John MalikJohn Malik
opinion9 Agree

Looting Works

Looting does more than just cause property damage, allow for stealing, and get some people in legal trouble—it can actually accomplish political goals. Instances of looting can affect those in power who resist underlying demands for social change, forcing them to objectively consider the issues and take them more seriously.
Jul 17, 2020Updated 2 months ago
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Looting WorksLooting Works
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It pushes morally compromised people to act. Damaged property and stolen merchandise force those that were hoping to ignore the underlying inequity to pay more attention. It may convince people who would not otherwise be swayed by moral arguments.
It got the NFL to reverse their position on BLM. They finally changed their view after years of not supporting Black Lives Matter protests. In fact, they panicked so much that the commissioner frantically made a video in support of the movement looking like he just rolled out of bed.
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In 2016 Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, was not supportive of the players' right to take a knee during the national anthem. He claimed the protests disrespected the armed forces. Goodell argued that taking a knee was unpatriotic.
League commissioner Roger Goodell
Responding to the dispute in September 2016 over whether Colin Kaepernick and other players should be permitted to take a knee during the national anthem, Roger Goodell made an ambiguous statement, but it was one that did not openly support Kaepernick. In it, Goodell said he appreciated the fact that players had a public platform. He also said that they have the right to "want to see change in society." At the same time, he made it somewhat clear that he didn't agree with the tactic. Goodell hinted that the protest was disrespectful to patriotic sentiment. "I think it's important to have respect for our country, for our flag, for the people who make our country better; for law enforcement, and for our military who are out fighting for our freedoms and our ideals," he said. "These are all important things for us, and that moment is a very important moment. So, I don't necessarily agree with what he is doing."
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But in 2020, he came around. After a nationwide uproar over police killings, he announced his support. He even rushed out a poorly produced video supporting Black Lives Matter.
A screenshot from Goodell's 2020 video
In a video released by Goodell in June 2020, he announced a shift in his view on the peaceful kneeling protest during the national anthem. "We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people. We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe Black lives matter," he said. In the video posted to Instagram, he went on to give his condolences to the families of Black people murdered in racially-motivated incidents. He included the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, as well as "all the families who have endured police brutality."
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And their view was disingenuous from the start. Colin Kaepernick made the goal and importance of his protests obvious. But the commissioner acted like he didn't get it.
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Kaepernick made it clear that he was simply calling out racial inequality in America. He said up-front that it was about persistent racial injustice. He also explained his thinking behind taking a knee.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2012.Mike Morbeck
When the quarterback started his protest in August 2016, he was clear about its cause: ongoing racism in the U.S. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he told NFL Media in 2016. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way," he said. "There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." His protest was responding in particular to the racist—and often fatal—treatment of people of color by law enforcement. The month prior, Alton Sterling became the latest Black man shot and killed at the hands of the police. After the incident, Kaepernick spoke out, writing on his Instagram: “This is what lynchings look like in 2016!” He added: “Another murder in the streets because the color of a man’s skin, at the hands of the people who they say will protect us. When will they be held accountable?”
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Goodell must have known that, too. He had to have understood what Kaepernick's protest was all about. The quarterback was clear, and Goodell is surrounded by people who could have explained it to him.
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There was a ton of conversation about this. Both in the public and in private, he could have easily learned what it was all about. Whether in the media or from trusted colleagues, Goodell could have informed himself.
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The owners talked extensively about it. There was even a league-wide summit on it. In that summit, the owners spoke with executives and players to reckon with the meaning of the protests.
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Goodell organized a summit in 2018 in which 30 of the top owners, players, and league executives got together to discuss the kneeling protests. The three-hour, closed-door meeting was a rare opportunity for players and owners to meet and discuss the topic together. In the meeting, Eric Reid—Kaepernick's former teammate and the first NFL player to join his protest—said he felt the league had "hung [Kaepernick] out to dry." According to the New York Times, he added: “Nobody stepped up and said we support Colin’s right to do this. We all let him become Public Enemy No. 1 in this country, and he still doesn’t have a job.” The owners, for their part, were more concerned that continued ire from President Donald Trump over the protests was becoming a black mark on the NFL. The Eagles owner, Jeffrey Lurie, warned against being "baited" by Trump, saying the NFL needed to present a united front. During the course of that meeting, Goodell would have been able to hear from all sides of the discourse in order to understand what the protest was all about.
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And there were an inordinate number of news articles about it. Coverage appeared in nearly every major newspaper. Especially in the weeks following Kaepernick's first protest, the articles were nearly non-stop.
