Let me be clear about the intent of this post. I am discussing the broader issue of crime, but dialing specifically into the issue of;
DISASTER EVENT LOOTING,
versus actions taken for survival that go beyond reasonable expectations.
During the between time between the several major East Coast Hurricane’s, Irma and Harvey, I was contacted by a news service to offer my thoughts on the issue of looting during these tragic events. This was for weather station “Accuweather.com.” A bit different forum for me in this new path of blogging that I have taken. I am more used to terrorism issue from my U.S. government experience overseas and my years of fighting the various crimes, back in the day, associated with big cities like mine, Los Angeles, and my career with the Los Angeles Police Department.
This commenting opportunity, good for me, I think to myself! To the issues and points. And this is where it gets difficult and somewhat judgmental and personal.
By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer. September 19, 2017, 11:34:24 AM EDT
Question; is there a time and place where/when CRIME is o.k., when viewed through the eyes of LOOTING during a disaster? I highlight looting here for obvious emphasis. We will view it in terms of crime and law. For the purpose of this blog I am making that a rhetorical question, unless you chose to comment of write back, and please do if you have a salient point to make.
My answer, coming from a place of prior law enforcement, service to the public, feeling like a civilized species and wanting all things in the world to work as God intended…I say NO, there is never a time when crime is o.k!
A hard line, I know. Lacking in Christian virtue? Maybe! Up for discussion with your Pastor, Mullah, Rabbi, Bhikkhu, if male, or a Bhikkhuni, if female. If you are Agnostic or Atheist you chose the place you go to when times are darkest and you need an answer or some assurance.
Now I make this hard line statement in light of the customary way in which we look at crime. That is to say, a person chooses to, in this looting example, do something to another (even if that “other” is not a person but a thing, like a building) that is harmful and contrary to coded laws and perhaps even religious virtues. (I offer that last bit for the many types of societies in this beautiful world.)
So a crime would be; theft
the simple taking of something that does not belong to you.
Add grand theft
taking something substantial, based on the laws of your jurisdiction – that does not belong to you. Breaking into someone else’ property, like a home, car or structure…with variances between them each.
Or simply doing destructive acts to someones property, as in vandalism, or the damage caused in the commission of the crime. This would also apply to vandalism against un-involved persons during things like riots and to police or municipal targets during those events. There obviously are many more types and degrees of crime, but this targets the subject well enough.
Now comes the arguable part for some…not me! Desperation! Absolute need! Survival! Question; do any of these three have bearing on the issue? No here, before getting upset with me an discontinuing the read, I am not talking about a person, caught in a circumstance that was totally unexpected, without warning or a possible way of being prepared for what they face, acts to commit a looting for emergency needs. By way of example; a person driving with their family crashes there car in a desolate area. The car is destroyed. All the materials and tools they might have utilized to handle an emergency are destroyed in the crash. There is no immediate or reasonable expectation of rescue. The family needs, rescue, medication, shelter and protection from dangers and elements. Out of that description you have the makings of a valid argument for a level of hard choices. It may not remove the crime level. But your intent, combined with the circumstances define EMERGENCY NEEDS AND RESPONSES, not greed and disregard for laws and your fellow humankind.
So, my answer to the original question of right and wrong for looting, absent what I have qualified here is; No! At least in the case of these hurricane events. My reasoning is this. Weather experts, law enforcement officials and municipal government leaders gave warning to all…
“storm is coming, big storm, killer storm, huge area storm,
no way and options that can guarantee your safety of the current state of your property…save yourself and family,
get out of town to a safe place!”
We all heard it. I am on the west coast of the United States. The events are occurring on the east coast. But I knew what was coming as if it were outside my front door. It was morning, afternoon and evening news for days leading up to the events. Everyone should have known about this. I will even go so far as to say every person not in a coma should have been aware, particularly if you were in the path of the coming calamity.
So, those persons remaining behind knew what was coming and knew to expect the worse. They chose to stay, and did so for their own reasons. Fair enough, maybe…what would be their GOOD reasons? Many, maybe most, did so for honorable, though risky justifications. Their prerogative, right? Yes, right…except! They also may have, and we know in fact that most also got word that at the height of the storms impact, emergency services, read into that “first-responder’s”, doctors, police, national guard, municipal services, will not be able to come and save their butts when it all hits the fan.
I repeat, they know there will be no one there to stop them form looting, damaging, destroying and stealing from their friends and neighbors. Ok, so they don’t hit their friends…maybe, doesn’t help their case when called to answer for their actions.
Well that same information gets out to the broader public making a choice whether to evacuate to safety or stay behind. Many of those persons end up being among the eventual looters. Some that might argue that they were put in a position of desperation, etc, as I outlined above. No! Sufficient Warning Given! So, if they stayed it had to be for their own reasons. I submit that those with criminal intent stand out as a large percentage of who remain despite warnings. It is their plan (read into that plan word…INTENT, which is a critical element to a crime) to be there and take advantage of the absence of the victims (property owners, etc.), witnesses of the acts and law enforcement.
