“Looting” vs. “finding supplies”

In his recent interview with the LA Review of Books, Cory Doctorow talks about how regular people tend to band together and help each other out in disasters. But the rich fear that the poor will come eat them, and so the rich call out the army, which makes the disaster worse.

Which reminds me of this photo from Hurricane Katrina, which achieved notoriety in some circles:


Two photos, essentially identical, of people wading through chest-high water in the aftermath of the hurricane, carrying bags of stuff they got from stores. The black man is described as a looter. The white folks, in essentially the same situation, are described as “finding bread and soda.”

The photo of the black man was much criticized as being racist. But the photographer claims he saw the man looting the grocery store.

Now I want to know what the black man took. If it’s electronics or liquor, sure, I’ll call him a looter. But if it’s staple food, and there was no one around to sell it to him, well, I’ll say he just did what he needed to do to survive.

And then maybe I’ll read Les Miserables.

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