White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday said the COVID-19 pandemic is “a root cause” of recent organized looting incidents across the country.
Psaki gave the surprising remark when asked at her daily briefing about large groups that have for months been descending upon San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago-area shops.
“Big cities are dealing with smash-and-grab robberies, a record number of police officers have been shot and killed this year. What is President Biden going to do about all this lawlessness?” asked Fox News reporter Peter Doocy.
Psaki at first pinned the blame on former President Donald Trump for not offering more funding to local police before turning the blame on the pandemic.
“Well, Peter, I would say that when the president proposed additional funding in his budget over the funding that had been proposed by the prior president to increase in support local police departments, make sure we keep cops on the beat,” she said.
“Does the president still think that crime is up because of the pandemic?” Doocy further asked.
“I think many people have conveyed that and also one of the … root causes of crime in communities is guns and gun violence. And we’ve seen that statistically around the country,” Psaki answered.
“So when a huge group of criminals organizes themselves and they want to go loot a store — a CVS, a Nordstrom, a Home Depot until the shelves are clean — do you think that’s because of the pandemic?” Doocy pressed.
“I think a root cause in a lot of communities is the pandemic, yes,” Psaki said.
The recent incidents featured groups converging on shops and making off like bandits — recalling widespread looting in May and June 2020 during nationwide protests and riots after the murder of George Floyd.
Unlike last year, the latest incidents generally aren’t linked to broader civil unrest and appear to be organized operations with theft as the sole goal.
Nearly two weeks ago, about 80 people on Nov. 21 raided a San Francisco-area Nordstrom department store. They drove off in two dozen cars with up to $200,000 in goods, police said.
The stunning incident was repeated in other cities.
A band of about 20 thieves stormed into a Los Angeles Nordstrom on Nov. 22 and stole $5,000 worth of items. On Nov. 24, five people maced a security guard at a different LA Nordstrom location and stole $25,000 in handbags.
Also on Nov. 24, a group of four looted an Apple store in Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco, and stole $20,000 worth of electronics in broad daylight. On Nov. 26, a Black Friday group of about 10 people raided a Los Angeles Home Depot and stole hammers, sledgehammers and crowbars.
Some Democratic politicians blamed past looting on COVID-19-related financial woes. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx and Queens) famously said in July 2020 that a crime wave was caused by people who “need to feed their child and they don’t have money.”
Psaki didn’t flesh out her reasoning for why the pandemic is to blame for the recent looting raids. But lower-income people have been disproportionately socked during the first year of the Biden administration by the highest inflation in 31 years, which has raised costs for food and transportation. Democrats generally say inflation is the result of the pandemic, while President Biden’s critics blame his policies.
Conservative politicians have blamed increases in violent and property crime on permissive policies that allow for light punishment for such deeds.