Through a series of measures starting back in 2014, the state of California has made it increasingly easy for people to commit property theft and get away with it. This trend has only accelerated during the ongoing riots, as cops are instructed to “disperse” looters rather than trying to arrest them. Even in cases where they do manage to catch somebody stealing, it’s too often not worth the trouble of taking them down to the station because they’ll just be released immediately without bail anyway. And as we’ve seen in other places like New York City, store managers in California are telling their employees to not interfere with looters for fear of being branded as racists on social media or even run into lawsuits over alleged discrimination. As a result, businesses are shutting down for good. That happened again this week as yet another Walgreens has closed its doors permanently. (Wall Street Journal, subscription required)
Progressives in California in recent years have strengthened property rights—to other people’s property. Shoplifting has essentially been decriminalized, and retailers that apprehend thieves can be sued. The result: Another Walgreens store in San Francisco, the seventh this year, is closing after its shelves were cleared by looters.
“All of us knew it was coming,” longtime customer Sebastian Luke told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Whenever we go in there, they always have problems with shoplifters.”
Mr. Luke has been posting photos of the shoplifting sprees. “I feel sorry for the clerks, they are regularly being verbally assaulted,” he said. “The clerks say there is nothing they can do. They say Walgreens’ policy is to not get involved. They don’t want anyone getting injured or getting sued, so the guys just keep coming in and taking whatever they want.”
We’re not seeing something new here that’s a result of the riots and looting, though the trend has definitely ramped up this year. This all started with the passage of Proposition 47. The state decriminalized theft such that stealing less than $950 worth of goods was only a misdemeanor, leading to a small fine, frequently far less than the value of the merchandise that was stolen.
The result of that change was felt immediately. The state has recorded increased levels of retail theft every year since prop 47 was passed. The steepest rise has been seen in what’s referred to as “mass grab and dash” robberies, where crowds of people meet up and enter a business all at once and begin grabbing everything they can carry and running out. Most stores only have one or two security personnel on duty at most so they can’t stop them all. And even if a couple of the looters are caught, they know they’ll be back out on the streets in an hour or two at most.
Today, social justice warriors have amplified this effect considerably. If the robbers are minorities, the businesses are immediately accused of racism if they attempt to stop the thieves. As the WSJ points out, there have already been six lawsuits in recent years where retailers have been forced to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars for allegedly discriminatory actions that “profile” minority thieves.
There’s a referendum (known as prop 20) on the ballot today in California to address this. It would reinstate some of the stiffer fines and penalties for property theft, particularly in the case of repeat offenders. But it’s been receiving a lot of opposition in the press, largely funded by California’s labor unions and liberal billionaires like Tom Steyer, Mark Zuckerberg, and the wife of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. The measure is widely expected to fail.
So is it any wonder that stores like Walgreens are packing up and fleeing the state? Why would you attempt to continue to do business in a climate like that? You can’t turn a profit when people keep showing up and emptying your shelves without paying. Insurance companies have limits as to how many times they’ll cover a claim if you’re unwilling or unable to secure your inventory.
California is continuing down a path where simply being a member of a minority group is an excuse for nearly anything. Holding people accountable for their crimes is decried as a form of racism, as is incarcerating anyone. And as we’ve seen repeatedly, when you stop enforcing the law, a certain percentage of the population will quickly move in to take advantage of the situation. We’re talking about a lot more than just shoplifting here. What we’re witnessing is the further shredding of the fabric of society.