Shoot 'em looters

While national tragedies bring out the best in people, they also reveal the dark underside of our culture. Take the discussions on rightwing blogs -- or say, Peggy Noonan's column in the illustrious Wall Street Journal -- that are calling on law enforcement to shoot looters. This kind of "law and order" rhetoric is as much about poverty as race -- that in New Orleans people of color are the poor, as Earl Ofari Hutchinson points out, just makes this kind of vitriol that much easier to dish out.

This isn't to say that looting is okay, but all this angst over stolen goods misses the fact that the real threat is the escalating gun-related violence, not petty theft. And this violence poses the greatest hazard to the people stranded inside the city -- a lot of whom are black folks who are stranded precisely because they were too poor to evacuate. It is also a little hard to swallow the self-righteous outrage over stolen clothes and electronics when people are dying because of lack of food and water.

MSNBC's Abrams Report Lisa Daniels offered a fine example of this skewed sense of priorities in her interview with an equally compassionate Louisiana Attorney General Burton Guidry yesterday -- which aired right after a series of clips showing black people raiding store shelves. Notice how Daniel continually pays lip service to the idea of saving lives, but what she is really focused on is punishing the looters:

DANIELS: And you don‘t have to tell me, if you‘re picking between property and life, life wins every time. But the lawlessness situation, that is very worrisome. What is being done to control it?
BURTON GUIDRY, LOUISIANA ASST. ATTY. GENERAL: The attorney general and the governor have already met and she‘s just issued specific orders that once this—once life has been preserved and the first rescue and search mission is over, then we can come in and begin to get back some of the turf that some of these criminals that have taken over. ...
DANIELS: I mean, to me, there‘s a huge difference between looting for survival and looting for greed. Are you going to be distinguishing between the two?
GUIDRY: No. It‘s crime and we will—I promise you, we will prosecute, we will arrest and we will convict these people.
DANIELS: I don‘t understand, when you say that you‘re going to prosecute it, how are you going to do it? How do you know who‘s looting? There are no jails.
GUIDRY: Well, I think right now if you watch CNN, you can probably get a few cases right off the video.
DANIELS: Well, we‘ve got plenty of video right here on MSNBC. What are you going to do?
(How very kind of her to offer MSNBC's services for the good cause)
GUIDRY: Well, what is going to happen is once we can restore enough safety of the people who are in this dire need, then the military personnel and the law enforcement people can begin to focus on it.
DANIELS: So, you feel like these people are going to be prosecuted even though it‘s going on now and everyone‘s trying to save people?
(God forbid, if we're too busy saving lives to arrest a couple of people for looting Wal-Mart.)
GUIDRY: Well, unfortunately, if you have to make a choice between saving a life or stopping somebody from taking shirts out of a store, we‘re going to pick saving the life.
DANIELS: Yeah. Absolutely, you should do that every time. I just don‘t understand how the lawless situation here is going to be put under control. The military‘s is going to be brought in and what powers do they have to stop this? [Transcript]

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