No, It’s Not Okay to Vandalize a Jerk’s Cars, Even If the Jerk Is a ‘Greedy’ Car Dealer With Insurance

We live in polarized times, when acknowledging the existence of one group of evil people is considered to be a defense of a second group of evil people that the first group of bad actors consider their enemies. Some folks have trouble holding the concept that it is possible to despise both sides of a controversy, without having to identify with this or that tribe. I dislike having to use caveats in my writing but let me say at the outset that I think that people and businesses should not unduly take advantage of situations during natural disasters and other catastrophes.

We’ve seen a lot of inspirational stories out of Texas and Florida in the literal wake of two mammoth storms. We’ve also seen some price gouging and looting. Catastrophes bring out the worst and best in both those that are directly affected, and in those who observe from afar.

A couple of Florida car dealers, in Hollywood and further north in Tallahassee, decided to shelter their inventories from Hurricane Irma in public parking structures made available to residents trying to keep their personal vehicles above flood waters (and somewhat protected from flying debris). The dealers may have protected their vehicles from Irma, but that didn’t protect them from a storm of bad publicity. Every car those dealers parked in those structures meant someone’s daily driver couldn’t be saved from the maelstrom.

Our friends over at Jalopnik posted on the story and as one might suspect, most of their readers’ comments were critical of the dealers. The parking structure in Tallahassee belongs to Florida State University, evoking sympathy for supposedly impoverished, ramen-budgeted college students whose cars might have gotten damaged from Irma (when I was in university, ramen hadn’t yet made its way here from Japan, and nobody who had a car on campus could have been described as impoverished — times have changed).

Empathetic allusions were also made to working folks who use their cars just to get to work every day and need them more than the dealers need their cars. There were frequent references to the fact that the dealers were likely covered by insurance, and that if they weren’t insured, or if the businesses didn’t have hurricane contingency plans, it was their own fault.

Most of the readers’ comments addressed the matter from a mature perspective, with many of the comment threads discussing things like economic utility costs, total benefits to the economy and society, the tragedy of the commons, whether or not businesses are “residents”, and other somewhat philosophical aspects to the matter.

Some people, though, think that when someone else is being a jerk it gives those fellows license to act badly themselves. After all, he deserved it, didn’t he? Disturbingly, a number of the comments advocating messing with the cars the dealers had stashed, and not just messing with them. Even more disturbing was that nobody pushed back on the proposed vandalism.

There were suggestions to block the dealers’ cars with residents’ own vehicles. I’ll concede that blocking them in with privately owned vehicles parked behind them is more akin to civil disobedience than a breakdown in social order. As well, the suggestion that using shoe polish on the cars’ windows was, I admit, a clever spin on how car dealers themselves mark prices and come-ons on their vehicles with similar shoe polish, and that doesn’t permanently damage cars.

Some comments were darker. One suggested that authorities tow the dealers’ cars to someplace where they’d get damaged by the hurricane. A number of commenters even advocated, and others concurred with them, that vandalizing the dealerships’ cars was an appropriate response.

Oh, they didn’t use the word “vandalize” since they seem to see themselves as potential vigilantes, not vandals, but it’s clear they think it’s justified to use keys, knives, and tire irons on other peoples’ private property just because they did something selfish and annoying. Some may see themselves as activists. One commenter suggesting covering one’s face with a balaclava, presumably so as not to be identified on security video, when keying a car.

When did it become okay to vandalize someone’s car just because they were being a rectal orifice? It really doesn’t matter if it’s a dealer using up more than their share of public parking spaces during a hurricane or if it’s some kind of Lamborghini-driving jerk parked diagonally across three spaces at the Home Depot, another party’s bad behavior doesn’t give you or me the license to violate other social norms, let alone violate the law.

Property rights are civil rights.

[Screenshots via Jalopnik]



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