The Way I See It
Posted on December 24, 2014
One of the elements of the Ferguson uprisings which has received lots of attention has been the issue of looting. From where I sit, the most vocal critics of the looting and arson have been right-wing conservatives, white mainstream media and middle-class black folks. For many, this display of unbridled and righteous outrage is new and unsettling.
Ferguson is not my first uprising. I’m also connected to community organizers in other cities where rebellions have taken place over the decades – Newark, Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles, etc.; we’ve shared our experiences on looting and arson. I’m going to share the accumulated insights on the topic.
White, conservative media have a field day with the images of looting. It fits into their ongoing narrative that black people are subhuman criminals and are undeserving of full citizenship in this society.
I have heard from black people from all around the country, essentially reacting to the voices of conservatives and the mainstream press, which project looting as the real problem. I let them know if you’re talking about looting instead of justice, the establishment has already won in the court of public opinion.
Black folks have to unload the burden often placed on us by the oppressor to be responsible for every wrong thing another black person does. When black people get roped into this trap, they affirm the efficacy of the strategy – to distract from the systemic issues of structural racism and police violence.
There are basically four kinds of looters/arsonists. One is those people whose rage ends up being misdirected at property. Another group is straight-up opportunists (both outsiders and locals). A subset of the opportunist group is property owners who are looking to cash in on insurance policies. The last grouping is the police and its hired agents.
In the first grouping, people feel so disconnected and alienated from their community that they have no sense of the loss a grocery store or gas station has for them or their family. They want to put a hurting on someone or something. These folks aren’t always interested in the looting part; they are more interested in how much pain (damage) they can inflict. This takes the form of smashing windows, overturning cars and torching stuff.
There a couple of types of opportunists in uprisings like Ferguson. Some do it for the adrenalin rush – getting that high from a smash-and-grab and then, if successful, having the bragging rights about the bounty. Others see it as reciprocity for the injustices they have endured.
I call it collateral damage, since it is usually small businesses that are hurt, not the blood-sucking corporations that are looting our communities and government coffers daily.
When an uprising is imminent, some crafty business or property owners start smelling dollars or a way out. These folks are keenly aware that it will be a challenge for any investigation to trace arson back to them. At the end of their insurance rainbow will be a payout either to rebuild bigger and better – or to take and run.
In Ferguson, police, the National Guard and Governor Nixon have been criticized by shop owners and citizens who question whether there was any real protection of their businesses in the aftermath of the grand jury decision. How could 20 businesses burn to the ground within a few blocks (mainly on West Florissant Avenue) when the Unified Command had damn near as many troops in Ferguson as the U.S. in Iraq? And didn’t the Governor publicly promise to protect their property?
Let’s condemn the wanton destruction, but understand where it’s really comes from and why.