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Looting: Reactions and Perspectives

Still with me? 

I know I need to keep writing, if only for my own sake.

What we’ve seen in the actions that have followed the death of George Floyd are three kinds of participants:

  • Protesters – People who genuinely care and want to be part of the solution.
  • Rioters – People who are just angry in general, and/or want to just tear down society as we know it.
  • Looters – People looking to get stuff while there’s an opening, even if they have to make the opening through glass.

I’m good with the protesters – provided they follow up with ACTION. And I won’t waste energy on the rioters.

But focus with me on your reactions to looters.

What was your immediate reaction when you saw videos of the looting?  Honestly.

When I first saw TV footage of the Villa clothing store being looted, I was instantaneously brought back to July 1964 – the “riots” in Rochester – or as I now understand it, the “rebellion” or “uprising” in Rochester.  I remember TV footage of burning buildings, police cars overturned, etc.  And I know my reaction was “What’s wrong with these people?  Why are they so angry and destructive?”  I was 20 years old, but those reactions had been deeply ingrained in me already, the heritage of the white echo chamber in which I was raised.

Our reactions reveal so much about our social programming.  I don’t mean the thoughts that occur, or the ideas we have about what’s happening.  I mean the instinctive, internal tweaks that spark before we even realize we’re impacted.  Neuroscientists tell us that these instinctive reactions:

  1. Are virtually impervious to being removed
  2. Occur within three-tenths of a second of the stimulus being encountered.

And so when I saw the TV footage this time – 56 years and a lot of “race work” later, that was still the first reaction!!  “What’s wrong with them?”

The difference is that at least now I can catch that impulse and recognize it for the judgmental, racist reaction it is.

Still, I struggle with the looting.  So I listened to those who understand much better than I do, to consult different perspectives:

  • Of course, there were Black leaders who spoke out forcefully against the looting, among them Mayor Lovely Warren and Rev. Lewis Stewart. Their appeal was to recognize that the looting did not in any way honor the life/death of George Floyd.  There was a plea for the looters to return the merchandise.  They were issuing a “corrective” to their community.
  • Myra Brown had a similar plea, but with a twist: recognizing how risky it would be for looters to return the merchandise directly, she offered to have people return it to her, and she would take it from there.
  • A Black female leader in Rochester who lives near the Villa store confronted a couple of the looters, admonishing them that she didn’t feel the looters understood the ethos of “Black Lives Matter.”  She received a black eye for that rebuke.  Still, when I spoke with her, she was quick to connect their actions with the desperation they’re facing every day.
  • Ashley Gantt of NYCivil Liberties Union was one of the Black Lives Matter organizers of the original, peaceful protest. When she was interviewed on TV directly across from the looted Villa store, Berkeley Brean of WHEC-TV gave her every opportunity to put distance between the looting and the peaceful protest she and Iman Abid had organized.  Instead she insisted that the root cause of each was the same, that the looting was a different way of registering the same outcry for justice.  At first I thought she missed an opportunity to turn the focus back to the peaceful protest (my first reaction), but then I realized that she had refused to throw the looters under the bus!!
  • Jerome Underwood, President of Action for a Better Community, gave another perspective on the looting, citing an African proverb: “When a village does not embrace a child, he will burn down that village in order to feel its warmth.”
  • While intentions were announced to find and prosecute the looters, I heard another Black woman utter, “We need to find them and start with a hug!” She was recognizing that their actions were born of desperation, the sense that the “village” was robbing them of a decent education, a safe neighborhood, looting their very future.  And so looting mere property seemed like justified revenge.
  • Another Black elder said, “What’s the destruction of property compared to the destruction of their very lives?”
  • And another: “They were going after what they should have been able to afford, the things we dangle in front of them all the time. They were going after their stuff!  In fact, when they break into pawn shops, that’s actually what they’re doing!!”

I’m also thinking about “Les Miserables.”  Jean Valjean is the hero.  He had been imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his family.  The entire play is an ode to this ex-convict.  I wonder how that story would play out if he were a Black man in present-day America?

Our country was founded after violent protest, a war led by people willing to kill, desperate for respect, for freedom, for justice.  Ok, but we’re white.  Is there any significant difference between the Boston Tea Party and the looting of that Villa store?  Were those unjust taxes the British were levying a heavier burden than the slavery, discrimination and killing experienced by Black people?

Reactions are just that.  I try to notice them, but give them little agency in my thinking, because I know I have a corrupt hard drive.  I find myself turning to those who know best what is actually happening here.

And now, hear another perspective on looting from someone who knows.  Pay careful attention to your reactions:

“How Can We Win?”  6-minute video.

