Originally posted on October 21, 2021.
California has effectively decriminalized shoplifting thanks to Proposition 47, passed in 2014.
Crime Control and Social Inequality
With Walgreen’s announcement last week that the company will close five more stores in San Francisco, Jason L. Riley (WSJ) urges that the focus should be on the connection between crime control and social inequality. Walgreens, for example, has shut down 22 stores in San Fran since 2016.
Local lawmakers accuse Walgreens of being too preoccupied with “boosting profits, that theft isn’t that bad, and that the chain should just suck up the losses.” If Walgreens were alone in its concern over shoplifting, there might be some credibility to this thinking, argues Mr. Riley, “but other large retailers have had similar problems.
Earlier this year, a spokesman for CVS, which has closed at least two stores, told CNN that of its 155 locations in the Bay Area, the 12 in San Francisco account for 26% of all shoplifting incidents in the region.”
Using Target as another example, Mr. Riley notes the closure in recent years of Target stores in predominantly black sections of Chicago, Milwaukee, and Flint, Mich. in the wake of not only increased store thefts but also rioting, looting, and violent anti-police protests.
If you are middle class and the nearest big-box store closes, you simply drive to a different one or its equivalent. But if you are a poor single mom without a car, your options are limited. You’ve just lost access, perhaps, to the closest, cheapest and widest variety of fresh produce, medicines and other goods. The alternatives are more-expensive convenience stores and less-healthy processed food for your family.
There Go the Entry Level Jobs
Last spring, the NYT profiled a Target in a mostly black Baltimore community.
(Target) “recruited heavily from the neighborhood,” hiring people who had never been steadily employed. “When Mike Johnson applied for a job, he was ‘down on his luck,’ having run out of tuition money to stay at Coppin State University, a historically black college,” the paper wrote. “At 19, he got a position stocking shelves overnight and worked his way up to earning $16.50 as a supervisor. It was the first time he had worked somewhere with Black people in leadership roles.” Nevertheless, the mall where the Target was located was looted during antipolice protests in 2015, and the store reportedly struggled for years with high rates of theft. It closed in 2018.
Public policies that give priority to the interests of lawbreakers only lead to more law-breaking, and by extension to more economic inequality. Businesses have every incentive to flee these communities and the jobs follow them.
Condoning Counterproductive Behavior
Tempting though it may be to blame the social dysfunction in poorer communities on heartless business owners or racist cops, “the bigger blame surely lies with public policies that condone counterproductive behavior and make successful businesses much more difficult to operate,” continues Mr. Riley
The fallout from antipolice protests in recent years has been all too predictable, as has the left’s response to it. Large employers quit urban areas after the riots of the 1960s as well, and some of those communities still haven’t fully recovered. Until the rule of law is restored and enforced, they probably never will.
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