Looting: A Cry for Economic Justice

The looting of consumer goods at mass protests symbolically shouts the desperate message of people fed up with police killings and a political system that excludes them from health, wealth, and equal treatment. The long, hideous, racist history of police killings of Black people is execution-style violence that harks back to the days of slave patrols and lynchings. 

The latest demonstrations ignited, but also united, people of all stripes who want the killing to stop. They want justice: in courts, on streets, and in the economy. 

But looting isn’t only practiced by angry protesters. The Trump administration, abetted by an obsequious Senate, loots our economy by selling our national lands to oil and gas interests, serving up tax cuts for the rich, at our expense, which jeopardizes our future wealth. Even the pandemic rescue package buried more than  $135 billion in tax breaks for the wealthy; the act itself was ineptly administered, and of scant help to minority businesses. Gutted environmental regulations loot our health and safety, today and tomorrow. Other policies, for instance, human rights actions—widespread maltreatment of immigrant detainees, including abuse of children—rob us in less obvious ways, by eroding U.S. influence and reputation abroad. Among other effects, this makes it difficult to attract talent and business investment.

Two recently-announced North Carolina state task forces, one to rout racism in criminal justice, another to tackle racial differences in health care, are laudable, but for real results in the quality of life for poor people, economic justice should be served. 

It’s called progress. It requires active intervention. 

Otherwise, those who can’t now fully participate in labor, housing, credit, and other markets—Black, Latinx, Indigenous people—will continue to suffer, and so, too, will the economy, which is a national shame. The hugely profitable, Charlotte-based, Bank of America ($53 billion in earnings, the past two years) has pledged $1 billion over four years toward affordable housing, health, job training, and small business programs. 

“Things aren’t going to quiet down, they shouldn’t quiet down on making the economic progress and core social progress we need to make here,” CEO Brian Moynihan said on CNBC.

There’s no reason why the phrase economic justice should be an oxymoron. People should earn wages on which they can live, wages that allow full participation in the economy. Economic justice means closing wage gaps. Providing sick leave. Helping people find jobs that reflect their skills and potential, and, when necessary, retraining. 

This is what a civil society does. Especially a rich civil society.

Covid-19 deaths and record job losses hit minorities hard, exposing the deep, wide chasm in wages and wealth, especially between Black people and white people.

When low wages and persistent racism keep people from labor, credit and health care markets, the legacy of discrimination is transferred from one generation to the next. With little or no household wealth, a legacy of slavery, to sustain them, Black families can’t weather recessions. 

Median Black household wealth is 10 percent that of median white households, according to the Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke.

Though Black people represent 13 percent of U.S. population, they hold less than three percent of its wealth, according to William “Sandy” Darity, an economist at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

He cites centuries of harm, dating back to slavery, for today’s systemic inequality that drives disparities between racial health and wealth. He and co-author A. Kirsten Mullen, who writes about race, politics, and history, recently published, From Here to Equality. The book details a case for reparations. Along with slavery, he cites apartheid (Jim Crow and “white terror”), along with wage penalties, psychological and physical wounds, ongoing educational disparities, labor and housing market discrimination, confinement to certain neighborhoods, often sub-standard, and, disproportionate levels of incarceration. Disparities are the result of cumulative historical effects, not behavior. Reparations can help “alter this terrain,” Darity says.

Innovative social policies, in which reparations could play a role, could help right this history of social wrongs, and end police killings of unarmed Black people.  

Betty Joyce Nash reported for the Hendersonville Times-News and the Greensboro News & Record before moving to Virginia where she worked as an economics writer at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. She co-edited Lock & Load: Armed Fiction, published in 2017 by the University of New Mexico Press; the anthology probes Americans’ complicated relationship to firearms. Betty Joyce Nash writes for Carolina Commentary. For more information, see www.bettyjoycenash.com

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