Where does the phrase 'When the looting starts, the shooting starts' come from?

Before Trump, it was uttered by a Southern police chief during civil rights unrest in the 1960s.
Image:The twitter page of President Donald Trump is displayed on a mobile phone
President Donald Trump's Twitter page, seen on Friday, May 29, 2020.Olivier Morin / AFP - Getty Images

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By Rebecca Shabad

WASHINGTON — Twitter said early Friday that a post by President Donald Trump about the protests overnight in Minneapolis glorified violence because of the historical context of his last line: "When the looting starts, the shooting starts."

The phrase was used both by Miami's police chief, Walter Headley, in 1967, and by presidential candidate and segregationist George Wallace the following year.

Hadley used it when he addressed his department's "crackdown on ... slum hoodlums," according to a United Press International article from the time.

Headley, who was chief of police in Miami for 20 years, said that law enforcement was going after “young hoodlums, from 15 to 21, who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign. ... We don't mind being accused of police brutality."

"There is only one way to handle looters and arsonists during a riot and that is to shoot them on sight. I've let the word filter down: When the looting starts the shooting starts," Headley said, according to a New York Times report from 1970.

On Friday afternoon, Trump tried to defend his remarks, tweeting, "Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night - or look at what just happened in Louisville with 7 people shot. I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means...."

He added, "....It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement. It’s very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media. Honor the memory of George Floyd!"

Rev. Theodore Gibson, right, active in fostering smooth interracial relations in Miami, Fla., tells the Miami City Commission he favors strong action against crime, Dec. 30, 1967. He added he believed Miami Police Chief Walter Headley, left, used overly strong language in announcing his war on crime and "get tough" policy.Jim Bourdier / AP file

The phrase was considered to have contributed to the city's race riots in the late 1960s, according to The Washington Post.

Headley, who died only a few months later in 1968 and had been denounced by civil rights leaders, was described in an Associated Press obituary as the "architect of a crime crackdown that sent police dogs and shotgun-toting patrolmen into Miami's slums in force."

Wallace, a Democrat who fought to preserve segregation during his political career, also used the phrase when he ran a third-party presidential campaign in 1968. According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he said the same thing to his supporters during a campaign event in Pittsburgh's Civic Arena: "When the looting starts, the shooting starts."

Later Friday morning, hours after Twitter noted that Trump's initial tweet violated rules, the White House official Twitter account posted the same tweet with the "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" phrase.