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On Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, Ernie Blye, a black man, stayed at his tailor shop all night long, grasping a gun, his German shepherd at his heels. A gang of men began to menace him. He cried out: "If you shoot me, my dog will get you!" They closed in relentlessly. Blye shouted again: "I got ten cans of potash upstairs! I'm goin' upstairs now! I blind you, you come up the stairs after me! I blind you!" The crowd left him alone.
Many looters seemed scarcely aware that they were stealing. Said one of two black boys standing outside a stripped bicycle shop near Columbia University: "We're just out shopping with our parents. This is better than going to Macy's." Some blacks resented all the fuss over the looting. Said Lorraine, 14, who had helped plunder a drugstore in East Harlem: "It gets dark here every night. Every night stores get broke into, every night people get mugged, every night you scared on the street. But nobody pays no attention until a blackout comes."
A few boasted of their thefts. P.F., a 28-year-old Hispanic in Harlem, sounded like a shipping clerk reading off an invoice list as he told TIME Writer B.J. Phillips: "Well, I got a stereo worth $400, a dining room set that said $600 in the window, and some bedroom furniture, but not a whole suite. I got some tennis shoes, and a few things from the jewelry store, but I got there too late for anything really good. I got it all done in half an hour, that's how quick I was working." He paused to add it all up. "I'd put the total somewhere between $3,200 and $3,500." Any remorse? "I've got three kids and I don't have no job. I had the opportunity to rob and I robbed. I'd do it again. I don't feel bad about it."
Others offered strained justifications. Said a young woman who called herself Afreeka Omfree: "It's really sort of beautiful. Everybody is out on the streets together. There's sort of a party atmosphere." Declared a young man in Bushwick: "Prices have gone too high. Now we're going to have no prices. When we get done, there ain't gonna be no more Broadway." Said a man in his 30s, grasping a wine bottle in one hand and a TV set in another: "You take your chance when you get a chance." Added Gino, 19, a father of two: "We're poor, and this is our way of getting rich."
The Rev. Vincent Gallo, an activist Catholic priest, summed up the attitudes of people roaming his Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.
"When the lights went out, people just said, 'Here's our chance to get back at the mothers who have been ripping us off.' There also was a herd mentality, and many of the kids were egged on by adults who said, 'Hey, go get me this. Hey, go get me that.' "
Whatever the cause of the looting, New York's massive show of police force, and the cops' restraint, helped keep the nightmare from becoming even worse or continuing after the lights went back on Thursday. Canceling all leaves, the department mustered about 8,000 of its 26,000-person force, twice the number that would normally have been on duty.