Tuesday Talk*: The Looting Dilemma

It’s about as black as black letter law can be: The defense of property is not worth the taking of a human life. Except, of course, the Castle Doctrine, particularly the Texas version which makes the Procaccino flavor taste like it needs salt. To the extent morality comes into play in the law, however, the defense of your television doesn’t justify your taking a life.

Or does it?

Peaceful protests are happening, but so is looting. which as the AP Style Book now states, isn’t looting but rather “protesters breaking into stores and stealing what’s on the shelf.” Don’t blame me. I didn’t say so. Some argue that looting is not merely understandable, but justified by some bastardization of Martin Luther King’s “voice of the unheard” quote or historical injustices that will be historical injustices forever. Is that so? If not, what can be done about it? What should be done about it?

The problem is that there is a difference between an individual thief and a hundred rioters looting stealing stuff off the shelves, whether it’s a Target, a Louis Vuitton boutique or the office of the progressive newspaper, the Indy Weekly in Raleigh.

If there is no one present, just a store filled with stuff, and “protesters” decide that their frustration compels them to break the windows, run through the joint and grab whatever catches their eye, what’s to stop them? If police arrive to find this happening and one officer, in his best stentorian voice, commands the looters to “drop the computer,” what are the cops to do when the hundred looters just don’t obey?

Then there’s another scenario, where a store owner (or amicus) stands in front of her shop and refuses to move out of the way so the “protesters” can “protest” by removing items of value that demonstrate the depth of their despair.

The  store owners were protecting property, unarmed and with nothing more than their moral suasion to safeguard them. They are certainly entitled to use force once the looters took the two by four to their heads, as that would be self-defense, but what were they do to other than stand there, boldly asserting their authority to deny the looters entry into their premises, as the looters used that piece of wood to vindicate their feelings of frustration against the store’s windows?

Do store owners stand aside and let looters do as they must because it would be wrong to defend property at the risk of a human life? Does it change when it’s ten, a hundred, looters as opposed to one thief? What are the cops to do to stop them, assuming the hundred looters are disinclined to obey their commands to stop looting? The law is clear and a crime against property doesn’t justify the taking of a human life. So is there no way to stop looting other than rely on the sound moral conscience of looters?

*Tuesday Talk rules apply.

47 thoughts on “Tuesday Talk*: The Looting Dilemma

  1. Bill Robelen

    I look at all of these cases through the eyes of the Bible. When I do that, I see that although theft was not one the crimes punishable by death, the law did authorize killing a thief while in hot pursuit of him. Under that case, a shop owner would be justified only in using lethal force to keep looters out of his shop.

  2. Tom

    One “tribe” wants your property. They take from you by force and the “Government” depending where it takes place stands by and allow it. The other “tribe” wants to keep their property. Hm-mm. Does that make me a Kulak? I think we have seen this story play out a few times in history.

    1. SHG Post author

      Your “hm” doesn’t do nearly as much work as you think it does. Try, you know, actually expressing a thought next time.

  3. tk

    But you’re not just talking about someone taking your stuff. There’s a huge difference between someone breaking into a shed on your property to steal something, and someone smashing in your front door to steal something, wreck the premises and then perhaps, torch the place.
    In most states the law allows you to use lethal force to stop a violent felony. Is rioting a violent felony?
    Moreover, at least here in Florida, Castle Doctrine assumes that anyone breaking into your premises is a threat to your life. If a store owner is inside the store and looters break in, lethal force seems justified to me.

    1. SHG Post author

      In most states, the law allows you to use deadly force to defend against force that could reasonably cause death or serious bodily injury to you or someone else. It does not allow lethal force to stop a violent felony. There is overlap, but it’s not the same.

