Of course it’s not new, but it was news the other day when it was reported that 15 people had been arrested in and around Moore, Okla. for looting the neighborhoods that were demolished by several recent tornadoes.
Sure there are always those who take advantage of other people’s misery. Scammy contractors prey on folks whose homes are destroyed in hurricanes or fires or other disasters. Bogus insurance companies get outrageous rates out of victims for repair work that will never be done. The innocent or naive will always be “suckers” for a needed service or product at perhaps the most vulnerable time in their lives. They are desperate for help and trusting that those who profess to have their best interests at heart really do.
Checking their shame at the city limits, these rascals cruise their pickups (I assume) through deserted subdivisions looking for “treasure” that hasn’t already been picked up or claimed by the residents. Can they really need a dented toaster that much? Can they make the rent payment by fencing lawnmower parts or beat-up outboard motors? Whether they really can or not, I guess they must think they can. That part is just sad.
The other part is just revolting. Do you suppose they plan and hope for a tornado to touch down nearby so they can dash over and root through a dead neighbor’s things?
“Say, L.T., with any luck there’ll be a big twister on Tuesday, so clear your calendar and charge up your metal detector. I’ll get the coffee and sandwiches. Hopefully, it’ll be a daylight job.”
“I’m good to go Red. I was supposed to do concessions at Junior’s Little League game Tuesday, but I think I can get Moreen to cover for me.”
Do they have regular jobs and have to take a vacation day to run up to the current disaster scene? Do they call in the neighbor kid to babysit for a few hours while they speed off to what used to be Elm Tree City and now is just a very large municipal dump?
Remember news coverage of Iraqis running down the streets of Baghdad after the allied forces rolled into town in March of 2003? They were pushing teapots and computer screens and whatnot on rolling office chairs and even hospital gurneys. It was disturbing to see and realize they were that desperate. But it was completely understandable. They’d been living in a tyrannical system most if not all of their lives, maybe scratching out a living by selling cooking oil by the half-litre down on the street corner. Maybe the income from selling a good computer screen would carry them through for a month or a week or allow them to bargain for a bag of rice and a few oranges on another corner.
But that was there, and this was here. People in this country shouldn’t be that desperate. People in this country shouldn’t have to debase themselves, and to some extent the rest of us, by stooping so low. It’s like purse-snatching or stealing from the collection plate. It’s just wrong and everybody knows it. But there are always a few who will ditch common, human decency and probably figure they’re the smart and clever ones, and somehow the rest of us are the fools.
I acknowledge that someone might try to make a case that these guys are performing a valuable service by cleaning up damaged items and other detritus so that the homeowners or public clean-up entities don’t have to. Like maggots or buzzards or hyenas, they’re ridding the world of material that may have outlived its time and is just a blight on the landscape. Yes, that might be a fit analogy, except for the part where as sentient, social beings we wouldn’t want to be referred to as hyenas or buzzards or maggots.
Maybe there ought to be some kind of salvage laws that apply on land as well as on the world’s oceans. If it’s down and unclaimed for X-amount of time, it’s fair game for whoever gets there first and has the capacity to carry it completely away without damaging or infringing on anyone else’s property or rights. That wouldn’t make the nightly news, but then it wouldn’t have that hyena stink on it, either.
Junior could proudly invite his pop to Career Day at school.
“My dad’s a looter, and look at all this cool stuff he brought to share. He did Superstorm Sandy and Katrina and the big tornado in Joplin. He wanted to do the earthquake and nuclear meltdown in Japan, but he had hernia surgery that week. So, let’s give a warm 5th grade welcome to my dad Larry, Larry the Looter.”
I’d be OK with that.
Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.