15 thoughts on “Looting: Reactions and Perspectives”

  1. Two wrongs don’t make a right….the dominant community has been LOOTING the Black community for 400 years.
    400 year anger doesn’t have direction…..
    I feel for the small businesses, and yet I continue to try to get my white head around that level of anger.
    We (the dominant culture) did it, continue to do it, and will fight for the ability to do it without being hindered…. Ergo, no surprise!

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  2. This is the first time I’ve commented on my own blog post!
    A friend who was an inner-city pastor for some years called me out for not acknowledging that so many Black business owners were clobbered by the looting. Some will not recover. As he recounted, a couple of them said “Doesn’t my Black life matter too?” My apologies.

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    1. Ms.Jones has said a lot of things that make me think.I do not agree with people getting
      hit by 2×4’s or the looting of a neighborhood owned business.I wonder now if there is really
      going to be a revolution.We have had a Great Society,a civil rights act,a black President who had at least 4 years of a Democratic Congress and nothing changed.In the late 1960’s I was involved with The Council of Intercity Parishes which was trying to save inner city Catholic schools.We had a meeting with a suburban Monsignor seeking financial help from his parish.His response was that he was going to take of his own kids
      and not “those”kids.We wanted to relocate some schools to Immaculate Conception which had a large school building and great,dedicated teachers.Inner city schools principal shot it down.The response:”Not my school” All the schools failed within a year.
      Now we want to de-fund and reconstruct police depts and move the money to mental
      health,education and neighborhood programs.Who is going to run these? Who is going
      to monitor the progress of how the money is spent?We have the RCSD board which can’t get out of it’s way.How many millions of dollars have been spent and wasted on Superintendents and failed programs?.We need a prophet to rise up to channel this money and other monies that might be coming into the hands of committed responsible people.
      To the election:We all know that DT won 3 normally Dem states by less than0.07% and
      that the Black vote did not turn out for Hilliary which should be no surprise.If DT wins
      again it will mean at least 3 more Supreme Court picks for him and almost assured chaos
      for the country.The announcement today by Lebron James and Jalen Rose that they are putting together a group that is going push hard on voter registration and push hard against the fraud in many states is a good sign.And it comes down to what can I and other old white males do?We can change our attitudes.Look at a black person as person
      not a black person.We can cut out our little snide remarks that we make among ourselves
      We can stop thinking that most black males are either hoods,druggies or dumb and we can use the
      Rule of God to treat each other we love and respect.

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  3. Here’s my reaction to the violence and free for all of some people of color….Oh no they’re screwing it up. They are allowing white people to consider “them”, the black community, as lawless. They are allowing white people to fall back on their racist notions that, “they”, Black people, have no respect for property. They are allowing white people to think that this kind of behavior doesn’t deserve justice.
    Riots and looting years ago made me feel disgusted, but I have learned over the years about injustice and I can begin to understand the anger and frustration of people who have been trodden upon for years and years, resulting in taking instead of being taken from. Again my first reaction this time was ….these few jerks are screwing it up. I need to focus on the demonstrations, the righteous indignation (that’s too benign a term), the outcry for justice and equity of black and brown people throughout this racist country. I need to stand as a white ally and WORK for justice.

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  4. Wow, she was incredible. So visceral and completely understandable. I thought of our friend, Devon Dey Reynolds of Brothers and Sisters Salon who is an activist in the Dewey/Ridgeway neighborhood.
    He has made many of the points.
    So what was my reaction? Tough to answer. Compassion, a greater understanding, a sense of desperation felt by many. Sadness that it has come to this but grateful for sharing their pain and personal stories in a way that more of us white folks get it.

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  5. Frank & Jim …. there is so much to say and so much to do. First a comment on Jim’s post: I think it’s important to emphasize that looters (both Black and White) do not represent the Black community on a monolithic basis and are a very minuscle part of it albeit a very visible one. Also, if if there’s to be a discussion of “riots” than let’s not forget the infamous (although significantly not reflected in White History) Tulsa/Black Wall Street massacre and hundreds of other like incidents over the years by Whites … no doubt there was looting in Tulsa as well although we’ll probably never know (see https://www.theatlantic.com/sponsored/hbo-2019/the-massacre-of-black-wall-street/3217/).

    I would also highly recommend to your readership that they attend the Community BLM Forum Thursday evening in Fairport (see https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2020/06/09/removal-blm-artwork-fairport-brewing-co-prompts-more-discussion/5326246002/ ) — this will provide some practical, real time insights re: the intersectionality of racist White suburbia and our urban neighbors, or the great urban/suburban divide in this County that Frank spoke to several months ago. If Whites are really serious about what’s going on, then be there or otherwise support the BLM movement in other ways at this momentous time.

