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The History Behind 'When The Looting Starts, The Shooting Starts'

Historians in the News
tags: racism, Police, riots, Donald Trump



In 1967, Miami police Chief Walter Headley used the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" during hearings about crime in the Florida city, invoking angry reactions from civil rights leaders, according to a news report at the time.

"He had a long history of bigotry against the black community," said professor Clarence Lusane of Howard University.

"The NAACP and other black organizations had for years complained about the treatment of the black community by Miami police. At this hearing, in discussing how he would deal with what he called crime and thugs and threats by young black people, he issued this statement that the reason Miami had not had any riots up to that point, was because of the message he had sent out that 'when the looting starts, the shooting starts,' " Lusane said.

Headley was head of the police force for 20 years and referred to his "get tough" policy on crime during a 1967 news conference as a war on "young hoodlums, from 15 to 21, who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign. ... We don't mind being accused of police brutality."

According to Lusane, Headley may have borrowed the phrase from Eugene "Bull" Connor, who had been the notorious public safety commissioner in Birmingham, Ala. Connor was a segregationist who directed the use of police dogs and fire hoses against black demonstrators.

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The president took questions from the press Friday evening following a meeting with business leaders to discuss reopening the economy. When asked about his use of the phrase, Trump said he was unfamiliar with its history.

"I've heard that phrase for a long time. I don't know where it came from or where it originated," Trump said. "Frankly, it means when there's looting, people get shot and they die. And if you look at what happened last night and the night before, you see that, it's very common. And that's the way that's meant."

Read entire article at NPR

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