As Florida recovers from Hurricane Ian, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a moral plea against looting that appears to have some firepower behind it.
Speaking near Fort Myers in the leveled community of Matlacha on Friday, the Republican Governor relayed one sight he saw in Punta Gorda in neighboring Charlotte County the day prior.
“They boarded up all the businesses, and there are people that wrote on their plywood, ‘you loot, we shoot,'” DeSantis said. “At the end of the day, we are not going to allow lawlessness to take advantage of this situation. We are a law-and-order state, and this is a law-and-order community, so do not think that you’re going to go take advantage of people who’ve suffered misfortune.”
The Governor also commented on the grit and resilience of the community and called for “all hands on deck” regarding the rule of law. However, his dispatch was choppy, making the overall statement unclear.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said he had spoken at length to Attorney General Ashley Moody, who was also on the scene.
“We are not going to tolerate — and I mean zero tolerance — when we say anyone that thinks they’re going to thrive on the residents of this county or state when we just took a horrific hit, I can guarantee you that is not going to happen,” Marceno said.
Later in St. Augustine, DeSantis said he told Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie that the state could provide support in the event of people bringing boats to try to “ransack” homes on islands that have been isolated from the mainland.
“I can tell you, in the state of Florida, you never know what may be lurking behind somebody’s home,” DeSantis said. “I would not want to chance that if I were you, given that we’re a Second Amendment state.”
Also on Friday, Moody took to Twitter to share a video of people reportedly arrested for looting in Fort Myers Beach.
“Florida will not tolerate looters taking advantage of (Hurricane Ian) to prey on vulnerable Floridians. They will be arrested and I have asked state attorneys to seek the longest pretrial detention possible to keep them locked up so they cannot commit new crimes,” she tweeted.
DeSantis has frequently touted Florida as a “law-and-order” state, particularly in appearances alongside Florida Sheriffs. The saying often carries a political connotation, but for residents whose homes and communities have been devastated, it is likely a comforting message.
However, the phrase reportedly left on the boarded-up business evokes the “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” saying, popularized by the late Miami Police Chief Walter Headley. That phrase arose during a spree of violent crime during the 1967 holiday season and again during the 1968 Miami riot, periods of unrest during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
“You loot, we shoot,” isn’t even new in the hurricane context, used when Hurricane Harvey struck Houston and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But others see the phrase as stoking violence and division.
About 85% of Lee County customers are without power, according to statistics released from the Florida Public Service Commission at noon. That, in part, has required delivering messages to the community in person.
Law enforcement has community response units on the ground to deliver water, information and security.
“Most importantly, safety and security as always,” Marceno said. “I guarantee you, we will be out here in full force, and any person that makes that horrific error that thinks they’re going to do something to one of my residents in my county, I guarantee you it’ll be swift incarceration immediately with no tolerance.”
Sheriff’s deputies told me Thursday afternoon these people were arrested for looting on Fort Myers Beach. pic.twitter.com/j8JKRremlP
— Gage Goulding – NBC2 (@GageGoulding) September 30, 2022