01 September 2005

- On Looting -

Image: African Americans pour out of a store, goods in hand—a man with a pile of shirts; another with boxes of candy; a woman with three large bags of diapers. Aaron Brown (CNN) sneers as the footage rolls behind him. It's just like them, isn't it? you can see him thinking.

I've been getting so angry about the coverage of Katrina's aftermath. Everyone notes that looting is going on. Yet no one asks why it is going on. It apparently goes without saying that looting is appalling. Functional distinctions such as "sustenance" looting do not get at the heart of the matter, as non-sustenance looting remains beyond the pale.

Those who are left in New Orleans are mostly the poorest of the poor. They have lost everything. They have no food, of course, but they also have no money to obtain whatever food that remains. They have no material goods, not that they had much before. They can't expect the government to give them much if anything for their loss. They've been taught very well, thank you, how well our government takes care of the poor, how as the alarming reports about the civic center suggests, the government is still taking care of the poor. The poor certainly have no insurance. This is no crisis they can "weather," or wait "patiently" for help that's likely to come only when they are dead. Is it any surprise that they seek to obtain whatever material goods they can lay their hands on? It's their only hope of survival in the short term and regaining whatever life they had in the long term.

The gunfire is also understandable, if also unbelievably sad, from this perspective: people are desperate. The supplies people need are in very short supply. Skirmishes break out as people try to preserve what little they have managed to gather. This is precisely why the NRA has been pushing guns on us for years, right, so that we can protect that which is ours. And yet I imagine that those NRA members are sneering right along with Aaron Brown.