Three Cheers for Looting

Al Jacobs

An undeniably controversial 262-page book just hit the market. Its author is Vicky Osterweil, who appears to be in her mid-20s, and describes herself as a “writer, editor and agitator.” Its title: In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action.

A good portion of the book presents examples and arguments that violence and destruction of property – other people’s property – are not fundamentally bad per se. However, many of Osterweil’s contentions depart from logic and reason, as they drift off more as political diatribe.

One example: “We can no longer let the police, that despicable occupying army, seem ‘natural,’ nor let anyone paint resistance to the settler state as an enemy of peace. Their peace is the peace of the grave.” In case she plagiarized those words, I’d suspect the source to be Karl Marx.

She then becomes even more supportive of rioters and looters as she insists “Rioting and looting are our most powerful tools of dismantling white supremacy. We need to stand fast beside looters, rioters and street fighters.”

Apparently it doesn’t concern her if the victims are the owners and employees of small restaurants, bars, churches, grocery stores and pharmacies, as she justifies the violence in the following terms: “When it comes to small business, family owned business or locally owned business, they are no more likely to provide worker protections. They are no more likely to have to provide good stuff for the community than big business.”

As for her endorsement of street fighters, it’s uncertain whether she distinguishes them from the men who beat a woman protecting her jewelry store or the mobs who hurled rocks and bottles at firefighters. If violent tactics of this sort are broadly and hysterically justified, destruction is inevitable. But even more disturbing, such actions can become repetitive.

According to Brian Levin, Director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino, “Once violence becomes more normalized, it doesn’t go back in the shell.”

Although, as you can tell, I’m not a Vicki Osterweil enthusiast, she attracts avid supporters. Here are the comments of three of them:

“Osterweil debuts with a provocative, Marxist-informed defense of looting as a radical and effective protest tactic … a bracing rethink of the goals and methods of protest.” Publishers Weekly

In Defense of Looting is a clear and damming indictment of the origins and evolution of property rights, race and policing in the United States. Ultimately, Osterweil demands we ambitiously work to abolish the racial capitalist logics at the heart of American empire.” Zoe Samudzi, coauthor of As Black As Resistance

“In engaging and accessible prose, Vicky Osterweil lays out an intellectual defense of looting that is as thorough and compelling as it is necessary and revolutionary. The history here is alive and vital, and her grasp of it pushes any reader who has doubted the legitimacy of looting as a political action to search deeply and reconsider their position.” Mychal Denzel Smith, author of Stakes is High: Life After the American Dream

A final word: A major defect of In Defense of Looting is an absence of the final chapter. This is where one of Vicky Osterweil’s high-minded thugs selects her home to loot – and possibly sets fire to it as a humorous afterthought. I can’t wait to hear the praise she confers upon him for his devotion to her interpretation of human rights.

Three Cheers for Discrimination

In November 1996, my state enacted Proposition 209, known as the California Civil Rights Initiative, which amended our state constitution to prohibit state governmental institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity in the areas of public employment, contracting and education. Modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it became the first electoral test of affirmative action policies in North America.

Over the past quarter-century since then, politically influential groups contended these rules have unfairly deprived disadvantaged persons from sharing in benefits which should be theirs. University of California President Janet Napolitano claims “It makes little sense to exclude consideration of race in admissions when the aim of the University’s holistic process is to evaluate each applicant through multiple dimensions.” It’s certainly hard to refute that … it’s even harder to understand it.

According to Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus: “Since Proposition 209’s passage, California is one of only eight states not allowing race or gender to be factors considered in hiring, allotting state contracts or accepting students into the state’s colleges. We see that race-neutral solutions cannot fix problems steeped in race. Californians must acknowledge the deep-seated inequality and far-reaching institutional failures that show race and gender still matter.” Her point is clearly made: Everything this nation involves itself in is enmeshed in racial inequality.

The fairness advocates’ means of correcting the injustice they perceive is by Proposition 16, which will appear on the November ballot. It would allow California to once again grant preferences to certain groups and individuals, in various public matters, based explicitly upon race. I truly understand the rationale behind the attempt to enforce, by government mandate, a system wherein benefits of all sorts are allocated by favoritism … more commonly referred to as affirmative action.

There are, of course, neither limits as to what benefits may be conferred, nor who shall be chosen to receive these benefits. But irrespective of this, the allocation of privileges by those in charge, to those selected to receive them, will always be declared to be just and fair.

As the Proposition 16 proponents claim, “All of us deserve equal opportunities to thrive with fair wages, good jobs and quality schools, but despite living in the most diverse state in the nation, white men are still overrepresented in positions of wealth and power.”

How shall this be corrected? The reinstatement of affirmative action is a concrete way to dismantle systemic racism. This will rebuild an economy which those in favor maintain “treats everybody equally, takes action to prevent discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for all. The fact that beneficiaries of the past must step back and permit the previously disenfranchised to prosper, is only a matter of equity.”

Although I’m one of the white men – presumably overrepresented in positions of wealth and power – I somehow missed out on the favoritism I’m reputed to have received. Upon completion of high school, my community college enrollment entitled me to study my way, course by course, to a university degree. And the numerous jobs I held throughout my life paid a livable income.

But as for the special treatment I’m reported to have enjoyed, it never came my way. Strangely, most of my equally white friends lived their lives in much the same way as I did. We all just plugged along doing the best we were able with no expectation we deserved special privileges. Is it possible we’re all entitled to affirmative action, and if so where do we go to apply for it?

A final thought: My guess is Proposition 16 will be enacted into law. California’s no longer a place where rationality and objectivity reside. During the 75 years I made this state my home, I’ve always expected we citizens would be treated fairly. The last few years I’ve become convinced we’re merely votes to be harvested and pockets to be picked. The moral: And so, it only goes to serve, that people get what they deserve.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, issues weekly financial articles in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. Al can be contacted at



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