In Praise of Looting
Blaming Katrina's victims for not being rich
By Harry Looter
For Infoshop News
September 1, 2005
"The Iberville Housing Projects got pissed off because the police started to "shop" after they kicked out looters. Then they started shooting at cops. When the cops left, the looters looted everything. There's probably not a grocery left in this city."
The devastation wrought on the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina is clearly evident three days after the winds started blowing and the journalists scampered out from their hotels. Most of New Orleans is under water. The Mississippi and Alabama coasts are obliterated. The situation in New Orleans is dire as thousands of people struggle to survive and get out of the worsening toxic cesspool that the city is becoming.
In the midst of all of this pain and misery, the media and the authorities have decided that the central story now is the looting and "lawlessness" that are taking place around the city. The poor, mostly black, victims of Hurricane Katrina are being blamed for their response to the situation. Their logical response to having the homes and neighborhoods destroyed is understandable given that this disaster has been happening for a long time in their neighborhoods and lives. The ongoing disaster that they are reacting to is the catastrophe known as capitalism.
The media knows that playing up the looting on TV plays well in Peoria. Comfortable middle class white people watch the New Orleans situation on TV and resort to simplistic Christian judgments about right and wrong. Some of them understand that the "looters" have a moral right to take food and medicine, but they seize on news that looters have taken guns and TVs as evidence that the looters are bad people. The authorities help reinforce these beliefs with their constant pontification about how looters will be punished. This morning the authorities are further demonizing the poor people of New Orleans by suspending rescue efforts because some person fired at a Coast Guard rescue worker. We all know that if some white dude in a rich neighborhood that was under water fired at rescue workers the rescue effort would continue uninterrupted.
What exactly is so evil about taking a package of Pampers or some cans of food from a Winn-Dixie or a Wal-Mart store? These people are trying to survive in neighborhoods that are under water, with no services of any kind. Are the rescue workers, the media, or the state dropping pampers and bottled water into the flooded neighborhoods of New Orleans? Are the on-the-scene Fox News anchors putting down their microphones, rolling up their sleeves, and helping rescue people?
The media and authorities' obsession with looting is racist, capitalist and simply inhumane. What difference does it make what people take from the stores near their neighborhoods? They have no access to food, clean water, diapers, medicine, shoes, liquor, cigarettes and all the things that they need to get through this crisis. It's not like these corporate grocery stores are going to go bankrupt because hungry people clear out an inventory that will have to be destroyed once the waters recede. People are "dumpster-diving" from stores who are insured, well capitalized, and which will have to throw away all of their stock anyway.
The Government Can't Help You
The failure of the American state to respond to this tragedy is abundantly clear at this point. In its typical fashion, the state will turn the situation into a circus before the capitalist profiteers move in. On Friday, American president George W. Bush will fly into New Orleans to perform a photo op while some residents of New Orleans are still trapped in their attics. Many poor residents will be dying as Bush speaks useless words about the catastrophe. The hungry and wet people won't be fed by Bush's visit, but perhaps if he falls out of a helicopter while surveying the damage, the residents can make a good jambalaya with the presidential corpse. Meanwhile, there are reports that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was laughing it up last night at a production in New York City of 'Spamalot'.
The catastrophe in New Orleans once again demonstrates the inability of the state to take care of its subjects, especially its poorest citizens. For all of the talk about "homeland security" over the past few years, very little homeland security was available for the residents of New Orleans. There are reports now about how the government cut back on programs that would have helped New Orleans weather this disaster. The immediate response by rescue workers was hampered by the fact that the Louisiana National Guard is stuck in Iraq, fighting and losing an imperialist war staged by Bush and his Halliburton cronies. The evacuation plan worked for middle and upper class people with cars, but apparently there was no effort to bus poor people out of the city as Hurricane Katrina approached.
If there is a silver lining in this ongoing tragedy, it involves the small acts of mutual aid being done by New Orleans residents for each other. This includes people rescuing people from flooded houses, people helping move sick people to dry ground, people sharing food and materials with each other, and much more. In times of natural or manmade disasters, humans have shown time and time again their ability to help each other out via mutual aid. These responses play out organically and can't be organized by the state. In many instances, the state's efforts interfere with this mutual aid and make situations worse. It's pretty clear in New Orleans that the state totally failed the poor residents of the city.
Looting is not a problem in New Orleans right now. People have a right to take what they need to survive. Even if they take things that aren't needed for survival, those of us watching from the comfort of our dry homes have no reason to complain about these actions. Finally, let's remember that looting is a form of wealth redistribution. When rich people loot, they call it capitalism, good business practices, third quarter dividends, the new economy and "giving people job." When your neighborhood is under water and there are no relief services in sight, taking diapers from a Wal-Mart is not a criminal or immoral act.
Hooray for the looters!