Release Date: September 1, 2005
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Reports of widespread looting in New Orleans following the tragic flooding of the historic city sound less like actual criminal activity than desperation, according to a forensic psychologist at the University at Buffalo.
"Maybe looting isn't even the right word," says Charles Patrick Ewing, Jr., JD, Ph.D., UB professor of law. "They're taking the necessities of life. How much good are any of the perishables in the stores going to be to anyone if they don't take them."
Ewing calls the desperate efforts to find food and water by people in New Orleans "a primitive save-yourself mentality," and added that people are principally concerned about the basics of survival.
Reports that all the guns in a looted Wal-Mart store were taken didn't surprise him, Ewing says. "It's every person for himself. I can understand wanting to have a gun – not that I condone it. I'd be scared."
The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina has made New Orleans a "lawless state" and when you get like that, the law doesn't have any deterrent value.
"If you want or need something, you're going to take it. I understand taking food, or water, or clothes. It's devolved to basic survival," he says.
"It's beyond most people's comprehension or ability to imagine. And the trauma isn't going to just go away."