Thursday, 4 March 2010

Looters

Once again there are dramatic headlines about a clampdown on post-disaster looting, this time in Chile. But isn't a lot of this so-called looting simply taking what you need to survive?

Sure, if someone's walking out of a shop with a computer, that's looting. You can survive without a piece of electronics. But if they're grabbing food, water, clothing or bedding, maybe it's because they urgently need them.

Shopkeepers may condemn it, but what's more important - keeping people alive or keeping your stock intact? Suppose you or I were starving hungry and right in front of us was a supermarket heaving with food? Would we just stroll past or would we take a few things?

The only problem is that if you turn a blind eye to "necessary looting", you encourage looting generally, and if people see easy pickings they pile in and take everything they can lay their hands on.

They stagger out not with a few loaves of bread but with trolley loads of saleable goods and blatant crime takes over.

It's hard to see how you can allow justified looting without opening the floodgates to unprincipled opportunists. When it comes down to it, despite urgent human need, you have to protect people's property against those who are out for their own ends and ready to exploit a chaotic situation.

But those in need of life's essentials shouldn't be forced into looting, they should be getting the help they need from elsewhere. If the authorities were doing their job and organising emergency supplies of necessities, people wouldn't be so desperate.

PS: It's reported that looters in Chile have handed back £1.3 million ($2 million) of stolen goods including hundreds of TVs, washing machines and other electronic and furniture items.

Thanks to Los Angelista, who also wrote about looting a while back.

16 comments:

Los Angelista said...

Thanks for writing this, Nick. I've been driven nuts once again by the idea that people grabbing bottles of water or food are looters. Yes, folks grabbing TVs are out of line, but goodness, blankets, medicine, food and clothing are necessary in a disaster!

Nick said...

Liz - The journos either don't want to encourage random looters by saying looting might be justified or they think all looters are criminals, period. So they create a very biased picture of what's happening.

Grannymar said...

Thankfully I have never been left without a roof over my head or starving, so am really in no position to comment. Looting of some kind or another has been going on since Adam was a boy. Right or wrong? It depends very much where you are sitting. Armchair generals always think they have the answer.

As a mother, if my children were starving I hope I would break into hell if needed, to find food and clothing for them.

Nick said...

Grannymar - If I had had starving children, I would certainly have broken the law if necessary to get what they needed. Property or survival? It's a no-brainer.

Nick said...

Blogger is still temporarily losing comments or not noting them on the post. Please persevere, your comment will show up sooner or later!

Wisewebwoman said...

One had to consider the media this is being reported on, surely. Particularly the media with a vested interest in advertising revenue from such stores.
Other sources say the looting is minimal and 99% is used for immediate lifesaving needs. Food water.
The larger corporate entities can afford security personnel.
I groan every time I hear the word "looting".
XO
WWW

Baino said...

The looting in Chile began straight after the earthquake. Before any discepline could be brought to bear. Concepscion was isolated by road disruptions in the south but the Government was quick to act and sent troops in within 3 days. Not so after Hurricane Katrina or Haiti sadly. Basic necessities yes but when you hear of electronics being stolen, these end up on the black market and can only be considered a criminal offence. In Iraq for instance, just after we invaded, they even looted the artworks from Sadam's palace. Don't tell me that was out of necessity! I don't like looting at all because it benefits a few while others wait for help. It's human greed at it's worst.

Nick said...

www - Not sure about the 99% being immediate lifesaving needs. Locals in Concepcion say many looters are well-dressed citizens carting off things like electronic goods. But the very negative word looting criminalises the innocent along with the rest.

Baino - Interesting point that looting benefits a few while others await help. But surely that's better than people suffering because they can't get the basic necessities?

tattytiara said...

Your last paragraph summed up my thoughts on the matter as well.

Nick said...

Tattytiara - Curious how the authorities always seem to be so unprepared for a major emergency, as if they never thought it would happen. Though it's true they were seriously hindered by the wrecked transport network in Haiti.

e said...

In a disaster, all elements emerge, its a shame the journos want to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this one instead of addressing the readiness for a disaster and how to better meet basic needs during such an event.

Nick said...

e - The journos here do address those issues to some extent, but the emphasis is very much on the immediate problems of looting, homelessness, trapped survivors etc. The long-term aspects are seen as too dull for their inattentive readers.

Quickroute said...

Looting: transitive verb. 1 a : to plunder or sack in war b : to rob especially on a large scale and usually by violence or corruption

not so in this case for people just needing to survive

Over reaction by Chile Gov and poorly administered

Nick said...

Quicky - The government's response was very inadequate by the looks of it. In which case what are people to do but forage for what they need?

Rummuser said...

I am convinced that the disorders, riots etc are orchestrated deliberately to enable looting.

Nick said...

Ramana - I suspect you're right. The oldest trick in the book, create a diversion etc....