“It’s just property!” is the refrain, with the implication being that property owners should not defend their property with coercive means – such as calling in the police or using privately-owned weapons against looters.1
This is the philosophy behind a recent declaration from a Black Lives Matter organizer. As the New York Post reported on August 11 :
“I don’t care if somebody decides to loot a Gucci’s or a Macy’s or a Nike because that makes sure that that person eats. That makes sure that that person has clothes,” [BLM organizer] Ariel Atkins said at a rally outside the South Loop police station Monday, local outlets reported. …“That’s a reparation,” Atkins said.
A more full apologia for looting now comes in the form of a new book titled In Defense of Looting by Vicky Osterweil, who identifies herself as “a writer, editor, and agitator based in Philadelphia.”
In an interview with National Public Radio, Osterweil states :
When I use the word looting, I mean the mass expropriation of property, mass shoplifting during a moment of upheaval or riot …
…It tends to be an attack on a business, a commercial space, maybe a government building—taking those things that would otherwise be commodified and controlled and sharing them for free.
Osterweil then goes on to assert that looting is basically a poverty relief program, and it liberates the looters from having to work for a living:
It gets people what they need for free immediately, which means that they are capable of living and reproducing their lives without having to rely on jobs or a wage…
And most fundamentally of all, looting is an attack on private property itself. If only there were more looting, we could all “have things for free”:
[Looting] attacks the idea of property, and it attacks the idea that in order for someone to have a roof over their head or have a meal ticket, they have to work for a boss, in order to buy things that people just like them somewhere else in the world had to make under the same conditions. It points to the way in which that’s unjust. And the reason that the world is organized that way, obviously, is for the profit of the people who own the stores and the factories. So you get to the heart of that property relation, and demonstrate that without police and without state oppression, we can have things for free…
This sort of thing may seem convincing to those who prefer to live in the realm of pure theory. Big words like “commodify” and “oppression” might strike beginner-level dissidents as impressive. But once we start to look at the real-world details of how looting works, we quickly find that looting your local auto parts store or Nike outlet isn’t going to bring down Wall Street hedge funders any time soon. What it will do is hurt ordinary people who own businesses and work in shops that are targeted by looters. Moreover, once the smoke has cleared, we’ll find that low-income neighborhoods will suffer the most.