MATTHEWS: The media needs to stop changing the definitions for terms they don’t like

A security guard stands outside the Nordstrom store at The Grove retail and entertainment complex in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Los Angeles police say a group of thieves smashed windows at the department store at the luxury mall late Monday, the latest incident in a trend of smash-and-grab crimes is part of a national trend. (AP Photo/Eugene Garcia)

California has been hit hard over the last couple of weeks by a rash of flash-mob crimes where scores of people will pull up in front of a department store; block off the street; run in and grab what they can; and then run out the door, disappearing well before the police arrive.

Some have dubbed the incidents “smash and grabs” while others have referred to them as “organized robberies” or “flash-mob lootings.”

But as it turns out, for some in the media, referring to such things as “looting” is not only the wrong terminology to use, but is also offensive.

After several incidents hit the Bay Area, ABC7 news outlet reported that “policing and journalism experts” cautioned against using the term “looting” to describe what happened.

For starters, the report said, technically what took place at Nordstrom’s locations, a Louis Vuitton store, and The Burberry at a local mall was not considered “looting” under California law.

“The penal code defines looting as ‘theft or burglary…during a state of emergency’, ‘local emergency’, or ‘evacuation order’ resulting from an earthquake, fire, flood, riot or other natural or manmade disaster,’” the station reported.

Beyond that, there was allegedly a stigma attached to the word “looting,” which for one expert seemed the biggest reason of all not to use it.

“Looting is a term that we typically use when people of color or urban dwellers are doing something. We tend not to use that term for other people when they do the exact same thing,” Lorenzo Boyd, a retired police officer and University of New Haven professor of criminal justice and community policing, told race and social-justice reporter Julian Glover.

Literally in the very next sentence, ABC7 acknowledged that they “don’t know the identities or races of the majority of the thieves involved in this crime wave.” Further, they also pointed out that while no states of emergency had been declared in the area, “the crimes did follow the contentious verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial Friday.”

I’ve covered the media for over two decades, and I know for a fact that I’ve seen reports where whites were referred to as “looters,” as we saw after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and after hurricanes and the like have hit North Carolina. Maybe once upon a time “looting” was used exclusively for one race, but that has not been the case for several decades.

Similarly, in the aftermath of the Antifa/Black Lives Matter-led protests last year, many of which devolved into violent riots that included looting and arson, the Associated Press urged reporters to stop referring to the riots as “riots.”

“Use care in deciding which term best applies: A riot is a wild or violent disturbance of the peace involving a group of people. The term riot suggests uncontrolled chaos and pandemonium,” they tweeted in September 2020.

“Focusing on rioting and property destruction rather than underlying grievance has been used in the past to stigmatize broad swaths of people protesting against lynching, police brutality or for racial justice, going back to the urban uprisings of the 1960s.”

Again, there’s that word “stigmatize,” and again, it’s not true. The word “riot” has commonly been used to describe white rioters as well, such as the ones we see take to the streets after their favorite sports team wins the championship, or when rioting has erupted during past presidential inaugurations.

Trust in the media is at an all-time low, and hot takes from the Word Police urging us not to call something what it is are a huge part of it. One of these days the media will finally understand that people are sick of having their intelligence insulted. But clearly, today is not that day.

Media analyst Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to RedState and Legal Insurrection.