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Property damage (or, in England and Wales, criminal damage) is damage to or the destruction of public or private property, caused either by a person who is not its owner or by natural phenomena. Property damage caused by people is generally categorized by its cause: neglect (including oversight and human error), and intentional damage. Intentional property damage is often, but not always, malicious. Property damage caused by natural phenomena may be legally attributed to a person if that person's neglect allowed for the damage to occur.
Intentional property damage may be considered a form of violence, albeit one usually (but not always) less reprehensible than violence which does bodily harm other living beings. For example, allowing a pacemaker to fail or a well to become poisoned may qualify as both property damage and lead to bodily harm. On a similar note, certain forms of property damage may prevent bodily harm, such as breaking a piece of machinery that was about to injure a person. Some argue that property damage signals a willingness to do bodily harm or otherwise intimidates the free flow of communication in political or economic debates. Mohandas Gandhi was of this opinion.
The term vandalism is often used synonymously with intentional property damage, although that term is often associated with superficial or aesthetic damage, such as defacement. When property damage is undertaken for the purpose of intimidating a government or society at large, it may be categorized by government agencies as terrorism. In certain contexts, the relations between these terms are inextricably politicized. For example, the Earth Liberation Front has claimed responsibility for a number of incidents of property damage, but claims to have never harmed a living being, and in fact has a doctrine forbidding members from doing so. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation classifies them as a "terrorist" group ostensibly because they send a political and ideological message with this destruction. Meanwhile, the United States Department of Defense restricts the term "terrorist" to groups that do actual bodily harm.
Property damage tactics in the labor-, peace- and environmental movements
Property damage tactics have been part of the labor movement, peace movement, ecology movement, environmental movement and anti-globalization movement, among others. The infrastructural capital of loggers, miners, fishers, suburban housing developers, the mass media, employers who are subject to strike actions, and even police forces have been targeted. The property so targeted, in most cases with the notable exception of labor actions, tends to be that which is deemed to be causing or threatening some form of damage to living beings. Typical examples include Greenpeace sabotage of bulldozers, peace movement activists entering NATO bases by breaking fences, and Earth Liberation Front destruction of empty new homes that they deem to be imposing on the Arizona desert ecoregion.
In the United States, many public protest slaughters were held in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the National Farmers Organization. Protesting low prices for meat, farmers would kill their own animals in front of media representatives. The carcasses were wasted and not eaten. However, this effort backfired because it angered television audiences to see animals being needlessly and wastefully killed.
- "Property damage". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
- Page 19 of Growing a New Agrarian Myth: The American Agriculture Movement, Identity, and the Call to Save the Family Farm by Ryan J. Stockwell