Let's talk about "looting" | NESHEAHOLIC

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Let's talk about "looting"

Many media outlets have been reporting looting incidents in Haiti grocery stores. I think the best way I've heard the ridiculousness of this explained is someone on twitter who said "If the Haitian people are looters, would the press describe Anne Frank as a squatter?"

Looting is what pirates do, plundering, gathering the spoils of war after they've made the ship's crew walk the plank. Looting is not taking food from an abandoned and damaged grocery store to feed your family while you are living in the streets after a natural disaster. They are surviving, not looting. The grocery stores aren't up and running, and if they were, I don't think many people grabbed their wallets while an earthquake was destroying their homes.

I find it hugely inappropriate to say that the people of Haiti are looting. They are gathering and obtaining what little resources that were left after the disaster. By definition (to engage in robbing or plundering, especially in a riot or war) I suppose this catastrophe can be compared to a time of riot or war, and the people's actions aligned with looting. So perhaps it's just the connotation the press is putting on "looting" that irks me. It is used in a sense that tries to criminalize people for taking food and water for survival.

I don't suggest all people without go and steal what they need. But this is such an extreme situation for the people in Haiti. I wouldn't even call this a "survival crime" (as is often attributed to homeless people who steal food), I'd just call this plain survival strategy in the face of a horrible disaster.
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