‘Experts’ Say Mass Robberies in California Aren’t Looting. That’s Not as Crazy as It Sounds.


The ABC News affiliate in San Francisco, KGO-SF, has aired a segment multiple times over the past couple days featuring experts who say that the latest string of mass robberies at Bay Area retail stores, including a Louis Vuitton store on Friday, shouldn’t be described as “looting.”

Thousands — sometimes tens of thousands — of dollars in merchandise has been stolen from the stores, according to media reports, most of which have described these mass thefts as “lootings.”

“Experts caution use of ‘looting’ in describing rash of Bay Area smash and grabs,” read the headline of the KGO-SF report, which has understandably been ridiculed by the Twitter-verse.

I personally sympathize with that mockery. Some of the arguments mounted by KGO-SF’s “experts,” regarding the racial connotations of the word “looting,” are silly.

Looting has a clear dictionary definition, and large-scale smash and grabs like the ones that happened in San Fransisco clearly fall under the common definition.

But the report does make one good point: California law states that looting happens when “an affected county in a ‘state of emergency’ or a ‘local emergency’ resulting from an earthquake, fire, flood, riot, or other natural or manmade disaster.”

The mass thefts have happened under none of those circumstances. Under California law, they do not qualify as looting.

During a press conference, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott used the term to describe what happened: “The Louis Vuitton store was burglarized and looted. The Burberry in Westfield Mall was burglarized and looted.”

However, Sergeant Christian Camarillo, public information officer for San Jose Police, rejected that language in responding to similar incident over the weekend at a Lululemon, where $40,000 in merchandise was stolen.

“We are talking about two incidents, we’re not going to call this looting,” he said. “This is organized robbery. That’s what it is.”

Martin Reynolds, co-executive director of the Robert C. Maynard Institute of Journalism Education, told KGO-SF, “This seems like it’s an organized smash and grab robbery. This doesn’t seem like looting. We’re thinking of scenarios where first responders are completely overwhelmed. And folks, often may be on their own.”

“People draw their own conclusions, if the terminologies that you use are tethered to people’s understanding of how they have been used in the past,” he added.

Lorenzo Boyd, a professor of criminal justice and community policing at the University of New Haven, told KGO-SF, “Looting is a term that we typically use when people of color or urban dwellers are doing something. We tend not to use that term for other people when they do the exact same thing.”

Boyd also dismissed the notion that the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse could have prompted the robberies.

“These types of massive, organized smash and grabs were happening before the Rittenhouse situation, because it happens cyclically,” said Boyd. “It’s a false equivalency. It’s people trying to politicize crime.”

Putting aside the experts’ claims that looting should be retired for reasons of racial bias, the backlash against the KGO-SF report is misguided. This is a case of experts citing California law, not seeking to impose the language of activism on journalism, as is too often the case. If one has an issue with the definition of looting laid out by California law, that should be taken up with the California law.

Although looting, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means “to rob especially on a large scale and usually by violence or corruption,” journalism requires reporting on legal matters to use words in accordance with legal definitions even if they may upset or confuse readers and Twitter.

Watch above, via KGO-SF.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Filed Under: