Looting, gamification of robberies and how to block stolen electronics


In America, for more than a week there have been protests related to the murder of a black American, he was strangled during the arrest by the police, it happened in Minnesota. Similar demonstrations have stirred up other countries – Britain, France and beyond. But in the United States, mostly peaceful demonstrations are accompanied by looting, which has become widespread. They rob big and small shops, steal goods from warehouses and even from moving freight trains. The pictures and videos that fill the network give the impression that thieves don’t care what they take, it can be sneakers or computers, jewelry or penny souvenirs. But in American newspapers and TV channels, looting is called intricately – looting (English looting, and looter is the one who is busy with it). I see this as a catastrophe, it will have far-reaching consequences both for the United States and for other countries of the world. Let’s try to figure out why this is so and what place is occupied by the robberies that swept in America from one coast to another.

Demonstrations against police violence began in Minneapolis, the site of the arrest killing. This is the first point where riots broke out, and this is the first city to impose a curfew. In some ways, the city can be called an American idyll, dozens of lakes are spread around, the Mississippi River flows through the city. The business center is built up with high-rise buildings, but they are scattered, there is no such overcrowding that is present in Manhattan. Hand in hand to St. Paul, which is the state capital, it is a twin city. The city has a little more than 400 thousand inhabitants, not the largest in America, a quiet and peaceful place. At lunchtime, when you walk or drive through the streets of Minneapolis, it seems that this is a small village asleep. Read the adventures of Tom Sawyer, sit on the veranda of the house and look across the front garden to the other side of the street. Lots of bicycles, friendly people around, one-story America at its best. Warm, but not hot summers, very mild winters. The economy does not differ in something unimaginable from other states, ordinary people live here with a typical set of problems. The state is considered the ideal place to live in retirement. For those who don’t like Florida or California, Minneapolis and the surrounding cities are suitable – affordable housing, many green parks and the very lakes around. Here there is no swagger of New York, that frantic rhythm, life flows calmly and measuredly.

This idyll shattered into pieces after George Floyd was killed during the arrest, he could not breathe when the policeman held him on the ground with his knee. The man managed to say sixteen times “I cannot breathe”, after that he showed no signs of life, death was stated already in the hospital. Many Americans considered this a manifestation of racism, excessive use of force by the police, and people took part in demonstrations, the first city was Minneapolis. I’m sure you have seen dozens of reports about this and about the riots in the United States, but they do not describe what this small city was like before the riots, the story is out of context by itself. And this context is more important than ever, since without it it is impossible to understand what is happening.

Racism in the United States has deep roots, I’m sure you remember the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, it was written in 1852, but has not lost its relevance to this day. This is not the first time social explosions have occurred in America, it is considered more or less commonplace, although the scale of the excitement as it is today can be counted on the fingers of the hand. This is the 1967 Detroit riot and was considered the most destructive to this day. The national issue is not directly related to him, the police raided the illegal bar, and the visitors, being in high spirits, started a fight. The cops were white, the drinkers were black, and there were more of them. But the police took all the detainees to the police station, and only after that the pogroms began.

The riot broke out by itself, and for five days a crowd raged in the city – robbing shops, destroying and burning buildings, more than two thousand of them suffered! Only after the introduction of the army into the city was it possible to end the riots. The tactics of this riot were simple to the point of disgrace: hotbeds of tension were created, for example, they set fire to a building, and when firefighters came to it, they shot at them. The level of violence from both sides was prohibitively high, the police responded to violence on the streets multiple times, some murders during detention have not yet been solved and are considered mass executions.

But it was in 1967 that the roots of how part of the crowd behaved in such a riot emerged. The robberies of shops are not emotional, the crowd carries symbols associated with a different way of life – car dealerships, shops of expensive things. But the other part of the crowd does not have any slogans, protests for them are an excellent cover for robberies. And these people are solving a simple problem – they benefit from what is happening. For them, protests are a cover for the opportunity to fill their pockets. Tactics are developed instantly, the robbers do not have a specific center or some kind of organization, with the exception of those who are part of the gangs, they also participate in the riots. The police are not enough, they do not have time to be everywhere. When the police are distracted by emergency calls, they start robbing shops that are out of the reach of law enforcement agencies. It takes 10-15 minutes to take out an average store, the trunks are stuffed with goods and taken away. There are no cameras, the stolen just dissolves. The opportunity to profit attracts the same people from neighboring cities, they go to Detroit to fish, and robberies become widespread. In the absence of the Internet, quick ways to tell about know-how, television remains the main way to get involved in this activity, it shows how shops are robbed.