      1. Gregory Prickett

        Except, of course, in Texas, so long as the property is being stolen during “nighttime” and the owner would expose himself to risk of death or serious bodily injury…

          1. Gregory Prickett

            There’s at least one case (allegedly) where the JP ruled that a dead man committed suicide, as he was certain to be killed if he was running away from a Texas Ranger…

            1. LocoYokel

              Do NOT mess with the Rangers. They are all hardcore crazy and they WILL fuck you up. Walker, Texas Ranger was a wuss compared to some of the real ones, Hollywood BS aside.

      2. tk

        In Florida, 776.012– (2) A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.

        So they use “forcible felony,” not “violent felony.” That section of the law is not well-tested here.

          1. Skink

            The Swamp ain’t that irregler. We got definizations:

            776.08 Forcible felony.—“Forcible felony” means treason; murder; manslaughter; sexual battery; carjacking; home-invasion robbery; robbery; burglary; arson; kidnapping; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; aggravated stalking; aircraft piracy; unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.

            Shit, we can even kill on planes!

            1. SHG Post author

              This gives me an idea for when they fly me down to Boca to wait for my ultimate destination.

  4. Hal

    I think, though, that in the face of a mob (which represents both a great disparity in force and a sort of compromised reasoning) the bar “force that could reasonably cause death or serious bodily injury to you or someone else” has been cleared. Looting is effectively armed robbery, w/ the mob itself being the weapon/ threat of violence even if a given individual w/in the mob is not armed.

  5. JPL17

    Eugene Volokh made a useful point today. He wrote:

    “In basically all states, you can use nondeadly force to defend your property—and if the thief or vandal responds by threatening you with death or great bodily harm, you can then protect yourself with deadly force. So in practice, you can use deadly force to protect property after all, if you’re willing to use nondeadly force first and expose yourself to increased risk.” See https://reason.com/2020/06/02/are-people-allowed-to-use-deadly-force-to-defend-property/

    The store owners defending stores from rioters therefore have the legal option to defend their stores using fists, arms, legs, shields, and other non-deadly weapons. And if the rioters escalate to 2x4s, bricks or knives (assuming the use of these items is deemed “deadly force” in the particular state), then the store owners can escalate to firearms or other forms of deadly force.

    So store owners aren’t *completely* left to watch helplessly as rioters destroy their businesses.

    1. SHG Post author

      Two sayings come to mind:

      1. Never bring a knife to a gunfight.

      2. Never stare down seven tough hombres when all you’re packing is a six-shooter.

      1. Skink

        Since this has all the makings of going south quickly: ” Never stare down seven tough hombres when all you’re packing is a six-shooter.”

        “Never” is incorrect–you can get them all with one shot. I saw it in a Three Stooges episode.

      2. Hunting Guy

        Yeah, but I guarantee you that each of those seven is going to wonder if he’s going to be the lucky one that doesn’t get shot.

        Staring down a gun barrel will make you think hard about reassessing your priorities.

  6. John Barleycorn

    Whacking Mom and Pop, who live atop their fire suppression equipment and supplies store, with a 2×4 to loot fire extinguishers to save the Chase Bank around the corner from burning down perhaps?

    What’s the dilemma? Put those looting hooligans on the board of the New York Federal Reserve Bank’s Buffalo Branch!

    Never mind…the Fed closed the Buffalo branch and the sole manufacture of Major League Baseball caps moved into the building. 

    P.S. Do you think if Jeff Bridges got a waiver to play the Big Lebowski dude in “What’s in your safe deposit box?” commercials that they would become as popular as Jennifer Garner’s “What’s in your wallet?” commercials? 

  7. B. McLeod

    There’s always loading up with rock salt. But that presupposes you aren’t in a jurisdiction that won’t let you have weapons. This is what’s so helpful about New York. Citizens can’t protect themselves, but the state and local government won’t protect them either. It’s a good time for those who have the wherewithal to leave such places.

    1. John Barleycorn

      I think our esteemed host’s optimism is starting to mess up your brain B. McLeod.

