Is Our "Social Covenant" Broken?

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Footage of flash-mob style looting events has been going viral. You don’t have to look very far on social media to run into some video showing people destroying businesses as well as stripping the goods from those locations as if locusts descended upon the land. Normal, run of the mill boosting, theft, and robbery just not fun anymore? No, people have taken to this newer destructive practice. An opinion piece in the Miami Herald hits the nail on the head.

Why would they do this? That question rises inevitably from a new wave of so-called flash-mob robberies, thieves by the dozens invading retail stores to simply take what they want. It’s happened in California, Illinois, Minnesota and Maryland. Retailers ranging from Nordstrom to 7-Eleven have been hit. For some, the search for answers will be an invitation to uncork pet theories about poverty, permissiveness or punishment. But none of those things is unique to this era.

Think about it: This model for robbery has always been available to enterprising thieves. It’s simple math. What can one or two security guards do if 60 people decide to just walk in and loot the place? Granted, advances in communications technology make that easier to organize now than it once would have been, but still, a crime wave like this theoretically could have happened in 1985 or 2002. It makes sense to wonder why it didn’t. What is it about this particular era that has inspired this particular trend?

Here, then, is another pet theory: The social covenant has shattered.

Leonard Pitts, the author of the piece, goes on to explain how we’ve completely abandoned things that were corporal to society. Norms, either based in law, or just “you don’t do that”isims, are being shattered because the public at large has allowed that to happen.

Meaning the thousand unspoken understandings by which a society functions, the agreements to which we all sign on without a word being spoken. Some are encoded in law, others just encoded in us. Either way, they are rules — “norms” might be a better word — people usually obey even when they could get away without doing so.

Whenever footage of these looting events surfaces, remembrance of the Rooftop Koreans comes to mind. To refresh everyone’s memories on who or what the Rooftop Koreans were, we need to turn the clock back to the 90’s. During the riots in Los Angeles groups of property owners set themselves up, armed, on the roofs of their buildings to protect them. The what of the Rooftop Koreans can be equated to perseverance and rugged American individualism. The people involved took the matters into their own hands. It was a matter that they pretty much had to as reported in a retrospective at the Huffpost.

Chang said those who share the meme owe it to the Korean American business owners in the photos to do a deeper dive into the history of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising ― and what led them to take up arms to begin with.

“Without any political clout and power in the city, Koreatown was unprotected and left to burn since it was not a priority for city politicians and the LAPD.”

– Edward T. Chang, a professor of ethnic studies at UC Riverside

The nearly weeklong unrest that occured in Los Angeles in the spring of 1992 left more than 60 people dead and more than 1,000 injured, and it caused an estimated $1 billion in damage, about half of which was sustained by Korean-owned businesses.

We’re dealing with a very similar abandonment today, but on a much larger scale. Pitts makes a very solid point in closing his piece.

Surely the opportunistic looting that marred last year’s largely peaceful protests for racial justice helped influence them. But that’s hardly the only — or, arguably, even the most corrosive — transgression of social norms we’ve seen in recent years. To the contrary, we’ve seen police and other authority figures exempt themselves from mask and vaccine mandates — and dare mayors and governors to do anything about it. We’ve seen ex-public officials thumb their noses at congressional subpoenas. We’ve seen a seditionist mob breach the U.S. Capitol and be lionized for it by certain members of Congress and the media. And we’ve seen a president who delighted in shattering norms, refusing to provide his tax returns, flouting the emoluments clause of the Constitution, openly politicking on government property . . . the list goes on. And on.

In 2021 America, we’re at a point where the Rooftop Korean needs to come back. The concept of them. That we’re on our own and need to take care of our own. Looters and rioters will eventually stop if they’re greeted with the muzzle of several firearms when they barge into someone’s business. Shots don’t need to be fired.  If the police forces are not going to stop these events from happening, for whatever reasons, and prosecutors are not going to press charges on those caught, what recourse does Mr. and Mrs. America have? The concept of using force to protect property is one that can be debated until the sun comes up. What’s important to note on that subject is we do have armed guards guarding our money, so why should private businesses have to deal with such shenanigans? When the law abiding citizen makes such a stand, all of this will slowly disappear. I don’t think we need a stronger case for the Second Amendment than that. No one else’s going to protect these businesses.