In 1992, during the riots in Los Angeles, robberies become part of the picture. There is no Internet, so it is the traditional media that talk about what is happening and unwittingly advertise the opportunity to cash in and not be punished for it. What began in Minneapolis in 2020 has continued in dozens of cities in America, for the first time acquired such a scale due to social networks, instant information dissemination. The robberies are coordinated on social networks, there is no single center, but information constantly appears about where the police are and where they are not. In New York, this leads to the looting of entire streets and districts, looters rob Canal Street with impunity, move to Soho, continue to take out shops on the second night, and the police hardly react at all. Hundreds of people are being detained in every city, but the police do not distinguish between those arrested who stole anything and those who violated curfews or participated in demonstrations.

The inability of the police to cope with the situation is definitely visible, the law enforcement forces are clearly not enough for such crowds in each of the cities. Both large stores, such as Apple Stores, and small shops, which are everything to their owners, are robbed. The police cannot protect people and their property, which forces the latter either to say goodbye to their money and literally go around the world (many do not have insurance, or it covers insignificant amounts), or to defend themselves with weapons in hand. The latter are few, and they need a determination to shoot at people, which many do not have. Many die trying to protect their property or other people’s stores.

In the media, robbery and looting are not directly called such, the euphemism looting is used. Looters – on the one hand, robbers, on the other hand, it doesn’t sound so direct. Robbery is unambiguously perceived as a crime, and with Luthers there is no such unambiguous coloring. Moreover, both in America and outside this country, some are trying to justify the behavior of the marauders – the demonstrators allegedly collect supplies for their struggle, and this is nothing compared to the life of a person and police arbitrariness. It is impossible to justify police violence against unarmed people, but it is equally impossible to justify robberies by masking them in other words. It is a crime and cannot be classified in any other way.

Looting, gamification of robberies and how to block stolen electronics

In games, all kinds of weapons, money that can be found on the battlefield are often called loot. And to some extent, this word penetrates from games into real life, gamification of the process. It’s one thing to be a robber, quite another to be a looter. It has long been hammered into the mass consciousness that robbery will have to be held to the fullest extent possible, but looting does not seem so dangerous. It sounds silly, but this is how it is perceived by many.

And the fact that the media are trying to reduce the significance of robberies, hiding it behind a euphemism (as in our country explosions are sometimes replaced with claps, this is also idiocy) creates a wrong perception. It amazes me that quite decent people approve and support robberies: they need it, let them be responsible for the violence. Who is responsible? Shop owners? How do they relate to the problem itself and how to solve it? No way.

Against the background of businesses closed due to the pandemic, we are faced with the fact that the current unrest in America is fueled by millions of unemployed, for them looting becomes a way of existence, which, moreover, is not as terrible as robbery. For the Russian ear, the difference is purely semantic; for Americans, these are two different substances (not for everyone, but for many).

On social networks, you can even find photos of police officers who take sneakers into their cars (perhaps they are saving the remains of a store from looting?).

Looting, gamification of robberies and how to block stolen electronicsLooting, gamification of robberies and how to block stolen electronicsLooting, gamification of robberies and how to block stolen electronics

The main danger facing many countries of the world today is the export of luting from America (namely, luting, and not long-known robberies). Protests serve as a kind of excuse for the poor and others to rob shops. The lack of a massive and harsh police response to this only fuels this phenomenon.

Electronics and robbers – what they can and can’t block

Shopkeepers in the United States cannot defend their property, the only recourse is to hope that the crowd will not pass through their area. Also, all showcases are nailed with plywood so that it is difficult to break them and get inside. Many shops do not have grills or blinds, which becomes a serious security flaw for them.

Looting, gamification of robberies and how to block stolen electronics

Plywood is a very symbolic protection against burglary, usually the robbers turn off one sheet and then beat the shop window. As soon as the passage is discovered, hundreds of people go to the store, who, like ants, pull out everything that comes to their hand. Literally any stores are robbed, it can be a pharmacy, a fashion boutique or an electronics store. My friends living in New York told me that the next morning in Soho you could see scattered things from boutiques on the streets, they were just lying on the street, the robbers did not bring them to their cars. I was reminded of a picture of stout black women carrying out Victoria’s Secret bras, each with dozens of them.

Knowing New York well, it’s not hard to imagine that entire areas of the city have been looted, including electronics stores like Leica or Apple Store.

Looting, gamification of robberies and how to block stolen electronicsLooting, gamification of robberies and how to block stolen electronics

Source: @Ben Goggin

A variety of electronics were taken out from the warehouses, from televisions to ordinary push-button telephones. The robberies took on an unimaginable size, so literally every last screw was taken out of the Apple Store. And if everything is clear with accessories, they are simply stolen and will appear on message boards at bargain prices, then with computers and phones everything is much more interesting. This is the most idiotic theft that can be imagined, since it is impossible to use such devices.

