There are stories coming out now about how most of the "looting" was survivors simply looking for food and other basic necessities. I wouldn't consider that looting; I'd consider that good common sense in a survival situation. Any fresh food in the grocery stores is going to go bad anyway -- it might as well be feeding someone's children. You can't politely sit around and die of dehydration, something that can happen in as little as three days of water deprivation, while waiting for help to arrive, if water bottles are available at the stores. Especially when it became clear that it was going to take a while before supplies arrived. Some of those people watched trucks roll right past them, without stopping to give them anything -- they can hardly be faulted for deciding they'd better find their own food and water, or they could die waiting for help.
On CNN,I heard a story of a woman who had been trapped at the Ritz-Carlton hotel with about 300 other people, and they were forced to wade through the toxic water in order to get to the rescue buses. Before they left, she said, doctors who had been among the crowd with them "commandeered" some antibiotics, to protect them from infection. That's the polite term -- it's obvious that what they did was break into the nearest pharmacy. And you can bet your fanny that nobody is going to arrest those doctors for looting. Having antibiotics on hand in such an unsanitary environment is nearly as much a necessity for survival as having food and water.
Looters are the guys stealing guns, t.v. sets, jewelry and drugs. (T.V. sets? The power isn't even working. Who are you going to sell them to?) When I said I wanted good guys with guns down there, it was because aid workers were afraid of getting shot while trying to help because of the violent gangs prowling around, so that rescue efforts were disrupted -- and that wasted time was costing lives.
In spite of all the noise Bush is making about zero tolerance for looters, there isn't going to be any more than a few symbolic prosecutions. How are you going to be able to separate out those who were stealing necessities and those who were stealing luxuries, except where it's very blatant?
I have heard that Bush is not making a distinction between the two, but haven't found anything other than this , which looks more like a condemnation of the violent offenders. It would be very bad politically to go dragging off to jail some poor desperate soul for stealing bread and milk, and they just aren't going to do that. And if the troops should, even accidentally, shoot somebody who is taking necessities, howls of protest will ring far and wide.
If you don't want folks stealing food, water, medicine, and sanitary supplies, then you'd better make sure they have some -- and damned quickly too.