Looting Means No Consent of the Governed By The People
Looting can be defined as stealing goods during a war, protest or riot. Polite society (largely white people) would have us believe that looters subvert or undermine the rationale behind “legitimate” protests (ones they deem acceptable). This is because polite society is looking to discount the rationale behind protesting generally unless it involves “patriots” (white people) storming the capitol building complete with guns in tow.
Consent of the Governed
At founding, Americans sought to establish that they were “true-born” Englishmen—not merely colonials—with all the rights of Englishmen. The founders of the United States believed that the government of Great Britain should rest on the principle that government depended on the consent of the governed and that any government not based on that consent could be justifiably overthrown and replaced.
Looting occurring within a protest of state action is simply citizens saying that they do not consent to be governed. Attacking property, paramount to the state (often moreso than people) at protests of state action, is as American as Jim Crow.
Capitalism and Private Property
Private property rights are fundamental to capitalism. Most modern concepts of private property stem from John Locke’s theory of homesteading, in which human beings claim ownership through mixing their labor with unclaimed resources. Once owned, the only legitimate means of transferring property are through voluntary exchange, gifts, inheritance, or re-homesteading of abandoned property.
Under capitalism, private property promotes efficiency by giving the owner of resources an incentive to maximize the value of their property. The more valuable the resource is, the more trading power it provides the owner.
A person who owns the property is entitled to any value associated with that property. For individuals or businesses to deploy their capital goods confidently, a system must exist that protects their legal right to own or transfer private property. Capitalist societies rely on the use of contracts, fair dealing, and tort law to facilitate and enforce private property rights.
This reality has allowed the rich have always to live well historically for they have the ability to commandeer human labor at a greater capacity than those of us whom are not. Ours is a system that has provided for ordered society in the west. You know what throws a wrench into all of that?
What is the previously mentioned rationale that those focusing on looters want dismissed? Black people having legitimate complaints about their status as citizens with rights guaranteed us by both the 5th and 14th amendments of course. Attention to looters further reinforces the prevailing narrative that any issues black people have with the state are our own fault aka “black on black crime“.
Negativity attached to looters helps to deem them unworthy of our solidarity and protection, marking them, subtly, as legitimate targets of police violence. This is in spite of the fact that if it were not for these individuals, the media might pay no attention at all. In the wake of Ferguson, it was noted:
If protesters hadn’t looted and burnt down that QuikTrip on the second day of protests, would Ferguson be a point of worldwide attention? It’s impossible to know, but all the non-violent protests against police killings across the country that go unreported seem to indicate the answer is no. It was the looting of a Duane Reade after a vigil that brought widespread attention to the murder of Kimani Gray in New York City. The media’s own warped procedure instructs that riots and looting are more effective at attracting attention to a cause.Vicky Osterweil, In Defense of Looting (2014)
Black people looting a store is one of the most indelible images in the collective mind of white Americans. The horrifically racist history of black people depicted in American culture as robbers and thieves is well documented, but many of us are suspicious of any narrative about black people that the majority of white people agree with.
Osterweil highlights how the claim that looting being violent and non-political (pointless) is necessary to distract from the fact that violent maintenance of property is the basis and end of power in America. Looting is extremely dangerous to the rich (overwhelmingly white) because it reveals, with an immediacy that has to be moralized away, that the idea of private property is just that: an idea, a tenuous and contingent structure of consent, backed up by the lethal force of the state. When rioters take territory and loot, they are revealing precisely how, in a space without cops, property relations can be destroyed and things can be had for free. Free is not good for those focused on profit.
Moreover, there is a practical and tactical benefit to looting. Whenever people worry about looting, there is an implicit sense that the looter must necessarily be acting selfishly, “opportunistically,” and in excess. When people of color are involved, it’s because they are greedy and lazy, but it is just the opposite: looting is a hard-won and dangerous act with potentially terrible consequences, and looters are seeking to improve their station in life while inhibiting the property owners police protect. It’s a win for everyone around.
Poor communities and communities of color practice more mutual aid and support than do wealthy white communities—partially because they have to. The person looting might be someone who has to struggle everyday to get by, someone who, by grabbing something of value, can afford to spend the rest of the week “non-violently” protesting. They might be feeding their family, or older people in their community who barely survive on Social Security and can’t work (or loot) themselves. They might just be expropriating what they would otherwise buy—liquor, for example—but it still represents a material way that riots and protests help the community: by providing a way for people to solve some of the immediate problems of poverty. These aren’t excuses for lawbreaking, but are the realities of protest.
The history of the police in America is largely the history of black people being violently prevented from threatening white people’s property rights which included black people ourselves at one point. As a society, we still live with these effects today. As someone who is a capitalist, denying this reality and how it affects us (and me in particular as a black man who descended from slaves and those who endured Jim Crow) is foolhardy if the goal is to redress the inequities and inefficiencies in our system regarding liberty, equality, and due process for all of us.
When Americans loot in the midst of an anti-police protest movement, they aren’t acting non-politically, distracting from the issue of police violence and domination, nor fanning the flames of current racist media discourse. Instead, they are highlighting the heart of the problem being how police are employed to protect property (human or not) which only aids our current form of capitalism reinforcing white supremacy.