Why do People Loot After a Disaster?

How to Survive a Riot

We have covered looting here before or more specifically, protecting your home from looters.

Today, we want to take a slightly different approach and look into why many people choose to loot following a disaster. What makes these people turn to looting?

I am not a fan of David Cameron but he summed rioting and looting up as:

Criminality, pure and simple.

Although there is an element of truth in those words, I think looting is much more complex and impossible to sum up with as few words as that.

We certainly do not condone such behavior but if you have ever been caught up in a mob that was agitated about some injustice, you know how contagious it can be.

Everyday people get swept up and do things that they would never normally do. It could be shouting, shoving, throwing rocks, smashing windows, and, yes, even looting.

Some people take advantage of the chaos around them by smashing glass, prying open doors and looting businesses.

Riots will usually erupt following an incident, such as a disaster or the police attacking or killing somebody as was the case in the London Riots of 2011. They continued between 6th of August and 11 August following the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan.

With any riot, once it begins, the mob has a life of its own. Deep-seated resentments and rising frustrations lead people into action. The mob provides cover which makes it easy to act out of the norm.

They become immersed, engulfed and for many, it becomes a way of releasing long suppressed emotions and can very easily get out of hand. The powerless for powerful.

With large groups that are relatively anonymous, you can essentially do anything you like. It all comes down to safety in numbers. There may only be 20 or 30 people who are leading the trouble but the presence of several hundred onlookers makes it far less likely they’ll get caught.

Prof John Pitts, a criminologist who advises several London local authorities on young people and gangs, said that some of those taking the lead in the looting will be known to the authorities, while others are swept along.

This may seem like I am in some way trying to justify their behavior but that is not true. Everybody needs to understand that when frustrations build, we could all become “hooligans” ourselves.

Newsweek once said:

If there’s one underlying condition that these movements share, it has to do with unemployment and bitter poverty among people who desire to be part of the middle class, and who are keenly aware of the sharp inequality between themselves and their country’s wealthy elite.

These are young people with “nothing to lose.”

Distracted by the flames and the looting, we can easily forget that these are, as Newsweek put it:

social revolutions with a small ‘r,’ protests against social conditions that have become unbearable.


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