A remark I saw about the decision to close some Walgreens locations in San Francisco amid reports of shoplifting caught my eye. “Shoplifting can’t be the reason Walgreens is closing, all of their items are already locked up.”
Telling this to others, I did not have to explain the absurdity of the statement. Of course, they’re locked up, because shoplifting is a problem.
The other day I was waiting in line at Walgreens in downtown San Mateo and saw a young woman walk out of the store with several bottles of shampoo in her arms. The alarm went off, but she kept walking, and no one even looked up. Not an employee, not another customer. That was if it didn’t happen.
Should I blame Proposition 47? Financing the police movement? Income inequality? Moral decadence? progressive ? Republicans? All the foregoing? None of these answers? Have I built a political theory on this episode? No. As anyone who knows me well knows, I firmly believe that it’s never that simple. Everything is complicated and the roots are many. However, I suspect that citing and releasing rather than booking suspected criminals because of COVID played a role.
But shampoo shoplifting isn’t nearly as worrisome as car break-ins, residential burglaries, gun violence, and ultimately the deaths of innocent people. I think of the death of Jasper Wu, the 23-month-old child killed by a stray bullet on November 6 on Interstate 880 in Oakland as two people exchanged gunfire around the car he was in with his mother. I think of the death of Kevin Nishita, the retired Colma police sergeant who was killed while providing security for a news crew covering a crime story in Oakland last week.
I’m not as worried about high-end retailers who had their merchandise stolen by organized mobs last week. Brazen crimes are worrying and there are fears of escalation, but I’m not so worried about corporations. They will be fine.
However, it is somewhat concerning that so much action and attention has been given to the situation, especially since smash-and-grabs have become such a problem in the Bay Area over the past few years. . Why was there no attention when ordinary people had their things stolen? We all know why. It’s money.
This is not a rant about the inequity of political attention when it comes to money, however, if you wanted to read this with that subtext, who am I to stop you?
It is rather an observation of the politicization of this situation. It suddenly becomes a battle between Fox News and those who hate Fox News. The media are guilty. It’s a ploy to recall Chesa Boudin. It’s a ploy to reduce liberal politics in this region to a sound phrase that says we’re all crazy. Or that criminal justice reform is going too far.
Maybe it is. And maybe all of that is also somewhat true. Maybe the media is exaggerating all this. Perhaps there is also a political endgame. It’s not new.
Still, focusing on whether the stories are exaggerated is the wrong approach. It’s entertaining. There is a problem here and finger pointing is not the solution.
We may have to live with Zyrtec and formula behind a locked piece of plastic, but that doesn’t mean other changes can’t take place. We can enforce our current laws and review potential changes. Although Proposition 20 failed to amend Proposition 47, perhaps changes can be made through our legislative process. As a society, we are making progress in criminal justice reform, and more can and should be done. But not all changes are successful and some need to be revisited. Look at California’s three-strike laws, for example. In 2012, we passed Proposition 36, which required the third strike to be a felony to impose a life sentence. This was in response to those who had committed minor offenses receiving much longer sentences than was fair.
Change can and must happen. Change does not equal the dismantling of our progress. This is part of progress.
Collectively, we focus too much on messaging and politics rather than the real heart of particular issues. We can honestly say that crime is not rampant on the streets of the Bay Area and we do not live in a war zone. However, if we are also honest, there are worrying crime trends that show little sign of slowing down. This is what needs to be settled. This is not a conservative or liberal question. Crime affects people in very serious ways, regardless of political party. The families of Jasper Wu and Kevin Nishita know this all too well.
Jon Mays is the editor of the Daily Journal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.