January 21st, 2010
08:56 PM ET

Stop calling quake victims looters

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/WORLD/americas/01/18/haiti.looting.earthquake/story.looting.haiti.gi.jpg caption="Looters brawl as a man tries to intervene in downtown Port-au-Prince on Monday." width=300 height=169]

Guy-Uriel Charles
Special to CNN

To define someone as a looter is not simply to describe him, or her, through an act, it is to make a moral judgment. It is to characterize the person as lawless and criminal. It connotes someone who is without self-restraint; an animal; wanton and depraved.

It is a description that is void of empathy for someone who is consciously or subconsciously viewed as "the other." Tragically, it fits into the stereotype that many have about people of African descent, be they African-Americans or Haitian-Americans.

The news media have to stop describing starving Haitians who are simply trying to survive the earthquake and aftershocks that took their homes, their loved ones, and all their possessions by this highly derogatory term.

It's a lesson they should have learned covering the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. I remember the news accounts then that described black residents of New Orleans as "looters," but used benign words to describe white residents engaged in the same action: taking things.

Academics have found repeated instances of this in media content analyses after disasters. One example, widely disseminated on the web post-Katrina, juxtaposed an Associated Press photo that showed a young black man wading through chest-high water "after looting a grocery store" (said the caption), with an AFP/Getty photo of a white woman in the same position, although the caption this time described her "finding" food "from a local grocery store."

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Filed under: Haiti
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Lee

    I totally agree, these victims has nothing left , aid is slow and to call them 'looters' is nasty. It's just poor logistic communications that the Haitian government has handled, giving temporary leadership to the US wasn't a wise decision, not to mention the UN has well. When China's earthquake hit Sechuan soldiers didn't carry weapons to help the needed instead they carried spades and hammers, ropes etc to free the victims trapped. So was it necessary to see US marines in Haiti carry guns? Do they think its Iraq or Afghan. It's a sign of invasion and not a sign of peace and relief. Put it this way, if the earthquake hit US would the government send troops to help? if so would they carry their weapons?

    January 21, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
  2. georgia Kruusi

    I have never been in their situation and hope to God I never am...and I hope they were just taking care of their families. All I have is my prayers to give for the people in Haiti...God Bless Them, Please!!

    January 21, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
  3. Roberta Cruz

    My sentiments exactly. Now let's hope others open their minds to this as well.

    January 21, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
  4. denise

    thank you for adressing this .They want them to wait for them to give them supplies.and if we dont get to you. die an do with out. they should be pointing out the food and suppile shops.please stop calling the survier looters

    January 21, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  5. Katja

    I agree with the folks above. But do we always have to resort to the race card? Anyone in that situation, regardless of race would try to find food for their family.

    January 21, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  6. Jennifer Mozzetti

    Thank you! I'm glad someone finally said it!

    January 21, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  7. biba phila

    I agree! "looters" not an appropriate term here! some people are criminals but most of these people are just desperately trying to survive and i dont blame them

    January 21, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  8. Cindy

    I can see stealing to feed yourself and your family but when you start stealing other things besides food then I call that looting. That is just trying to take advantage of a bad situation where there are no laws or police to stop you. So if the shoe fits on some of these people in Haiti then you have to call it like it is.


    January 21, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  9. Samantha Madhosingh

    I couldn't agree more. For the most part people do their best to simply survive. Getting food and supplies from wherever you can does not make the survivors criminals. The will to survive is a basic human instinct and is not motivated by an interest in criminal behavior. Are there some criminals taking advantage of the situation? Absolutely! But they are the minority. We should be viewing the Haitian people with compassion, not moral judgment.

    January 21, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  10. Susan Stamos

    I can tell you this in all honesty. I would be doing anything I could to save my family and survive. So would all of us. God forbide we are ever in this position. These are a wonderful people not looters. Stop the lies...............

    January 21, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  11. alex lyrics

    Did we call the soccer players who's plane crashed and who had to eat dead bodies raw cannibals?

    This is ridiculous and ignorant to call these people who are searching for candles, food, water, and clothing looters.

    These people are trying to survive, and nothing in that pile of rubble is worth that much of anything that those people cannot have.

    There is nothing left for anyone but to start completely over.

    January 21, 2010 at 4:02 pm |