Discussion of Kaepernick's protest appeared in nearly every major news outlet, from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to cable news networks. For example, the New York Times published 27 articles in the two weeks (Aug. 30—Sept. 12) following the initial incident. Similarly, The Wall Street Journal published the article, "Sixteen Thoughts on Colin Kaepernick" Sept. 7, 2016 discussing the issue. The NFL's own media outlet conducted an exclusive interview with Kaepernick in which he explained his position, immediately after the game Aug. 26, 2016 when he took a knee. What's more, the media discussion lasted for years. The articles and stories have not stopped since Kaepernick first kneeled in 2016.
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Taking a knee to show objection to something is a simple concept. The gesture has existed in human body language for at least a thousand years. It even exists in other mammals.
Kneeling is one of the most understandable and recognized positions a person can take. It is a simple position to enter into for the person kneeling and is easily identified by observers. It takes its cues from a core principle in mammalian nonverbal behavior: reducing the body's appearance shows respect, esteem, and deference. According to an article in Scientific American, kneeling "...is seen, for example, in dogs and chimps, who reduce their height to show submissiveness." The Scientific American went on to write: "Kneeling can also be a posture of mourning and sadness. It makes the one who kneels more vulnerable. In some situations, kneeling can be seen as a request for protection." The act is so obviously polite that it has stood as a sign of respect for thousands of years. For example, Christianity cites it in numerous instances in the Bible. In Psalm 95:6 it states, "Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;" in Chronicles 29:29, "Now at the completion of the burnt offerings, the king and all who were present with him bowed down and worshiped," and in Mark 10:17, "As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" to name a few.
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The NFL is a huge organization. Goodell has a complete organization of lieutenants and advisors that could have helped explain it to him. He must have either ignored their insight or not asked their advice.
The NFL has close to 3,000 employees according to LinkedIn. As the head of an organization with such a large staff, Roger Goodell clearly has a litany of support available to him. Roger himself is a highly paid executive, earning over $34 million according to the NFL's 2014 Form 990, with other reports showing his earnings greater than $40 million each year from 2013 to 2018. With compensation this high as the head of a large organization, he obviously has a lot of assistants, advisors and officers reporting to him. His list of first officers includes a number of highly paid executives, with a CFO, EVP & General Counsel, EVP of Media, EVP of Business Ventures, EVP of Football Operations and EVP of Human Resources, each earning over $1 million per year. Additionally, the organization's Form 990 shows over $6 million paid to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrisson LLP, one of New York's top law firms. Obviously, he has plenty of attorneys available to advise him, too. Any number of these colleagues likely could have explained the meaning behind the protests, had he so asked. That Goodell continued to misunderstand seems to represent willful ignorance on his part.
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Kaepernick kneeled after consulting with a military vet. Kaepernick discussed the issue with veteran Nate Boyer. He told Kaepernick kneeling would be more respectful than sitting during the national anthem.
Retired Army Green Beret Nate Boyer is credited with convincing Kaepernick to kneel during the national anthem. During the first games that Kaepernick protested during the national anthem, he simply sat on the bench rather than standing with the rest of the team during the anthem. Boyer was among many Americans who had been angered by Kaepernick's decision to sit. Boyer himself is even a former NFL player, having played a brief stint for the Seattle Seahawks. Instead of letting his feelings get the better of him, he wrote a letter voicing his concerns to Kapernick. Boyer explained all that the flag and the anthem meant to veterans like himself. To his suprise, Kaepernick reached out, asking to meet with him in the team's hotel lobby. They discussed their differing feelings about the flag and the protest. As Boyer later explained to NPR: "I suggested him taking a knee instead of sitting even though I wanted him to stand, and he wanted to sit. And it was, like, this compromise that we sort of came to. And that's where the kneeling began." Boyer came up with the idea of kneeling because he thought it was more respectful. As he pointed out in the same interview, someone kneels when they're being knighted, or asking someone to get married. It's a sign of paying respect.
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He was not being unpatriotic when he kneeled. Beyond expressly seeking out the counsel of veterans to be respectful of their sacrifice, Kaepernick made it clear in many interviews that he was not trying to be unpatriotic.
