By Harold Rook
To say the last several months have generated social unrest would be an understatement. Following the death of George Floyd, protests erupted nationwide to highlight issues of police brutality and the targeting of black Americans by the criminal justice system. For a short period of time, it almost seemed as though the country was unified in the need for some measure of reform; everyone from Bernie Sanders to Rush Limbaugh decried the killing of George Floyd, and emphasized the need for practical legislation on law enforcement. This was met with some success, ranging from introduction of the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) as a means of curbing no-knock warrants to increased scrutiny on Qualified Immunity. Additionally, protests have placed these issues in the public consciousness, leading to appropriate dialogue on how to solve this issue. However, in spite of these strides, not all protests have been peaceful; to the detriment of the overarching goal of reform, violence has been spurred on by more radical elements within the movement. By far the most negative and counterintuitive consequences to come from this violence is the presence of looting, arson, and murder. Within the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death, some took the time to storm private property and have their way with whatever materials they could plunder, in addition to the gratuitous violence that has taken place. This, of course, shattered whatever unity the country held in the events following the initial protests. Many even came to the defense of the criminals looting and committing violence, formulating illogical argument after illogical argument. Needless to say, someone needs to point out the implications of these arguments, which is what I plan to do.
Argument 1: White people looted this continent first, therefore they have no right to tell black people what to do! I have noticed this argument appear multiple times, and there are several points that rub me the wrong way. Firstly, there is the fact that this statement treats white people as a monolith—stating that white people came to the Americas to extract plunder—when in reality it was specifically the English, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Portuguese that looted the continent. Not only is this imprecise, but it groups together a large portion of people that don’t share that ancestry. There’s another problem: ancestry. How can one hold an individual responsible for the crimes that one’s ancestors have committed? On top of that, this argument also implies that the act of looting itself is inherently bad, seemingly admitting that such acts, past or present, should be looked at in a negative light. Two wrongs don’t equal a right. Even if one were to look past the admittance that looting is wrong, as well as the obvious tribalism, and accept that collective guilt outweighs individual innocence, it isn’t like the looters are a monolith either; the act of looting shares no race, in many ways making the plundering equal opportunity. The fact that such an argument states that one should not tell black people, specifically, what to do is revealing to what that person thinks black people are doing, however…
Argument 2: Looting only hurts the big, scary corporations like Target! This argument is laughably and demonstrably false; small business owners have bore the brunt of looting within many of the areas that have been sites for this illegal activity. What makes this issue even worse is the fact that looting, as mentioned before, sees no color, meaning businesses owners who may belong to a disenfranchised group that the protestors are ostensibly there to protect are now being hurt by the uncontrolled looting. Compound this with the ongoing coronavirus strangling their livelihoods, and they could potentially never recover. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we live in a perfect world where looters only target corporations like Target or Walmart. While it is true that the corporation itself will be hurt by this, this also hurts the franchise owner, the business owner who runs the store in a specific location. Many of these business owners belong to the middle class, and could potentially lose their place of work due to the destruction caused by uncontrollable looting. And this doesn’t even cover the impact this could have on the working-class employees within the store, who are likely to be let go due to the destruction their store faced.
Argument 3: Stores have insurance! A little looting won’t hurt them! Ah, yes: the classic “money printer go brrrrr” argument. The biggest proponent of this argument is author Vicky Osterweil, who recently used this defense in an interview with NPR (SPOILER ALERT: NPR had to publicly admit that the interview spread false information to its audience). While it is true that companies such as Walmart and Target likely have insurance on their merchandise, this isn’t always true for the small business owners. With nearly 75% of all American small business owners being underinsured, as measured by Insurance Journal, not all businesses are even capable of handling unlawful theft of property. And if such businesses have insurance, it isn’t likely that that insurance will necessarily cover the damages inflicted due to the rioting. Even if these businesses were paid in full with insurance, this will heavily inflate the insurance rates that businesses have to cover, effectively resulting in greater prices on goods for consumers. You can’t just get money to recover damages from nowhere. Lastly, insurance doesn’t bring back lives; if you care to watch a video of former officer David Dorn die in a pool of his own blood after trying to protect a business from looters, ask yourself if business insurance can bring him back from the dead.