There are two types of devices in the Apple Store: those that are on sale and are located in a local warehouse, and those that are in storefronts. Anyone who has been to Apple stores in America has surely paid attention to the amount of security. The guards are scattered throughout the hall and do not enter into conversations with visitors, making sure that no one tries to steal samples from the open display. This is a necessity, since attempts to steal this or that device happen all the time, people are stupid and do not understand that this is a pointless undertaking.

Demonstration devices cannot be activated, this applies to both phones and tablets, computers. They are in demo mode, which only Apple can disable. When you move away from the store at a distance of 200-250 meters, an inscription appears on the screen of the same iPhone that it is in alarm mode, and data on its location is transmitted to law enforcement agencies, it is tracked.

Looting, gamification of robberies and how to block stolen electronics

This is not an empty threat, since the devices are initially in this mode, they are at risk, and therefore they are being monitored. Demonstration devices are pointless, at best they can be used for spare parts. It is little known that in this aspect Apple also tracks the turnover of spare parts, for example, iOS has information about the main hardware components, and when replacing the screen with one removed from a stolen device, the company will find out about it. The fact that at the moment such spare parts from stolen models are not blocked is a separate issue, but the company can potentially do this.

All Apple devices must go through an activation procedure, which allows the company to block stolen models from both itself and its partners. In Russia, many are faced with the fact that they buy American iPhones at a bargain price, and then cannot activate them, they are asked to contact an operator in the United States, since their device is listed as stolen. This is a common story. The same applies to computers, they are just stolen much less often, such stories are not heard.

Hence the conclusion – it is pointless to steal something from Apple or the company’s partners, the cost of this technique is low, and thieves can be easily tracked by digital traces. And after the riots, the police will do this, look for those who participated in the robberies. The police and the FBI carefully collect all the videos and photos of the robberies in order to then find the participants and bring charges.

My favorite video, which perfectly illustrates the saying about how a thief stole from a thief, is below. The guy stole an iMac, and then it was taken away from him on the street, everything happens in New York.

What happens to other electronics? Android has the same blockers as Apple, but the difference is that they are for users, Google prohibits them by default. Therefore, devices stolen from a warehouse can be easily activated and used outside the United States (inside the country they will be searched for by IMEI numbers and eventually found). Companies bypass Google’s ban by installing tracking software on demonstration devices that are in the open layout (this is what Samsung does, for example). And stealing them is just as pointless, nothing can be done with them, the lock cannot be removed without a special code.

Smart TVs from Samsung are built on Tizen, there is no influence from Google, so it is possible to remotely lock stolen panels. It is also a rather pointless theft, it does not lead to anything.

The manufacturers of digital cameras are in a vulnerable position, there are no blockages. And you can safely use them, they have a high value in the secondary market. In New York, several stores with such equipment were robbed, so it will appear on the secondary housing soon. And this is just another blow to this segment of the market, which was already on its way.

It is difficult to estimate the extent of the robbery, but in the same Apple Store, which is located in The Grove in Los Angeles, there are usually about a hundred MacBooks in the warehouse, several hundred iPhones (not counting those handed over for repairs that they did not have time to take away or, on the contrary, pick up ). Losses are tangible, insurance companies do not cover them entirely, since no one pledges for such events, they are too rare, and insurance is too expensive in this case. Even Apple doesn’t do it, which says a lot about the loss of the business in general.

The economy and retail players have already been hit hard by the pandemic, a week of unrest and massive robberies brings even greater losses, which makes the situation worse. While there are no estimates of the size of losses from robberies throughout America, but at the level of individual cities, they say, from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. The time for assessments has not yet come, but there is no doubt that the losses will be record high. These are the most massive robberies in the history of America.

Unfortunately, it is also a role model for other countries in the world, looting is becoming an international phenomenon that has already happened. The next will surely be Paris, where pogroms are common and the closure of shops with plywood has become the norm. However, there are already riots and protesters are burning rental electric scooters on the streets. And this, for a moment, is the same someone else’s property, it did not come to mass robberies, but it is only a matter of time. And now you can call it looting, and not looting or robbery.

Anyone who justifies looting on social media should understand their responsibility, this is an excuse for robbery and crime, including murder, that happens when people try to protect their property. And this is not a word game at all, these are real lives of people. Crime must have an unambiguous assessment, and any sane person understands this. The heroization of crime is impossible. Being a looter is just as bad as being a burglar, thief, or marauder. And ignore these verbal antics, the looter remains a criminal despite trying to change the perception of this crime. Or don’t you think so?


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