It takes a open mind and a deep understanding of the framework for poverty if one is to also understand looting during natural disasters or during civil unrest:
*Loot or Looting* (Verb): To steal goods from a place; typically during a war.
In 2003, I was the Dean of Students at a Middle/High School in a small community outside of Pittsburgh. During a meeting with a parent and her son, I firmly asked a very troubled, charming, but articulate student of mine named Jermaine, “Why do you come to school; and give me a good answer?” I asked him this question because he was very off track academically and was sent to my office frequently. I was fed up and needed for him to give me “his truth; his purpose” for coming to school. It appeared that Jermaine came to school ONLY to disrupt and create problems. At least that was the reason I thought as a young administrator. As I grew as an educator, I realized that Jermaine was simply surviving; day-to-day. His answer to my question would leave me speechless and gave me a lens to understand something I couldn’t without his words.
Jermaine’s reply was, “Look Bailey……you don’t realize that (n-words) do shit the best they know how.” Jermaine changed my career perspective, and how I would process and understand situational and cyclical poverty……FOREVER!
As I watch CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News media outlets report on Hurricane Irma and Maria, I cannot help but to think about the most affected group of people who keeps being highlighted before, during AND after EVERY natural disaster; Black, Brown, and elderly poor people. Our most challenged group are always in these spaces when the disaster strikes. For those of us who are in touch with people who live in low socioeconomic communities, it makes perfect sense. “The storm” is a constant one.
In 1998, I asked a long time friend of mine, “Why? Why do you do, what you do?” He was my childhood friend and he sold drugs. His answer, “I know the risk, but I take it.” On October 7, 1999, was found in a grassy area near his house. He was killed by way of a shotgun wound to his chest. The medical staff told me how he died. I was questioned by county homicide detectives because I was the last known person to see him. We played basketball together two days earlier.
The phenomenal singer, Jill Scott, has a song called ‘Rasool,’ on her Beautifully Human album. She sings, “Rasool stayed on the block, although he knew it wasn’t right. But he had to be there, to get the chain that he liked.”
The looters in Florida? Even with ZERO electricity for 5-6 months; that free Flat screen TV is valuable and risks will be taken to get it. Even if there’s going to be water damage, sewage, mold, and a shortage of food, having 10-15 free boxes of shoes is still valuable to a class of people who we have locked out of society.
None of us can fathom the mind of the poor and disenfranchised. I’ll end with this…..
While in Paris this summer and riding on a tour bus, I heard an English lady say, “We cannot go back that way due to those idiots,” when talking to her husband. I heard the claim because she was a loud talker. She was referring to our tour bus passing a protest of about 200 Congolese protestors. They were outside of a municipal building with signs. There were as many police draped in riot gear and shields. There was a lot of standing. No chanting or loud talk. When we passed, a few looked at me on the roof of the bus and I gave them a power fist as to say, “I see you.” My gesture felt stupid because I was in such a privileged and entitled space merely driving by on a bus, with a bunch of Europeans. Once the bus started loop around and go back, I heard the woman’s “idiots” statement. I waited. Processed. Then waited. Processed some more. Then I couldn’t take it any longer😩. So I said to her, “Excuse me Ma’am, what is going on back there?” She said, “Didn’t you see the big riot?” I said, ‘No. I saw a peaceful protest. And I did not see any idiots. No one on this bus sits in a position to judge anything going on down there? Until you are an African immigrant living in Paris, or you’ve spoken to someone about their plight, maybe you should not call names. Because I didn’t see any idiots. I saw people who appeared to have an important concern. Ma’am, the idiot is the person who thinks they know what’s going on, gives an assessment, passes judgement, without having any details, when riding on the top of a damn sightseeing bus.’
Systemic and Structural Disparities?
All of these Risk Factors and Realities were preset before the storm.
“……..do things the best way the know how.” – Rest In Peace Jermaine🙏🏽. Thank you for your insight.
A counter narrative
Heath Bailey, Native of Pittsburgh, PA
Abu Dhabi Education Council
United Arab Emirates