      See Warren v. District of Columbia while drinking rum and listing to ZZ Top’s; I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide….

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Rock salt in a gun is a bad idea, better to start with an obvious non-lethal tool like pepper spray and then go to buckshot if necessary. As long as your state doesn’t have a “duty to retreat ” law you should be in the right. That doesn’t stop a “progressive ” prosecutor from scoring woke points by charging you with murder and costing you thousands.

      1. Hunting Guy

        Rock salt is worthless. It turns to power and unless you are within a couple of feet of the barrel, the noise from the shotgun will do more damage.

        Buckshot for personal defense.

        If you want less than lethal, use beanbag rounds.

        Which is stupid.

        If your life is threatened, you fight to win and there is no such thing as “fair.”

        1. SHG Post author

          And whenever the opportunity arises, a thread devolves into ammunition choices. Please don’t make me regret doing this.

          1. Hunting Guy

            Is this better?

            Robert Heinlein.

            “ Get a shot off fast. This upsets him long enough to let you make your second shot perfect.”

            1. John Barleycorn

              Just when that bribe I laid on the esteemed one’s maid, to misplace his SJ World Headquartes “trashed post” bin was about to start paying off too!

              Damit all anyway!!! It was just a matter of days before the esteemed one probably would have broken out his leather fringed CDL jacket too!

              Anyway, trust me Hunting Guy you dont want to suffer through the esteemed one waking up after having had another one of those dreams he has, about how he could have become Jack Web instead of a CDL.

        2. B. McLeod

          Fine. I can’t really disagree. I have spent hours of my evening sharpening things and field-stripping/cleaning things I have not touched for a very long time. Thinking also of memories such as I have not remembered for a very long time. I hope nobody will decide to call on me tonight. I am feeling moody now, and not at my best.

  8. PseudonymousKid

    I must be a damned pacifist and coward because I can’t see the point in confronting hundreds of people set on looting my store. I might hurt them. They might hurt me. I probably won’t be able to stop them. The juice isn’t worth the squeeze even if the store and its contents are currently my livelihood.

    I’ve been told I don’t know anything about policing, which is true, so I’ll leave what police should do in response to riots to Mr. Prickett. Though responding to a protest – even a violent protest – of police brutality with more brutality just can’t be the answer. Their position isn’t enviable. How can you forcefully stop looting and rioting without appearing to be the very thing motivating the protests?

    Stuff isn’t important enough to defend to the death, but don’t listen to me because I’m brainless and immature.

    1. Hal

      I decided long ago that I wouldn’t ever use force to stop someone from stealing my stuff and I’m neither a pacifist nor a coward.

      However, I have resources and insurance. If I didn’t the calculation might be very different.

      Further, I’d not dictate to someone else what they should do. Using violence might not be wise/ prudent, but I’d argue that it is entirely justified under the circumstances we’re discussing.

      Reflect for a moment on the Korean shop keepers in LA defending their property. I don’t know that they shot/ killed anyone, but they were clearly ready/ willing to. Their shops didn’t burn.

      Look at the places where people didn’t defend their property/ places of business. Many burned.

      I grew up near DC, there were neighborhoods downtown that still had blocks of burned out bldgs and store fronts over a decade after the riots.

      Losing your livelihood and your neighborhood isn’t the same as losing some stuff.

  9. Jake

    Last night more than one law enforcement officer was attacked in the street openly. Another was struck violently by a speeding car in the Bronx, and an SUV hit two others in Buffalo. The situation on the ground is tense and deteriorating rapidly for the professionals.

    The rioters I’ve been close enough to touch don’t seem highly motivated by logic, reason, or a propensity for long-term thinking. The average shop owner’s ability to quickly evaluate the difference between multiple, masked opportunistic teenagers and genuine bad guys, potentially hopped up on drugs that further embolden is dubious. The best chance for self-preservation is to step aside and let the insurance companies do their thing.

