In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action

Vicky Osterweil. Bold Type, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64503-669-2
The New Inquiry contributor Osterweil debuts with a provocative, Marxist-informed defense of looting as a radical and effective protest tactic. Osterweil argues that the surplus wealth that allowed capitalism and modern property rights to flourish only existed because European colonialists in the New World stole land from and committed genocide against Indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans in order to produce the commodities (silver, sugar, tobacco, cotton) that created that surplus. Therefore, Osterweil contends, when protestors loot and riot as part of an anti-police uprising, they are confronting and exposing the inextricable links between America’s economic and social structures and white supremacy. Moreover, in her analysis, the “threat” that looting and rioting pose to the established order is necessary “to overturn this miserable world of white supremacy, anti-Blackness, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, empire, and property.” Osterweil supports her claims with close looks at 1960s uprisings in Detroit, Newark, and Watts and the 1992 L.A. riots that broke out after police officers accused of brutalizing Rodney King were acquitted. Her inflammatory rhetoric (she calls police a “despicable occupying army”) and vague conception of what her called-for revolution would look like undermine her more credible historical interpretations. Still, this is a bracing rethink of the goals and methods of protest. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 08/10/2020
Release date: 10/13/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 160 pages - 978-1-78478-425-6
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