Kaepernick said from the start that he was not trying to be unpatriotic or to disrespect the armed forces, which is why he sought out the most respectful way of voicing his dissent. In fact, the opposite could be argued: Protest is patriotic. As one journalist wrote: "It is a nationalist insinuation to suggest that a flag could be 'disrespected' through protest. Airing one’s voice is a hallmark of a democracy, not a threat to it." By using his position of power to speak out for the voiceless, he was fighting for equality and advocating for some of America's most foundational values. In exercising his right to free expression, he was fighting for "freedom, liberty, and justice for all." Longtime NBA coach Gregg Popovich argued that what Kaepernick did was the essence of patriotism. "Being a patriot is somebody that respects their country and understands that the best thing about our country is that we have the ability to fix things that have not come to fruition for a lot of people so far," he told ESPN. Popovich continued, saying: "Being a critic of those inequalities does not make you a non-patriot. It's what makes America great, that you can say those things and attack those things to make them better. That's what a lot of other countries don't have."
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Another example is the Washington Redskins, who are finally changing their name. This is a similar about-face as Goodell. One that only came after the team's hand was forced by the uprisings last spring.
Although Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder previously vowed he would never change the team's name, following a "thorough review" the team announced this summer that it would be "retiring" the name. After 87 years of bearing the name—and many protests later—the Redskins will be no longer. The announcement was made in July, only after weeks of looting. "Dan Snyder and coach [Ron] Rivera are working closely to develop a new name and design approach that will enhance the standing of our proud, tradition-rich franchise and inspire our sponsors, fans and community for the next 100 years," read a statement from the team, posted online.
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People with an agenda can't be objective about ideas that threaten it. They are willfully blind to evidence that challenges their position. Even if changing their behavior or policies could save lives.
When people benefit from the existing way of doing things, they are naturally reluctant to see it change. It’s human nature to want to preserve things that are helping you, even if those things are morally questionable. People have an unwavering ability to make excuses or simply be slow to understand the reasoning for any argument that will cost them money or power. One example might be an oil executive who struggles to accept that climate change is real. He cites the outlier studies showing it isn’t necessarily human-made. Exxon, it was recently discovered, knew about climate change as early as the 1970s. The oil company employed scientists to study the phenomenon and came up with climate models that showed how damaging carbon dioxide could be. And yet, the company publicly disavowed the entire phenomenon for decades. Another example is the 1970s tobacco executives who wouldn’t accept that smoking caused lung cancer. They found, or paid for, studies that suggested cancer could have other causes. As recently as the 2010s, Philip Morris continued to argue that its top-selling product, Marlboro Gold (formerly known as Marlboro Lights), reduced the risk of cancer. In the corporate environment, business goals and profits have historically superseded doing good for society. The concept of "doing good" was meant for non-profits whereas for-profit companies served shareholders. A threat to profits could ultimately become a threat to the entire company itself. With so many examples and the obvious way of human nature, it's clear that many people can become compromised based on their incentives.
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Protesting alone doesn't always change minds. The long-term effects of protest are often limited by chance, longevity, and existing power structures. The political climate has to be exactly right for protesting to succeed.
Protesting has been happening for decades to demand racial justice. Demonstrations against racism have been occurring for the past century. Generations of Americans have called for an end to racist policies.
IStock.com/Joseph Gruber
Both Black and white Americans have been speaking out against racial injustice for centuries. Some of the earliest protests led by Black activists took place as early as the first decade of the 20th century, led by W.E.B. DuBois. Since then, thousands of protests have demanded an end to racial inequalities, often with limited success. The late 1950s and early 1960s are remembered as a decade of protest for Black Americans. Led by Martin Luther King and others, those protests pushed for equal access to voting rights, education, and private businesses. While that movement eventually saw results, many changes only happened after King's death, long after the protests themselves. The nature of protests has evolved since that time, ranging from legal challenges, to political pressure, culminating in the widespread protesting and rioting seen in 2020.
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Racist incidents continue. And they show no sign of slowing down. If anything, developments in technology have only showed the insidiousness of racist violence in the U.S.
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The Cleveland Indians refused to change their name. Even under increased pressure, the Indians name remained unchanged. This is just one symptom of a broader disrespect for Native American tribes.
For years, there were ongoing protests against the Indians’ team name, mascot, and common game chants. They recently removed their mascot, Chief Wahoo, but they have opposed changing the team name. Despite this, owner Paul Dolan said in 2019: “Not only are we adamant about keeping the name Indians, but the Commissioner (Rob Manfred) is similarly supportive of the name.” In July, Dolan agreed to meet with Native American groups to discuss the name, but he did not make any promises to change the name. Many indigenous people have been pressuring the stakeholders for years to change the name they say is offensive. In August, some 80 businesses and organizations signed a petition asking for a name change. Even with mounting pressure, the Indians have yet to announce an official name change.
