Last weekend in San Francisco, the city experienced an epidemic of looting in high-end, ritzy department stores. Famous name brand stores like Versace, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry were victimized by a highly organized group of criminals who stole millions of dollars worth of merchandise.
But some “experts” are saying we shouldn’t call what happened “looting.” “Race and Social Justice Reporter” Julian Glover for the local ABC affiliate cautions against using the term looting because…wait for it…it has racial overtones.
The penal code defines looting as “theft or burglary…during a ‘state of emergency’, ‘local emergency’, or ‘evacuation order’ resulting from an earthquake, fire, flood, riot or other natural or manmade disaster.”
To some, the distinction may be small, but Lorenzo Boyd, PhD, Professor of Criminal Justice & Community Policing at the University of New Haven, and a retired veteran police officer, emphasized that words matter.
“Looting is a term that we typically use when people of color or urban dwellers are doing something. We tend not to use that term for other people when they do the exact same thing,” said Boyd.
Looting is an equal opportunity crime. We see white people walking off with TVs and electronics after a natural disaster like a hurricane. That’s looting.
Apparently, there’s some controversy about applying the term “looting” to people scrounging for food after a flood or other natural disaster. But the looters in northern California over the weekend weren’t hungry for anything. They were stealing in an organized fashion — regardless of what the penal code says, the “smash and grab” robberies were “looting.” The definition is useless when the word paints a picture of exactly what happened.
Martin Reynolds, Co-executive director of the Robert C. Maynard Institute of Journalism Education thinks back to Hurricane Katrina, when largely Black New Orleans residents were labeled looters for crimes of survival – stealing water, food, and supplies before federal government aid arrived.
“This seems like it’s an organized smash and grab robbery. This doesn’t seem like looting. We’re thinking of scenarios where first responders are completely overwhelmed. And folks, often may be on their own,” he said.
Both experts expressed the importance of media literacy for viewers to critically think about the language used by public officials and the media as we all try to make sense of these complex issues our society is facing.
Not surprisingly, Twitter absolutely blew up because of this quibbling over words and meanings.
Even Matthew Yglesias thinks it’s a “brain worm.”
Mary Katharine Ham nails the stupidity.
Someday in the near future, when we’ve all been trained in wokespeak, this argument will seem silly and stupid. Until then, I’ll stick with the English language as a means to communicate not obfuscate.