    Bill Wynne

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  6. Frank,
    I don’t always comment but I do appreciate your thought provoking blogs. They cause me to stop, think and reflect on my own automatic, programmed responses and try my best to make “course corrections”.

    I am torn on this one and struggling to gain insight into whether my reticence to totally embrace your comments is my own baggage or something different so I will simply provide my thoughts.

    Firstly, I absolutely agree with your basic premise, there is unending evidence of genuine lived experiences as well as generational and historical lineage that cries out to inform the outrage and anger of the black community and as such seemingly justify unabated anger and the symptomatic looting and property destruction. I do believe the looting and accompanying destruction is a symptom of the over all impacts of systematic oppression that has been left unchecked since 1619 when the privateer The White Lion brought 20 African slaves ashore in the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia.

    I believe that, since that time, even with the advent of Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, that “freed” slaves after the civil war, the 13th Amendment in 1865, the 14th amendment in 1868, the 15th amendment in 1870, The Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Civil Rights Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, even after all this, blacks are still treated as “less than and indentured servants by the “system” they have pleaded to and still plead to all these long years.

    My point here (I bet you were wondering if I have one…) is that “laws” can be and have been created and enacted after each moment in time when our black brothers and sisters have said
    “enough”! However, here we are again. Almost as if these laws had never been passed. I simply do not believe that hundreds of years of working with the “system” has been enough. Theoretically, we (I am including myself, perhaps inappropriately, in solidarity) have most if not all of the “laws” we need on the “books”. What we don’t have are a critical mass of the hearts, minds and souls of the “ruling class”, the white people, truly won over to change the mores of this nation so violating one of these laws would not be just a legal issue but also a true cultural and societal issue from which the violators would feel ostracized and shunned for doing so. We need to bring our entire American society to the point that a critical mass believe violating the human rights of blacks is as horrifying as child molestation and would simply not be tolerated. We will never eliminate 100% of the haters but we can make them think twice before flaunting their hate.

    This now brings me back to my struggle with giving license to the looters. I believe that acts such as those within the context of peaceful demonstrations gives far too many of the whites ammunition not to pay attention to the real reasons underneath the anger. I believe that many within the “system” such as Mr. Trump and far too many like him, can use the looting as ammunition to further their hateful and oppressive cause. I believe that black rioting and looting is often instigated by the very people who wish to keep the black community subjugated and far too many angered blacks, be it righteously or not, are seduced into it thereby inadvertently hurting the underlying goals of the protest. I believe far too many of the people who hate can use the looting as ammunition to seduce other whites into believing blacks are “undeserving” by preying on the anger and actions of looters and selling it as a much broader, stereotypical cultural norm of blacks. All this leads to the unfortunate reality that winning a critical mass of American society may never be reached and our reliance on a “system” that has failed us time and time again will continue to do so after the demonstrations are over and some placating legislation has been passed.

    Ironically, Covid-19 has made it possible for far more of the American society to engage in the peaceful protests. Could that continue would be a boon to the cause. However, soon people will begin returning to called back to work or hired at new positions and many of them will be white. There thoughts, passions ans commitment will be competing against getting back into familiar routines. Our ability to maintain a critical mass of white supporters, whom I believe we now have, may very well diminish.

    Bottom line: our tactics and strategies need to be more strategic, specific, targeted and non violent with a purposeful agenda to maintain and grow the involvement and totally commitment of a critical mass of whites. I believe that can only be done with truly peaceful demonstrations and void of looting. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. almost did it in Birmingham, Mahatma Gandhi successfully did it at the Dharasana Salt Works and went on to change a nation.

    Thank you for providing this provocative forum that has the potential to change hearts, minds and souls and I would love feedback from you and anyone else who reads this, especially any subscribers of color. Be honest, be brutal. There is too much at stake not to be…

    Here are some further thought’s on Gandhi’s approach:
    https://theconversation.com/what-gandhi-can-teach-todays-protesters-83404

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    1. Thanks Jim, for taking the issue seriously.
      I struggle with the looting too, for many of the same reasons you cite. I see it as our work to put check our initial reactions and to help our white siblings to do the same – to focus more on the why than on the what. It’s not our place to tell the Black communities (plural purposely) how they should act. I do see some Black leaders addressing that. For us: just focus on our own biased minds and hear a different perspective. And act to erase the systemic oppression that invites the symptom of looting.

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  7. Frank- So well said and so much to process. So many facets from which I am led to address the highly complex ways to look at the picture. It is so difficult to separate emotional, rational and tactical approaches.

    Thank you putting this together.

    Bob H. Robert Herman rherman2@rochester.rr.com

    >

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