Chances are you’ve heard about the looting taking place in Philadelphia over the past couple weeks, with over 20 stores such as Lululemon, Apple, and multiple Fine Wine locations being ransacked. But did you hear about the case that prompted that response?
On Aug. 14 during a traffic stop, officer Mark Dial fatally shot Eddie Irizarry through a rolled up driver's side window. Irizarry had a small pocket knife in his hand, and was shot six times by Officer Dial at close range, according to bodycam footage.
The police initially stated that Irizarry had lunged at officers from outside of his vehicle, but then reformed their statement to say that he had been sitting in his vehicle and did not exit. A 22 minute bodycam video was released showing everything leading up to the shooting, confirming that Irizarry did not initiate any attack. Officer Dial was fired and charged with murder, simple assault, and other charges. The day the looting started, officer Mark Dial had all charges against him dismissed, and was therefore allowed to walk free.
This unsettled many members of the community, and peaceful protests took place at City Hall. It’s important to distinguish peaceful protesters from looters, and I’d like to stress that the same people who were protesting peacefully were not the ones who took to the street and looted.
Historically, looting has been a powerful tool in drawing attention to inequities in America. It’s just as much a critique on capitalism and white supremacy as it is a wake up call for the rest of America. As seen in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, looting was helpful in drawing eyes to the case. It also highlighted how desperate some people are for everyday items. They looted because they saw an opportunity to obtain things they normally couldn’t afford. While I won’t say that it is the right reaction, I understand some of the motivations behind looting as a tool for social change and as a means to garner national attention.
However, I believe the looting in this case to be more opportunistic than based on deeper motives. Some people saw officer Dial's dismissal as a reason to take to the streets and loot, and didn’t bother to educate themselves on the case. Rather, they saw it as a way to use the tense atmosphere as an excuse to break the law.
I understand why people believe peaceful action is best. While looting can draw attention to a case, it can also give a case the wrong sort of attention. Rather than focus on the officer and their actions, the gaze is instead shifted to community chaos. People can use looters — however far removed from peaceful protesters — as a means to invalidate and discredit social movements by questioning their legitimacy and deeming them violent. I believe this isn’t the answer.
Focusing exclusively on looting takes away from the actual necessity for police reform and accountability. I’ve seen many posts on Sidechat and Instagram platforming videos of the looting to racialize the issue, and comment sections insisting that the looting is exclusively done by "Black people" populating the streets.
Not only is this kind of thinking absurd, it also denigrates entire communities based on the actions of a small minority of people. The existence of officers who abuse their power and shoot and murder when it’s potentially unnecessary is much more unsafe than a couple closed business chains. When the first things to pop up on the internet are concerning the Fine Wine closures and not the actions taken by officers and their results, I see it as a failure to center on the bigger picture and arguably more worthwhile story.
Focusing on the looting of several department stores rather than the multiple bullets which killed Irizarry through a rolled up window is not where the story should be — nor where it should stay. The issue of public safety is especially important for Penn students and families; however, in the interest of safety, the best thing you can do is be informed — informed as to what, and more importantly why, certain actions or crimes are taking place.
Rather than circulate videos of broken windows and stolen merchandise, let's instead focus on the dismissal and what that means for Philadelphians and their relationship with the police. Let’s listen and attempt to better understand the political climate of the city in which we live.
As Penn students, it is our duty to know what's happening in Philadelphia beyond the sensationalized and viral. Regardless of your opinions on the shooting or its legality, it is important to be informed. In an environment where the majority of undergraduate students are new to Philadelphia, you must make efforts to dive deeper than the sensationalized and immerse yourself in the cultural and political atmosphere of this city.
MIA VESELY is a sophomore studying philosophy, politics and economics from Phoenix, Ariz. Her email is email@example.com.