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Hundreds of Confederate statues remain. They are displayed in 31 states and Washington, D.C. Even states that were never in the Confederacy bear the marks of that uprising.
There are at least 700 Confederate statues spread across 31 states and Washington, D.C. Other estimates put the number of Confederate memorials as high as more than double that, or nearly 2,000. The statues exist far outside of the former Confederate states themselves. The Confederacy itself was only 11 states. Virginia and Texas continue to have the highest number of Confederate statues of any state. Virginia has well over 100 Confederate statues—with more than 41 dedicated to General Robert E. Lee alone. For every Confederate statue that has come down in the past few months, ten still remain.
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The "All Lives Matter" slogan was acceptable for a long time. That slogan was widespread throughout the United States. Even the vice president used it.
Among certain groups of Americans, saying "all lives matter," or being actively against the Black Lives Matter movement was still acceptable. As recently as June of this year, Vice President Mike Pence refused to say "black lives matter." Instead, he repeated again in a TV interview: "I really believe that all lives matter." "All lives matter" might seem like an innocuous term, but its meaning is ignorant at best and racist at worst. Activists have often used the metaphor of a house on fire: if a neighbor's house is on fire, there's no sense in saying "All houses matter" and spraying water on the house that is not on fire. "No one's saying that your life doesn't matter," blogger Ayanna Lage told CBS news. "What we're saying… is all lives can't matter until black lives matter."
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Confederate flags and symbols have continued to be permitted in many places. They adorn everything from private property to public land. They even fly in state houses.
Confederate iconography continued to be displayed in spite of concerted efforts by protesters. In parts of the South, both in former Confederate states and otherwise, Confederate flags, bumper stickers, and other paraphernalia are ubiquitous. They can be seen flying in front yards or hanging off the back of a truck. Craft sites like Etsy even sell Confederate flag masks and candles. Confederate flags even fly worldwide, as a sign of rebellion, white supremacy, or even just American kitsch. They can be seen in Ireland, Brazil, and Germany, among others.
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Police reform efforts failed. Dozens of plans to retrain police have been costly and ultimately, ineffective. Even the notion of police reform is unwieldy in a justice system comprised of so many different departments.
Five years after Eric Garner's death, the Justice Department announced it would not levy any criminal charges in connection with the murder. Then New York Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg argued in The Washington Post that the decision "highlights the urgent need to reform the federal criminal law governing excessive force. Congress needs to do away with the requirement of proof that officers have acted 'willfully' when they use excessive force." Garner's case was just one of many where police who killed Black civilians did not face legal repercussions. Even with the addition of body cameras, implicit bias training, and other attempts at reform, the continued lethal force against Black people proves that those attempts for reform have failed. Even after protests reoccurred since Kaepernick's initial protest, no significant state or federal legislation was enacted. The efforts on the local level were often piecemeal or superficial. Some have argued that the idea of police reform itself is "fundamentally flawed." Law enforcement in the U.S. is. comprised of 15,000 separate agencies, meaning each reform would need to be enacted independently. Experts on police violence such as Alex Vitale have suggested that the problem of excessive force goes far deeper than reforms can touch: the scope of policing has simply become far too vast. Police today are asked to deal with issues such as mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness—all things that they have no expertise in. If we want real change, we need to vastly revise what police officers are asked to do. “At root, they fail to appreciate that the basic nature of the law and the police, since its earliest origins, is to be a tool for managing inequality and maintaining the status quo. Police reforms that fail to directly address this reality are doomed to reproduce it," Vitale wrote.
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Colin Kaepernick’s efforts failed. He couldn't garner even half the country's support. And he has never been able to play professional football again.
It's difficult to point to any concrete change catalyzed by Kaepernick's protests. His choice to kneel certainly caused a lot of conversation, but for some people it only seemed to create more animosity for the Black Lives Matter movement. That criticism only intensified after the election of President Donald Trump. The president has strongly criticized both Kaepernick and the other protesters. Though some NFL players and members of the public supported Kaepernick, a 2018 Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that only 35% of Americans agreed with Kaepernick's right to protest. By 2020, that percentage had climbed to little more than half of Americans. His protest also seems to have tanked his promising football career. By 2017, Kaepernick found himself unsigned, with many suggesting he was being blackballed. He went on to score a major publicity deal with Nike, but he has never again played professional football.
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CLOSURE
As ugly as it may be, there's no denying that looting can also achieve its underlying goals.
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