On 29 August 2017, an anonymous Internet user posted a video to the viral video sharing website LiveLeak, labeling it with the headline, "Couple of sh*theads looting in Houston during Hurricane Harvey." The video purports to show two men looting in Houston amid flooding from the catastrophic storm which made landfall in southeast Texas in late August 2017.
The video shows two men standing in thigh-deep water, taking what appears to be cash from a register. The grainy video contains no time or location stamp, and the poor quality makes it difficult to ascertain what kind of currency they are taking out of the register. There is also no sound, and it is unclear if a crime is taking place — or if they work at the store and are salvaging money amid a flood. Whether they had a key or if they broke in to the register would also be telling, but the video is edited in such a way that it doesn't show that information:
Because this video lacks any time or location information, we are unable to verify where it took place and when, and under what circumstances.
Kese Smith, spokesman for the Houston Police Department, told us the city has experienced "almost non-existent" looting in the aftermath of the storm — with a population of 2.3 million people and ranking the fourth largest city, population-wise, in the United States, there have only been 18 arrests for looting since Harvey hit. (The Houston Chronicle tallied 40 arrests for Harris County as a whole as of 31 August 2017.) The storm also brought catastrophic flooding and 46 deaths as of 1 September 2017. On 29 August 2017, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner implemented an overnight curfew, "only to prevent potential criminal acts."
Smith told us police could not verify a video with no location or timestamps, but in general Houston residents have been law-abiding and helpful:
Looting is almost non existent in Houston. People have been cooperative not just with each other, but also with Houston PD. The weather is at its worst but Houstonians are at their best.
The same day it was posted on LiveLeak, the video was posted to the popular "Outlaw Morgan" Facebook page with the caption, "So the looting has begun."
Despite the fact the video's date, location and circumstances are all completely unknown, that has not stopped the outrage machine; it has been viewed millions of times and shared thousands of times, and also has numerous comments with racist messages and even violent death threats aimed at the black community as a result.