Moratorium on the Word "Looting"

My eight year-old son got really angry tonight while we were watching the news about what's going on in Haiti.

"Why do they keep saying the people are acting bad and stealing?"

It's a question I've asked myself repeatedly over the past few days. The word we all keep hearing used to describe the efforts of the Haitian people to stay alive - "looting" -- I'm sick of that word. I don't want to hear it anymore.

Even my eight-year old kid can understand that when people are in desperate circumstances: no food, shelter, water, sanitation, no lights -because the power's been out for a week - getting supplies out of a store is not "looting". That's called staying alive because if you don't break into that store, you're going to die. Your family is going to die. Your children are going to die. At least, they will die if they haven't already been crushed by buildings that toppled in an earthquake.

You had better believe that if a massive earthquake hits LA and it takes a week for help to get to me, guess what, I'll be raiding the corner store down the hill. Sorry... but what kind of dummy sits around waiting to die when a store might have supplies to keep you alive?

Why is it so necessary to show us footage of people doing whatever they need to do to stay alive and then portray them as animals? Those people have been through an apocalypse and we seriously expect them to observe social niceties? What's the strategy? Deprive the people of aid and relief and then when they start to lose it because they're starving and hungry and the stench of corpses fills the air, then we say, "OMG! Look how terrible and lawlessly they're behaving! Look at those looters!"

Enough with the "A gang of black men were looting!" vibe. It needs to stop. They're people. Humans that bleed just like you and me. So media (yeah, you, Anderson Cooper) check your pre-fabricated disaster language at the door.


Lenina said…
To me it all can be reduced to the fact that every human should develop empathy and compassion.

Sadly, very few people seem to get that nowadays.

Try walking on their shoes before saying such crap, thank you.
nick said…
Couldn't agree with you more, Liz. Some people seem totally unable to put themselves in someone else's shoes. As you say, if you haven't any food or other essentials, and aid is not getting through, your only option is to grab whatever you can find. Funnily enough, when political leaders are living it up at the expense of ordinary people, that's NOT described as looting, it's just one of those things.
I totally agree. Why should food be left sitting around ANYWHERE in Haiti if people are starving? If my house was abandoned and someone took my food so they could avoid death, I would be thankful.

I also think the reports of this are being blow out of proportion. This is what my friend Tara blogged yesterday (who lives in PAP):
"The reports of violence - we don't get those. Have not seen it. Have not experienced it. Nothing even remotely close. People are helping each other and are warm and kind and humble."
Marlo said…
Thank you!

I read a report yesterday that painted a picture of a dangerous group of men trying to break into a store while the store owner desperately tried to defend it. According to the report the men got in. You know what they took?


Why does the media feel the need to spin a desperate search for supplies as criminal mayhem?
1969 said…
After a week of no food, I would not be responsible for any of my actions. I would be in survival mode. PERIOD.
Val said…
I wrote about this too. It's the same reporting they did during Hurricane Katrina. Shame on them for not learning anything from that.
Anonymous said…
I'm glad you posted this, because the situation just pisses me off. I'm tired of the media focus on those "big, scary Black people" contrasted with the "benevolent White folks who were miraculously saved." Grr.
Liz Dwyer said…
Empathy and compassion SHOULD be the basis of any coverage of this incident, but unfortunately bias and the need to sensationalize comes with today's media.

Good point that what politicians and governments do is not considered looting. It should be.

I'd be happy to have someone take my food too if I wasn't eating it. I think the reports of violence are being amplified, too. That's probably a small minority of what's going on, and everybody else is just trying to survive.

Joyful Mom,
I saw that report with the shop owner, too, and I could NOT believe he was tripping over some candles! Like, really? You're mad because people who are without power don't want to sit around in the dark all night? It was really disappointing to see him saying that on TV.

You know! Why should the Haitian people be expected to just sit quietly and twiddle their thumbs while waiting to be rescued?

It is very much the same vibe as the Katrina reporting and that's the last thing we need.

The most touching story I saw all day yesterday was with the LA County Search & Rescue people saving that woman Jeannette - that right there was the human spirit at work. The folks from LA were simply saving her because it's the right thing to do, and the coverage was without all the racial coding that depicting survivors as looters comes with. It made me so proud of those rescue workers...and it made the stories depicting the scary black looters that much more infuriating. The looting stories are a disunifying distraction.
allison sara said…
there ARE other ways to say what's going on without using that inflamatory word. sheesh.
Liz Dwyer said…
Allison Sara,
Absolutely are. But unfortunately I still keep hearing it.
Rosita said…
Thanks for posting about it. Wish more in the news would figure it out.
Liz Dwyer said…
I wish they would, too. It's disturbing how this is so consistently a problem when disasters hit areas populated by folks of African descent.

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