Experts: Don’t Say ‘Looting’ for Smash-and-Grabs, It’s Racist

Experts: Don't Say 'Looting' for Smash-and-Grabs, It's Racist crime scene tape (Getty Images)

By Jack Gournell | Tuesday, 23 November 2021 04:53 PM

A rash of smash-and-grab robberies have hit upscale stores in the San Francisco area over the past several days, with some police officials and members of the public referring to the incidents as "looting."

But a recent report by ABC 7's Race, Culture and Social Justice reporter Julian Glover found that the term can have racial connotations.

"The Louis Vuitton store was burglarized and looted. The Burberry in Westfield Mall was burglarized and looted," the report noted that San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott told reporters in a Saturday press conference.

But Sgt. Christian Camarillo, public information officer for San Jose Police, declined to use the term.

"We are talking about two incidents; we're not going to call this looting. This is organized robbery. That's what it is," Camarillo said on Saturday when discussing $40,000 in merchandise stolen from an upscale store there.

ABC 7 notes that the California Penal Code has a specific definition of "looting," and it applies only in situations of individuals stealing items while taking advantage of some type of disaster — not as part of some organized theft.

According to the code, looting is a "theft or burglary … during a 'state of emergency', 'local emergency', or 'evacuation order' resulting from an earthquake, fire, flood, riot or other natural or manmade disaster."

The problem with applying it inappropriately, says Lorenzo Boyd, professor of criminal justice and community policing at the University of New Haven, and a retired police officer, is that it can have racist connotations.

"Looting is a term that we typically use when people of color or urban dwellers are doing something," Boyd told ABC 7. "We tend not to use that term for other people when they do the exact same thing."

The station's report admitted that the races of most of the thieves involved are not known, but added that there was not a local emergency declared in the area when the crimes were committed.

"However, the crimes did follow the contentious verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial Friday," the station said in its report before also saying that the smash-and-grabs began before the Rittenhouse verdict was announced.

"These types of massive, organized smash and grabs were happening before the Rittenhouse situation, because it happens cyclically," Boyd told the station. "It's a false equivalency. It's people trying to politicize crime."

The report did not indicate whom Boyd meant was trying to politicize crime. The San Francisco police chief, the only person named in the report specifically using the term, is Black.