International Unitarian Universalism
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When Did the Looting Start?

Images from Black Lives Matter protests in Germany, Brazil, and Australia

The Atlantic's Images From a Worldwide Protest Movement includes photos from Black Lives Matter protests in (clockwise from left) Germany, Brazil, and Australia. 

Photo of the UUA's International Staff group at their 2019 staff group retreat, sitting in front of a "Black Lives Matter" sign.

UUA International Staff group at their 2019 staff group retreat at UUA office in Boston. Left to right: Allison Hess, International Engagement Associate; Bruce Knotts, Director of UU Office at the UN; Rob Kipp, International Programs Administrator; Dr. Diane Johnson, retreat facilitator; Shreya Bhattacharya, Holdeen India Program Consultant; Derek Mitchell, Holdeen India Program Director; Rev. Alicia Forde, International Office Director. 

“Loot,” the noun and the verb, is a word of Hindi origin meaning spoils of war or other goods seized roughly. As historian Peter Linebaugh points out, “at one time loot was the soldier’s pay.” It entered the English language as a good deal of loot from India entered the English economy, both in soldiers’ pockets and as imperial seizures.[1]

“When the looting starts…”[2]

When, exactly, did the looting start? We, in the Unitarian Universalist Association’s International Office, seek to lift up the histories of imperial looting and theft by empires seeking only to satiate their infinite appetites for power and domination.

We steadfastly remain in solidarity with Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples across the globe in this resistance against the historical and present-day rising tide of anti-blackness, white supremacy/ethno-nationalism, and fascism. For far too long, empires and imperial forces have advanced capitalist greed with blatant disregard for the lives of others. This has allowed for the proliferation of anti-black/-brown violence all in the name of profit for the very few.

We recognize that those who advance the agendas of empires are the original looters of land, lives, liberty, and resources. In the name of individualism and freedom, global powers have colonized, murdered, and stripped Black, Brown and Indigenous communities of the resources that would allow these communities to thrive. We recognize that the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, George Floyd, David McAtee, Manuel Ellis, Sean Monterrosa, and Maurice Gordon here in the U.S. are “symptoms of systemic anti-black racism that has roots in slavery, white supremacy, policing, militarism, the carceral state, and capitalism.”[3] And this holds true for the violence and militarism we witness in other countries around the globe.

Without a doubt, “…the struggle of black people, indigenous peoples, immigrants, Muslims, and queer and trans people in the U.S. [is] directly connected to the struggles of people in other parts of the world, from Zimbabwe, Iraq, and Venezuela to Iran, Kashmir, and Palestine.”[4]

We know that the carceral state in Australia that disproportionately imprisons Aboriginal peoples is deeply connected to settler colonialism and imperial expansion in the U.S. We know that the violent displacement of Palestinians from the increasingly occupied land that is their home is training ground for the militarization of U.S. police forces. We know that the U.S. has demonized and devastated Muslim populations in Afghanistan and Iraq – and by extension here in the U.S. – through the continued military occupation in these countries. We know that the U.S. government has always valued property more than human life as evidenced by its enslavement of human beings and its pursuit of endless unjust wars with little regard for the Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives affected and destroyed.

We join others in saying “No More.”

The names of those whose lives were stolen are many and the grief boundless. To wrap your tongue around each name is to fill your mouth with dreams that were in mid-flight. Dreams that have been thoughtlessly extinguished, but not diminished. Those on the quest for true liberation and justice, are not looters. They may be defenders, liberators, freedom fighters, visionaries, resistors – but not looters.

To label them “looters” is – first of all – a strategy to shift the focus away from the protesters’ demands and toward criminalizing them, thus justifying the police’s violent tactics against them. Second, those individual actions cannot be compared with the true historical meaning of “looting”: theft carried out by soldiers and sanctioned by imperial governments. Looting is the domain of global powers who are now witnessing the strength of an uprising that will no longer abide by the theft of lives and liberty.

We remain on the side of protesters declaring Black Lives Matter. We join in the call to defund the police and redirect resources to building healthy and safe communities. We ask you to join us in denouncing anti-blackness, white supremacy/ethno-nationalism, and fascism.

Educate, resist and act to co-create a more just and equitable world in which security is attained through “…free education, universal healthcare, mutual aid, fair wages, food security, environmental justice, and the abolition of prisons.”[5]  

Each of us must find our lane on this path to liberation and once we do, our task is to keep our foot on the gas. It is the only way we will disrupt centuries of empires looting of lives and resources.

In solidarity and faith,

Rev. Alicia R. Forde

Shreya Bhattacharya

Allison Hess

Rob Kipp

Bruce Knotts

Derek Mitchell


[1] Words Can Kill: Haiti and the Vocabulary of Disaster by Rebecca Solnit.

[2] NPR story

[3] Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, University of Minnesota

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid