The looters scattered, roachlike, in the full morning sunlight, then stopped to watch brazenly when the owner of Joe’s candy store showed up and saw his store disemboweled onto the Brownsville sidewalk. He let out a furious howl.
Like a wounded bull, the man went after one edge of the crowd that held his candy bars and cigarettes. The looters simply skittered off, the children and women in screams and laughter, the teenaged boys swaggering like toreadors. “Oh those scum, those bastards, those rotten scum.”
The darkness this time was the act of two little boys initiating themselves into theft, clambering through the charred remains of John’s Bargain Store, coming out with school supplies, and almost getting trampled by an old woman protecting an armful of pots. “It was like World War III.” The scene often was of white, Jewish merchants standing outside their stores in groups watched by crowds of blacks and Hispanics.
Like other merchants, Sonny Robinson, proprietor of a black-owned camera store on 125th Street, counted differences from the 1965 blackout – chiefly the hot July night this time and the more depressed economic state of the ghetto, compared with the chill November evening and the Vietnam Ware economy of 12 years ago.
But this blackout, as epic as 1965’s was, lasted longer – in 1965 the lights were back on by daylight. At midday yesterday, there were merchants and residents worried that if their neighborhoods hit dusk without electricity restored, the looting would intensify.
“Then you can hang it up, daddy.” Others wondered if the mere restoration of power would shake the lust for loot. He eyed the sportive groups in sunlight, lugging away boxes of meat and sacks of booty and thought the festivity could go forward on its own.
When power was restored to Harlem’s 125th Street yesterday morning music was heard blaring from a record store. A crowd regrouping outside Busch’s Jewelers hustled under the steel protective curtain, long since bent back like a sardine can, looking for gems missed in the darkness of earlier raids.
excerpt from Francis X Clines NYT 7/15/77