Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The iPad Thieves

An immigrant business owner and his wife stand by helplessly as mob loots their store
Screen Shot 2020-06-01 at 7.33.15 PM

On James Lileks’s blog, I found this short video of a Minneapolis small businessman, a Muslim immigrant, watching helplessly as black rioters loot his store. If you watch, be prepared for some bad language:

Lileks narrates:

Ah: the owner shows up. He appears Indian or Pakistani. He implores them to get out, please, at the pace of their own choosing. One man falls out of the window, carrying bags of merchandise.

The owner helps him up.

“Ipads!” says the narrator. “Insurance! Insurance! Ipads!”

The owner hears this and addresses the narrator: he doesn’t have insurance.

“Oh shit oh shit,” says the narrator. “He’s Muslim.”

This suddenly makes all this a bad to do, maaaaybe?

“Why aren’t we stealing from the white people,”’ someone says. A few people hand their phones back. They apologize.

“And his wife is pregnant. And his wife is pregnant.” It’s almost like there’s something close to remorse. But: “Reality in real life,” the narrator says.

That poor man. There he is, losing everything. He is humiliated by the mob, in front of his wife. Can you not feel for him? Every one of those SOBs who stole from that man are my enemy. Any political leader who does not take a hard and uncompromising line against the thugs that stole from that man are my enemy.

One of my favorite movies is the 1948 Italian film Bicycle Thieves. It could hardly have a simpler plot: a poor man who is desperate for a job to support his wife and young children. He finally lands one, but has to have a bicycle. His wife pawns her prized bedsheets — one of the only things of value this impoverished family has — to get her husband’s bicycle out of pawn. On the first day of work, a thief steals his bike. Most of the film follows the poor man’s search through Rome for his bicycle. He takes with him his little boy Bruno. What we, the viewer, see is a man fighting hard for his dignity, and seeing the theft strip him of that, in front of his son. It is excruciating.

That’s what I thought about when I watched that small shopowner, an immigrant, having to stand by and watch while the mob stole everything he had, as his wife watched her husband unable to protect the family’s business. The humiliation of it all.

The hatred that these mobs, and the people who apologize for them, are generating will be red-hot. Read the Lileks blog post for more. Major corporations are falling all over themselves to signal their virtue. “Black Lives Matter” has become the “Workers Of The World Unite” sign of Havel’s greengrocer myth: the sign shop owners put in their windows (so to speak) to avoid trouble.

Look at this from the digital front page of the Washington Post right now:

The New York Times digital front page is about the same as of this writing: nothing sympathetic to the innocent victims of these rampages — people like that immigrant business owner. The Post did publish a column yesterday by a Minneapolis Muslim woman whose family restaurant was burned down by the rioters. “Let it burn” she wrote; it’s the family’s sacrifice for justice. Masochists like this can find sympathetic ears in our national media.

Can people speaking out, without qualification or apology, for the mob’s victims? Do they count? Who tells their stories? Who cries out in rage for what they have had taken from them?

UPDATE: This is Manhattan tonight:

When I moved to New York City in 1998, it was so, so common to hear people say that Rudy Giuliani, who had been elected in 1994, had made such a difference in the life of the city. “You can’t imagine what it was like before,” they would say. That was a long time ago. Now, it’s back to the 1980s.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now