    1. SHG Post author

      Sit down. I have something to tell you about insurance policy exclusions and it’s going to make you sad.

      1. Jake

        It will be extra sad for those business owners that didn’t ensure they had SRCC coverage. But still, not sad enough to motivate me to take a life or risk my own life for stuff.

        1. David

          Blame the victim, Jake? You rape apologist, you. Who would have believed you care nothing about the principle but would find any excuse to back whoever you decided Jake loves most.

          1. Jake

            David, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone reading these comments are now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    2. B. McLeod

      The best chance is to live in a jurisdiction where the police and political leadership don’t allow rampant looting and burning to occur. For those stuck in other jurisdictions, it could be time to hire a shitload of Pinkertons.

  10. Dmfl

    Excitement and fear drives the protesters turned vandals and looters. There is no sound moral conscience. Excitement drives them to break glass doors and enter businesses. Fear drives them away as did the sound of authority when I chased two out Saturday night.

    Afterwards I began to sweep the glass off of the ground and then to measure the front door so that plywood could be installed. As the three-alarm fire raged inside the shoe store two doors down a billow of smoke swept into the business. Everything then went black.

  11. Howl

    One mustn’t assume that the vandals and looters were protesters who turned. There are plenty who will take advantage of a situation. Even cops have been caught on video damaging property.

  12. Christopher Best

    Our host already definitively stated what the law is re: using a deadly weapon to defend property, so no point for this non-lawyer to even touch that, I guess. With that in mind, here’s how I feel I’d deal with things (despite the law):

    If someone breaks into my house while I’m there–and especially while my wife and kids are there–they’d probably face deadly force if only due to my own cowardice. I wouldn’t bother wasting time to find out if they just wanted our new (crappy Chinese) TV or they meant to hurt us while they were at it.

    The calculus is different if we’re talking about a theoretical shop I owned, but I’d probably come down on the side of “a single shoplifter gets yelled at and the recording gets handed to the police” and “multiple rioters/looters get to stare down a muzzle”. Once there’s active rioting/looting in the area, and I’m outnumbered, I’d rather be safe. Mobs lose control, that’s what they do.

    Maybe I’m a monster but I’m an honest monster.

  13. Scarlet Pimpernel

    After spending the day pondering this, I have come to the conclusion that yes I could and would kill someone who broke into my house and threatened my family, however i would have a difficult time being brave enough to “protect” my store and I would have even less of a desire to deal with the guilt of killing some 16 year old kid. This morning I would have said, sure I would, until I started thinking about all the dumb ass kids I have coached over the years who have done dumb ass things without thinking. I am sure for a certain number of looters it is little more than a game, after all how many people are willing to die for a few pairs of jeans.

    That being said I can empathize with a small business owner wanting to protect what they may have spent years building up that someone wants to destroy over a whim. I can’t condemn them for using whatever is at their disposal, I just would not want to be in their shoes.

    To your final question, it would help if instead of making excuses, news commentators were blunt and stated the obvious, if you are truly afraid of dying at the hands of a cop, then maybe looting isn’t a past time for you. You have a significantly higher probability of dying if you choose to loot than you have of dying at the hands of a cop.

  14. KP

    So, is the choice between being robbed and looted by The State, who promise to protect you and your shop in exchange for tax, and being robbed and looted by a mob who may or may not respond to the distinctive sound of a shotgun being cocked?
    Maybe we should be able to sue the first for failure to discharge their paid-for obligation to protect, and shoot the second when we feel our life is being threatened. You’d feel threatened just being in your shop with looting going on in the neighborhood.

    If The State is taking no responsibility for their failure to protect, then they shouldn’t stand in the way of you doing it yourself. I don’t care if its local cop, State Troopers or National Guard, the Govt needs to get in there at all levels and stop it, that’s what they are paid for.

    This is all from outside the USA, the rioting and looting is a peculiar aspect of your culture that might appear quite different from the inside.

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