I recently came across a few notes, articles and social media posts that truly alarmed me. These posts related to a narrative of rich people being evil and poor people being good and using this logic as a pretext for the legitimacy of looting and smash-and-grab robberies in the United States – and, to some extent, local crimes of opportunity. The basic premise is that the rich are depriving the poor and are thus worthy of scorn and ridicule and having their goods stolen. Part of the thinking seems to be since poor people are on the low end of the spectrum, those who have are responsible for their poverty and their businesses can be looted and plundered as a means of equalization.
California law defines petty theft as the theft of any property with a value of $950 or less. Most petty thefts are charged as misdemeanors, which carry a sentence of up to six months in county jail, a fine of no more than $1,000, or both.
The apparent logic is that poor people are unreasonably jailed for petty theft and this, in turn, exposes them to the penitentiary system that only makes them worse.
And loss prevention officers (security guards) employed by many stores to prevent shoplifting, can do the following if they believe someone is stealing store property: ask to look in a suspect’s bag (but the suspect can refuse), use reasonable force to detain someone, detain a suspect for a reasonable time, and require a person to stay with them until police officers arrive. A person is not required to speak with a loss prevention officer as they are not law enforcement officers but private security guards.
Storeowners have to bear it because they are “rich” and either claim on their insurance or take a loss in the name of not contributing to the delinquency of the poor.
If I had not read and seen these articles, I would have never believed this could be occurring but, apparently, it is. I spoke with an acquaintance who recently traveled to San Francisco and he shared with me his horrific experience. He even stated that he would not be returning to San Francisco for a while because of what he experienced. His first instance of horror began when he rented a car and went to a restaurant. He said that, while in the restaurant, someone smashed the window of the rental car. While in the restaurant, a vagrant defecated on the sidewalk in full view of onlookers. The police did nothing because they were instructed to focus on major crimes, and things like smashing car windows and defecating on the sidewalk were considered as a misuse of police resources as they needed to focus on “real crimes”. When my friend went to make a complaint about the car window, he was told there was nothing that could be done, so he had no recourse.
My friend then explained that when he walked out of his hotel room, in a fairly upscale community, heroin addicts were openly shooting up on the sidewalk and, again, there was no effort to arrest or remove them. Again, this was considered to be too minor for local police and it was no longer a crime – so, life goes on.
Whatever the reasoning is this is a precursor to lawlessness and wherever the rule of law is impeded disaster is not far away. In a number of cities, this seed of lawlessness has encouraged both organized and unorganized groups of thieves to routinely go into stores and run out with hundreds of dollars of goods every day, then resell them online in the black market. Some storeowners are closing stores, others are locking up merchandise in cages and others are opting to get out of business altogether because of the stupidity of elected officials who fail to recognize a simple principle. Crime should have consequences enough to deter it or it will increase and multiply and threaten the safety of everyone. Small crimes lead to big crimes and if you fail to punish small crimes, the small criminals become big criminals.
As expected, this has spread from California to other states and even to downtown Chicago. Groups of thieves are now organizing themselves in large groups, running into stores, stealing what they want and facing very little, if any, consequences. The poor are no better than the rich or vice versa. If truth be told, the poor would switch places with the rich at a moment’s notice; and, in many ways, if they were in the position the rich are in, they would be happy. The poor want to be rich but the rich do not want to be poor. It’s easy to point the finger at the rich without acknowledging that you would be just like them if positions were traded. No one is better than anyone else. We should stop demonizing people who worked their way through a capitalistic system and achieved financial success. Whether they inherited it or earned it – it belongs to them. I believe reparations should be paid to the disenfranchised, particularly the former slave and indigenous populations, to atone for the systemic deprivation and abuse but promoting lawlessness will never cause it to happen.
Thankfully, such idiocy has not made its way to The Bahamas but we have to be vigilant because the ideological Colonialists to our north often export their ideas. These horrible experiments are not working, they are not reducing crime but seem to be creating more criminals. Stealing is stealing – and stealing without consequences leads to more stealing. Perpetrators of crime on any level should be punished proportionately to their crime. Over-punishment is certainly not good but under-punishment is not good either. What is needed is fair punishment on every level.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.