Stop, Thief!

On our way back from Old Kent Road, we stopped by a post office so that MrFodder could send a postcard to his grandparents – his grandmother collects postcards in an album, so I’d like to send her one from each city that we visit. The post office also happens to double as a grocery store, so I wandered around to check out what they had in stock, as my fibre intake is a lot lower than it usually is when I’m back home, and my body has noticed.

While I was browsing the stock, a guy came in and grabbed a handful of 250g blocks of Cadbury chocolate, then breezed past me into another aisle. I thought it was unusual for someone to buy that much chocolate, and it looked like he didn’t even know how many blocks he had exactly (I’d guess 5 or 6), as he just walked in, and grabbed them off the shelf. I didn’t even see which flavour he had. I turned to look at him, just as he was placing the blocks into his jacket. He walked out of my sight, but then walked past the gap where I could see him, and his jacket looked flat against his chest, you wouldn’t be able to tell that he had at least five blocks of chocolate in there.

At this point, I was 95% sure he was planning to shoplift that chocolate. Nobody needs that many blocks of chocolate, and even if he was planning to buy a heap, he just grabbed them off the shelf without counting how many he had. If he was having a party, he’d probably want to buy different flavours of chocolate, as it’s unlikely that a group of people large enough to want to eat five blocks of chocolate would all like the same flavour. He also he kept pacing back and forth along that aisle and I kept seeing him walk past that gap. I wasn’t really sure what to do. On one hand, I thought, maybe he really needed that food, the whole stealing to feed his family thing. On the other hand, if your family is starving, stealing blocks of chocolate isn’t very good for their nutrition. Still, the post office/grocery store was somewhat large, and could probably absorb the loss of five/six blocks of chocolate. However, for all I knew, the grocery store could barely be making ends meet.

In the end, I ended up pulling aside one of the staff members and telling her about the man with the chocolate. I did this because MrFodder and I were debating whether it was OK to steal from large companies like Woolworths, because on the whole, they can handle the small losses. I was on the side that it was not OK, so it seemed hypocritical for me to standby while someone was stealing from a smaller store.

Not very exciting, but she ended up contacting a manager, and he confronted the guy. I couldn’t see what was happening, because it all happened in another aisle, but there was some yelling, and they ended up taking him to the back part of the store. Later, they walked out of the store with him. Both the staff member and the manager thanked me, and MrFodder and I continued on our way after mailing the postcard.

To be honest, as we walked out of the store, I was scared. I thought maybe the would-be shoplifter would be angry that I narced on him (is that the correct term when drugs aren’t involved?) and want to get revenge. I mean, he might not have gotten a clear look at me, but I mean he could have briefly glanced at me and seen that I was Asian. There was only one Asian in the store, and that was me. Not too hard to work out who might have dobbed you in. Luckily, he was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he got bored waiting for us to come out, as the line at the post office section was moving really slowly, so it took us a long time to get out.

This is the part that I’m not proud of, but as we were walking to London Bridge, a black guy started walking towards us (if my use of the term black offends you, please substitute your own preferred terminology for the rest of this post, I am going with black because that’s all I really know about him, and it’s relevant). I panicked, as I thought maybe he might be friends with the would-be shoplifter. I know it’s stupid to think that black people can only have black friends, or that all black people are violent, so that is the part that I’m not proud of, but inside, I was feeling scared. When he reached into his pocket, I couldn’t take my eyes off him, but he only pulled out a piece of paper. I guess he didn’t know the would-be shoplifter, and was just some random passerby.

I don’t know about the laws in the UK, but I remember Julian telling me that in Australia, you can’t be prosecuted unless you step outside the store with the stolen goods. Since he never left the store with the chocolates, and since the police never came, I’m guessing they never pressed charges or anything like that. It’s interesting, as when we came into the store, there was an announcement over the PA that the store was monitored by CCTV. I remembered we did that too, back when I worked at the supermarket. I asked my manager about it once, and he said that it was just a deterrent. Sometimes, if they saw someone seedy walking into the store, they’d do it just to try and dissuade them. Working the night shift at the supermarket meant sometimes there really was only a few customers in the store, and our security guard would be able to keep a fairly close eye on most of them. But still, there were plenty of thefts at the store, so it’s not perfect. Surely any would-be shoplifter would know it’s impossible to keep watch of every single section of the supermarket at once, so what kind of deterrence is that? A loss prevention officer on Reddit said that it’s not worth the money of that additional surveillance to protect $5 worth of chocolate bars.

We are now back at our hotel, and the chances of the would-be shoplifter getting revenge are pretty slim. Though now a part of me is agonising over my decision. Perhaps this was a once-off thing, and if he had gotten away with it, he would have been filled with guilt and resolved to be a good person for the rest of his life. Perhaps he really was feeding his starving family, and has a really bad knowledge of nutrition, or his younger sibling has achieved some milestone in thier life, and he just wanted a little something to celebrate. Perhaps this whole sequence of events is proof to him that black guys are always being stepped on by others, and makes him mad enough to do something drastic.

What would you have done?

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2 Responses to Stop, Thief!

  1. gwon says:

    Chocolate is compact and probably easy to steal. Also it has a high energy to volume/weight ratio. When you’re starving, the last thing you think about is nutrition.

    Whether the company is large or not, shoplifting is wrong. There may be circumstances where people are really struggling and “need” to shoplift, in which case the real crime is the structure of society that makes it necessary. But (just guessing) a lot of shoplifters can get by without it, including people trying to fund their (unnecessary) drug addiction.

    • Fodder says:

      You’re right, it does make sense to steal chocolate.

      I didn’t want to jump to the conclusion that he was on drugs, but spending money on something outside of life essentials is probably a good explanation for why he had to do it. He seemed to well-dressed to be “poor”, but sometimes it’s hard to tell with people.

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