Commentary: ‘Tonight she’s jobless.’ There’s nothing justifiable in looting.

Categories: Chicago Tribune


JUN 05, 2020 | 2:40 PM 

I’m standing outside a Dollar Tree on Chicago’s West Side. Looters stripped it of its inventory all day. Then they torched it.

Unlike most late-night scenes like this I’ve covered this week as a journalist, this one lacks the frantic energy we’ve seen in pictures, and there’s no public chorus condemning the killing of George Floyd. Instead, people stand numbed. Their eyes follow firefighters coiling hoses back on the trucks and the police officers climbing into a city bus to move on to the next ruin.

Since last weekend, when looting spread from the downtown business district to pockets of Chicago, I’ve tracked reactions on social media, largely by white friends safely tucked at home, away from the consequences of destruction. To my surprise, many romanticized the looting, saying it’s just their black neighbors raging against society’s sins that go back centuries. Two nights earlier I had posted photos of a hair salon’s storefront, shattered by bricks during a riot in Uptown. One friend said she understood the distraught owner’s frustration, but hey, she has insurance, and she should really appreciate the larger struggle.

Then there was that meme circulating for days that suggests if you are outraged by looting, you couldn’t possibly be outraged by the death of George Floyd.

No. You can be outraged by both. Looting is a destroyer in these neighborhoods. I agree that Gucci can rebuild. And Gucci customers can move on. But you know who can’t? Jerry Winfrey, 54, the caretaker for his mother. The Dollar Tree looting and fire now means he has nowhere to buy groceries. He has no car. The nearest Jewel might as well be on Mars. “Can’t go to the grocery store no more,” he says. With Dollar Tree gone, “it’s gonna be rough.”

“It’s a tragedy. It’s horrible, destroying things we need,” he says.

You know who agrees? Tamara Collins, 34, who worked as the manager of the Dollar Tree for three years. Tonight she’s jobless. The store employed 15 people. “Now we can’t feed our kids,” she says.

Collins and some of her co-workers snap photos to take home memories. On the steps of nearby gray stones are neighbors. They stare too. The sadness on that block is so thick, it’s unbearable.

Winfrey’s right. This whole thing is a tragedy, has zero to do with Floyd’s tragic killing, and it’s aggravating to listen to armchair liberals reciting abstract social theories that conclude what’s good for the impoverished in our city. Real life is more complex than fits a meme. Or that think piece in Salon you’re sharing that got your echo chamber giving you mega “likes” on your social media page.

The next time you share that meme and bang out a post proclaiming how looting and destruction benefits society because — Who? Trump? The mayor? Santa Claus? — is going to learn a lesson about the suffering of people, why don’t you drive to Chicago and Homan avenues on the West Side and ask the people who are actually suffering? Guarantee they’ll give you a different story.

Mark Guarino of Chicago is the managing editor of The Daily Line and the Chicago correspondent for The Washington Post.


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