Other People’s Property

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This column first appeared on Latino Rebels

 

American property has more rights than American people, at least the people without property. Cops have been killing unarmed Black people across the country, and when Black people try to defend their lives against the police through protest, they must remain peaceful always, even when the police themselves use violence. But a property owner can use deadly force when defending his stuff; in places like Philly, strangers are allowed to stalk the streets with weapons in broad daylight (they’re white, of course) looking for other people‘s property to defend, even with deadly force. But a Black man defending his body, and his life, with any force—that’s against the law in most places in America.

A cop with a gun can shoot an unarmed Black man for defending himself, and at most he’ll get fired, maybe even charged with a crime, though not normally, and usually for some minor crime. Cops killing Black people is a minor crime, apparently.

Not like looting, which most people agree is way worse.

When Jefferson had to list three basic human rights, he named “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” which he must’ve thought was an improvement on Locke’s original, “life, liberty, and estate,” meaning property. An odd choice for Jefferson to make, considering he himself owned a bunch of slaves as his personal property, on a sprawling plantation outside Charlottesville. Any person who buys or sells other people clearly believes in property.

About a decade after Jefferson died, Proudhon famously made the claim that “Property is theft!” If I understood him right, the way he explained is that no person can rightfully own a piece of the earth, because it’s finite, meaning by the time you and I got here the place was all bought up. How is that fair? Why is it that I have to pay more for whatever piece of land somebody will sell me, just because I was born now and not back when there was emptier (cheaper) land?

People will say, “Well, that’s just the way it is.” So what if that’s the way it is; that doesn’t make it right. Plus we’ll never get things right if we keep settling for the way things are. And that’s why we’re here in the first place—to get things right.

Still, people have that favorite word of theirs: mine. Makes me think of that one Carlin bit, how’d it go? “Is this mine? No, that’s mine, this is yours!” Goddamn, was Carlin right about everything or what? All an illusion, property is. Go ask Wall Street or Congress what’s yours and what’s theirs. So many think they own their homes until one day the banks come and kick them out. That’s when they find out they didn’t own anything; the banks just let them think they did, for a little while. Everything’s been bought and paid for by the banks a long time ago. We’re all just renting.

Now you see these people saying how excited they are to shoot looters. “I got two AR’s, a double-barrel shotty, magazine clips out the ying-yang! I wish a looter would try to break in here and take my shit! Let any fucker try it!” A lot of these people are former military, or pretend be, but I’m pretty sure even the best soldier doesn’t pray for battle, and never looks forward to killing a man, never mind a fellow citizen. People join the army to defend their countrymen, not shoot them over a shoe collection.

Tyson talks about how crazy and inhuman you have to become just to be a boxer, especially at the lower levels when you’re still only dreaming of someday having a title shot. What kind of person wants to step into a ring and smash someone’s face in, send him to the hospital, maybe kill him? Savages—which, in a strange twist, has now become a thing to be among many supposedly civilized men. After all, it was the ancestors of these new savages who tried killing off all the first savages, the ones who were already living on this land—their land, as the property people might say—and slaughtered them simply for the stated reason that they were savages, while the bloodthirsty land-looters considered themselves civilized men.

I’d kill any man who threatened my wife, or my stepdaughter, or my sister, or my mom or grandmother. But am I going to kill a man who threatens to take my wallet, or this computer, or this watch, or this t-shirt? Is it worth it: killing someone to keep your stuff? I know that’s the law of the jungle, but the point of having a society to begin with is so we don’t have to live by jungle laws, so that we can become better than our animal nature, which is the destiny of the human species: to keep climbing above and beyond what we were.

People believe so much in property, of course, because they live in a society ruled by property-owners. Most Americans own little or nothing at all, but since we’re ruled by a few rich people with a lot of stuff, and they shape our value system, telling us what’s important (property and competition) and what’s for chumps (intelligence and solidarity), then even the two-thirds of the country that has nothing or almost nothing is still obsessed with property.

Which actually explains the looting: just as there are people willing to shoot looters on sight, so too are there people willing to break in somewhere to get stuff. It’s not about who rightfully owns what in America—again, just as the banks, or the Indians—it’s about stuff, getting it and keeping it, no matter what, no matter how many people you have to shoot dead from your porch. Three dead looters is better than one stolen dining-room set.

And each side, both the looter and the shooter, want to take from the other—the looter wants to take the shooter’s stuff, and the shooter wants to take the looter’s life—just out of desperation to feel some sense of power in the midst of chaos, to feel like a man. Because men shouldn’t ask for what they want; just take it, without hesitation. Men aren’t supposed to hesitate, especially when it comes to their lives or their property. Hesitation is contemplation, thinking and feeling, and that stuff’s for women.

I’m not saying don’t defend your stuff. Do what you think you have to do. Just try not to be so excited about it. Remember: it’s a tragedy. Looting and dead looters are both bad news for America.

And if you think I’m wrong about all this, then somebody already looted your soul, took the human part in you that cares more about people than property, but left the animal part intact, the part that’ll blast someone’s face off to defend your scraps.

But before you polish that rifle and head to the front stoop to stand guard, let me ask you something:

Did you shoot the bankers when they took your house and car?

Did you shoot them for taking hundreds of dollars out of your account every month to pay themselves for a loan they gave you for some worthless degree?

Did you shoot the school administrators for robbing you like that, too?

Did you shoot the politicians when they voted to defund your local school system, and then give your money to the bankers and other rich people?

Did you shoot the Big Ag and Big Pharma companies when they got you sick and then drained your pockets for a cure?

Are you gonna shoot Walmart, for robbing you by not giving its workers enough to live on and having you pay the difference?

Are you going to shoot Democrats for helping the bankers rob you, or shoot Republicans for stealing elections?

Are you gonna shoot them for robbing you of health care, and all the other stuff that people in other countries don’t get robbed of?

Will you shoot them for looting your motherland and making you come here, where they keep robbing you till you die?

Will you shoot them for looting the planet and robbing us of a green future?

Are you shooting the priests for what they did to your little boys?

No?

Ah! But you can’t wait to shoot a looter, can’t you?

How brave and strong of you

Hector is the editor and publisher of Enclave. A Chicago writer now floating on the edge of Las Vegas, he is also the former deputy editor for Latino Rebels, as well as the former managing editor for Gozamos, a Latino art-activism site based in his home town. He has contributed to RedEye, a Chicago daily geared toward millennials, and La Respuesta, a New York-based site for the Puerto Rican Diaspora, plus a number of publications, including The Huffington Post. He studied history (for some reason) at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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