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When two men in Bushwick wearily set down a heavy box of shoes, a band of youths swooped in like vultures and made off with the prize. A teen-age girl on Manhattan's upper West Side complained to friends that some boys had offered to help carry away clothes and radios, then had stolen them from her. Said she, with the skewed logic of the looters: "That's just not right. They shouldn't have done that."
Many bystanders cheered on the looters, but others were outraged by what they saw. Complained a black man in East Harlem: "The shop owners don't live here, but the people who work for them do. They run these stores out, and they run out the few jobs in this neighborhood. The lights are gonna come back on, but what about the jobs?" A man in his 30s bitterly taunted marauding teenagers: "You dumb niggers. You get busted, you get hurt for a pair of sneakers. You're dumb, niggers. You're dumb. Sneakers. Christ!"
Shouted another man at a gang of teen-agers who had looted a drugstore: "If my mother gets sick in the night and needs her nitroglycerin, where am I gonna go? Maybe you don't care, but where am I supposed to buy my pills?" Next morning, a young woman walked along Third Avenue, desperately looking for any food store that might be open and unlooted. "I'm trying to buy some bread," she said. "I can't find none."
Stores owned by blacks and Hispanics suffered the same fate as those operated by whites. In Brooklyn, the Fort Green cooperative supermarket—set up by low-income blacks after the 1968 riots—was stripped bare. The store had no steel window guards because, said Manager Clifford Thomas, "we thought we were part of the community. We were wrong."
In many neighborhoods, however, residents joined to protect the property.
Reported TIME'S Lou Dolinar: "In Brooklyn's middle-class Clinton Hill, black, white and Hispanic homeowners sat on their stoops, sharing cigarettes, candles and flashlights, and occasionally pulling up crabgrass to pass the weary hours before dawn. Half a dozen teenage Italians, armed with baseball bats and iron pipes, helped merchants guard a five-block section of Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn. At an A. & P. supermarket in Brooklyn, a burly, 6-ft. 8-in. Jamaican security guard brandished a pearl-handled machete and, with four clerks and the manager, chased away a gang of 30 youths." Many owners armed themselves with pistols, rifles or shotguns and sat up all night by candlelight in their stores. Surprisingly few shots were fired. Indeed, there were remarkably few fatalities during the disturbances: three people died in fires, and in Brooklyn, a drugstore owner gunned down a man who was brandishing a crowbar at him while leading 30 youths past the store's accordion-like security fence.
Eugene Riback, the owner of Harlem's Simon Furniture Co., took stock of his wrecked four-story store, behind the protective armor of private guards toting pistols and leashing attack dogs. Two brazen thieves ran in, grabbed a washing machine and headed to the street. One of the guards pointed his gun at a looter's head, three feet away. The intruder snarled: "You either kill me or I go out the door with the washer." He kept going, and the security man sheathed his gun.