Argument 4: Looting is perfectly okay because it’s a form of reparations! This was the justification proposed by Chicago organizer and activist Ariel Atkins while making a speech in the middle of a BLM rally. During her speech, she stated that looting high-end stores, including Gucci, Macy’s, or Nike, was practicing a form of reparations. Of course, there are several problems with this line of reasoning, the first of which is the fact that stolen goods are not a form of liquid cash. In her argument, Atkins claims that stolen goods from these luxury stores are capable of feeding families, yet this fails because people will not be able to readily exchange stolen items for money. There is also the issue of what reparations, at least when proposed, is supposed to accomplish: providing a means for African American families to better themselves economically in the long term. Even if we assume that all looted goods are immediately fenced for their exact value on a black market, doing this only provides a short economic stimulus that will fail to provide relief for poverty. Additionally, this essentially endorses the use of criminal activity to achieve a political goal, being the theft of property, which is catastrophic to advocate for your movement. This doesn’t even scratch the surface to the questions on reparations, such as who will pay for it, who qualifies for paying it, how much reparations should be, and more.
Argument 5: rIoTiNg AnD lOoTiNg ArE nEcEsSaRy To OvErThRoW CaPiTaLiSm!!! Welp, gotta hand it to the tankies for finding a way to larp for the destruction of private property and the deaths of citizens for their communist utopia. It’s actually quite impressive that this argument doesn’t pretend to care about the wellbeing of others, and I don’t think there is much else to say. Actually, wait! There is! *Ahem*:
Союз нерушимый республик свободных
Сплотила навеки Великая Русь
Да здравствует созданный волей народов
Единый, могучий Советский Союз
Славься, Отечество наше свободное
Дружбы народов надёжный оплот!
Партия Ленина – сила народная
Нас к торжеству коммунизма ведёт
Сквозь грозы сияло нам солнце свободы
И Ленин великий нам путь озарил
На правое дело он поднял народы
На труд и на подвиги нас вдохновил
Славься, Отечество наше свободное
Дружбы народов надёжный оплот
Партия Ленина – сила народная
Нас к торжеству коммунизма ведёт!
Argument 6: Violence is the only way to get everyone’s attention to our cause! Out of all the arguments presented, I would give this one credit for at least being somewhat true; the presence of rioting, arson, and murder for your cause can certainly bring attention. Here’s the thing though: not all attention is good attention. More specifically, negative acts, including unlawful behavior, will only serve to distance moderates who share the overarching goal of reform with you. If the movement you have features members who literally stalk and assassinate people with differing political opinions before getting into a shootout with police, there should be no justification for that behavior, and the movement that defends it will make itself appear to justify murder. If this is the case, such as what happened with the death of Aaron Danielson, don’t be shocked when your movement gains a reputation for being violent, and some believe it is necessary to come prepared to defend oneself if they are attacked. In This self-fulfilling prophecy came into fruition when Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, defended himself against a mob of attackers. If you’re going to brand yourself as violent, it isn’t shocking when others feel it is needed to defend themselves from violence. The result? Chaos and further polarization.
Anyway, there are a lot of ridiculous arguments out there regarding this anarchistic looting. What this fails to solve, however, is the underlying issues that, supposedly, these looting proponents claim to care for. The best advice I can give to those that promote such arguments? Stop sullying the memory of those like George Floyd; he did not die so you could justify breaking into a local shop and stealing a new pair of shoes. Additionally, it makes a once-unified issue polarized, something that shouldn’t have been possible, given the circumstances. If you are truly after reform and accountability, and not robbery and anarchy, respect private property. You won’t do any good for the protests by supporting this.