Does inaction prevent or call for vigilance?
Like me, many San Franciscans have thought about this.
With shoplifting as blatant as the fog in the Outer Sunset District, what would any of us do if shoplifting happened right before our eyes?
Do we ask for help?
Will we challenge the thief?
Would we back down if we challenged the thief?
Do we take out our cell phones, take pictures of the thief, and call the police?
Are we going to look the other way because it's someone else's problem?
Like many, I imagined and weighed the potential risks before deciding that there were too many variables to predict my behavior.
In the meantime, I just had to resign myself to the reality of holding up merchandise at my local drug store while shaking my head at the unintended consequence of a 2014 change in the state's penal code, which — with a few exceptions — leads to theft during the regular Prohibition period. Hours of operation for merchandise valued at $950 or less is a misdemeanor.
Seeing an opportunity, shoplifters have made drug stores a prime target. In fact, there were 750 petty or grand theft incidents at 40 San Francisco Walgreens locations in the first five months of 2023 alone. It is unlikely that all incidents will be reported.
As much as I hated this latest example of civic degradation, the scale of the crime wave was conditioning me to swallow my frustration and accept that petty theft was no longer an act of desperation or thrill-seeking, but rather an act of sorts; Not a sin like in my youth, but a sign of the times.
Then it happened.
While waiting in line at my neighborhood drug store, I noticed a woman pushing her canvas stroller — twice the size of a baby stroller — toward the back aisles. The store manager walked by, took a double take, and then headed to the checkout counter.
As I was about to finish my transaction, I watched the same woman — her cart now overflowing with paper goods and other miscellaneous products — walk past the cash registers and out the front door.