Yes, I just painted a broad brush across the landscape of persons remaining behind and end up looting. And I will stand with that. Before I give ground let me say, there can be mitigating circumstances that put a person into a position that is untenable and requires survival mode, as I stated in the earlier car accident scenario. A mother or father that has to feed their child can and will do almost anything to feed that child. And they should…but they should not have remained in the first place, placing that child in an at-risk position.
Hum…So I take back my earlier point, I will not give ground. We are not talking about the Apocalypse here. People had warning and opportunity. Any resulting desperation is self inflicted by decisions of theirs.
Let us also remember. Local people stealing and damaging in their local neighborhood are doing so at locations they might typically shop at on a daily basis. They are stealing from their neighbors, their own community. So we are talking about the dedicated criminals, and those who for odd reasons not known to you and I, got stuck behind the evacuation bus. Some are joining in with the established and dedicated criminals as a support network of let’s call them, occasional criminals or opportunist. Why not, no cops, no witnesses, no harm!
It is wrong. It adds insult to injury. It is un-_______ add in the earlier religious or spiritual application that applies to your way of thinking.
So the cop in me, as distant as that part of me is today, still recalls so many conversations and interrogations of persons involving criminal activity. It was amazing to the younger me that so many had very little concern for the harm and disadvantage they inflicted on others. I can recall killers that spoke or showed no particular visible or audible indications of remorse, sorrow or guilt. Some, when asked “why did you shoot that guy” shrugged their shoulders and after lengthy pauses whispered, something to the effect, “I don’t now, I just did it!”
OK, there you have it…not compelling and convincing answer. No challenge to my conscious or judgment. Your answer is cold and without heart, my position is easy, do my job and put your butt in jail. You respond, “but I have a family!” Yeah, you did when you put them and yourself at risk committing the crime that got you across the interrogation table from me, wearing the dull jewelry of law enforcement, handcuffs! Those of you with a strong stance on the Illegal Immigration issue will draw parallels here I am sure, and with good reasoning, but that is a discussion for another day.
Is this the way it is supposed to play out? No, not really. We should be compassionate and supportive of one another. Well, with the warning I think that is to a sufficient degree covered. I am not going to give the guy I put in jail, after they have committed that crime against another person or society, a big hearty hug. They are headed where they belong…ps...we will continue to be paying the bills for their act in insurance premiums for recovery, emergency services costs, legal system post event costs and rebuilding the community so that person in jail will still have a city around them while they are in jail.
To give voice to the many out their that would like to point to their perception of the current state of community and police relations I offer this. Yes, things are not perfect! There have been events that are sometimes curious, sometimes questionable, and enough times representative of a need for corrective action. Read into that, where appropriate, administrative or judicial actions. Police are people, they can and do make mistakes. You might say that police get away with it when they do. Or worse yet, police intend to do harm, and still get away with it. There can be that possibility, but not to the degree that many activists would want you to believe. In most every case that you hear about, when you hear the full story you hear that there were mitigating circumstances leading up to the disputed event. Those mitigating circumstances will often be overlooked, ignored or misrepresented by the activists out there. I suggest to you that, if you take away the events leading up to the police vs citizen encounter, you could eliminate 99% of those questionable events. Meaning, do not draw the attention of the police to you by your bad activity and they will have no reason to mess with you. In most of those cases the police were called to be there by a witness or victim, to respond to a situation that the officer is required to investigate. Rarely is it a case of a guy sitting alone in an allowed and innocent place, creating no disturbance or harm to others, and the police select that person without a reasonable investigative predicate, and abuse that persons rights. But yes, it is true that there have been incidents, some tragic, when what I have just outlined did happen.
It is my policy that in those cases that I have seen the available information outlining reported police abuse, and I see what the complainers are speaking about, and the argument is viable, I say so. My earlier blog on the officer being video taped placing evidence to later find…ugly! Criminal? Ultimately judgement is up to the legal system. But ugly. Not what I understand to be acceptable or legal. Yes, there are other examples to include shootings most often. They too have circumstances that lead up to the eventual ugly outcome. Some offer a head scratch as to right and wrong, some not so much. Clearly when given the facts and best information available the officer may have had reasonable cause for their actions. Some, do not! Those are tragic and wrong. They demand action.
I can recall from my own police experience having physical altercations with persons I was investigating that turned into a life and death struggle for survival between me and that person. I promise you, I never in my law enforcement career sought to injure a person that was not resisting/fighting/attacking me or another person. But be perfectly clear, if you fight me, you get the fight you did not want. The final outcome may end up being your choices of commitment, skill and actions.
Not wanting to sound like the tough guy there. Just to be honest and clear.
SWITCHING GEARS SLIGHTLY
To bring this rather long blog to a close I will say this. The correlation between the opening talk about the hurricane looting and the final part about police abuse and community is that it all begins at home. It begins at home for the person that begins the career as a cop, and for the civilian that begins a career as a…what, pre-criminal?
It is family and community. Good parenting and good community interaction work best for both the eventual police person, and the eventual rookie criminal. The person that was built, makes the decisions that lead to their eventual experience, good, and bad! When something goes wrong out there the immediate call is for police reform and training…but nothing is said about how the citizens involved need their own remediation about being a human being on this little planet.
Apologies for the long and wordy report, I suppose I had something to say today. Maybe it was something I ate. I feel a little better now…