the very, very beginning of our nation, looting has been a part of protests.”
Now, what’s complicated about that? The lesser opponent strikes at the weaknesses of the stronger opponent – boom! Looting.
And in the 400 years after Columbus and his cohorts “discovered” the “new world,” white pirates, criminals, and priests pillaged, raped, and plundered their way across Africa and Asia. What would you call that? Looting? Me too!
F*ck Your Property!
And, finally, there are the words of author and screenwriter Kimberly Latrice Jones, who this week used a Monopoly game analogy to describe the 400 years of slavery and subsequent 155 years of disenfranchisement that have given the average white family $100,000 in wealth for every $12,000 owned by Blacks. Kimberly is speaking for the voiceless when she says, quite aptly:
“Let’s ask ourselves why in this country in 2020, why the financial gap between poor Blacks and the rest of the world is at such a distance that people feel their only hope and only opportunity to get some of the things that we flaunt and flash in front of them all the time is to walk through a broken glass window and get it.”
”That they are so hopeless that getting that necklace, or chain, or TV, or bed or phone, whatever they want to get is that in that moment when riots happen that’s their only opportunity to get it.”
And in Kimberly’s eloquent final words:
“So f*k your Target, f*k your hall of fame, as far as I’m concerned they could burn all of this to the ground and it still wouldn’t be enough.”
Don’t Get Distracted: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
When you’re tempted to feel embarrassed by the actions of looters – know that there are always opportunists who will take advantage of a situation when things go topsy-turvy. These folks come in all colors – and they always have. Some are thieves, acting on an opening; some are poor folks who think it’s their best shot to get at something, anything – or to strike back; and some, we are seeing, are the infamous ‘outside agitators.’
Regardless, don’t get distracted. Keep your eyes on the prize. This is a civil rights battle. That’s what the media needs to be talking about. Only a tiny fraction of the people in the streets this month are looters – and we’ve seen all kinds of folks participating in that slice of mayhem. Don’t let them pin the label on us. We don’t deserve that, either.