Showing that Providence has a sense of humor, a Houston woman by the name of Lawless — Monique Lawless to be exact — decided she could not abide the break down in civil order represented by thieves getting away from a Walmart store in broad daylight. When the cashier didn’t act, Ms. Lawless asked her to watch her bag and ran to stop the thieves. Take a look at the video here:
Ms. Lawless thought other shoppers would join in, but like the boys on the barricade portrayed in LES MISÉRABLES, she waited in vain.
We have heard many times how demoralizing it is for retail employees when they learn that retailers generally can’t do much about theft. A friend of ours started working at a local Walmart and found herself calling security frequently as she manned the dressing rooms and found people constantly putting on seven layers of clothes and walking out the front door.
By the time security showed up, the criminals were long gone. Eventually our friend stopped calling security.
In fact, almost all retailers have policies specifically preventing clerks from challenging thieves. After all, the thieves could be whacked out on crack, have guns… who knows? Certainly no retailer wants to take the chance that a crazed thief whips out a gun and starts shooting employees and customers.
Shoppers didn’t join Ms. Lawless for much the same reason. An event such as 9/11 would be impossible today. Those airplanes rammed into the World Trade Center because the passengers assumed the hijackers were rational, wanting money or political asylum, etc., and so thought it best to cooperate while the authorities would negotiate or they would fly the plane to Cuba. The minute it became clear that the hijackers were ideologues wanting to kill themselves, the passengers had little to lose. That is why the passengers on flight 93, who had heard about the World Trade Center attack by cell phone, rushed the hijackers and the cockpit door, and the plane wound up crashing in a Pennsylvania field rather than the Capitol Building or the White House.
Ms. Lawless was, in fact, doing something very dangerous. How would she have felt if as she ran to stop a theft of some beer, one of the thieves whipped out a pistol and shot at her, missed, and killed some random child?
Yet her frustration is palpable and it has that “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore” quality. The thieves raise prices for everyone and make us all less safe and secure. She is correct that it is hard to imagine how a society can long endure when its citizens don’t have the self-confidence to battle some punk kids.
Yes, the video ends with police capturing the alleged thieves. But would they even have been called or pursued them if Ms. Lawless didn’t bring the whole situation to such prominence?
When we wrote about Michelle Obama’s efforts to end “food deserts” here, we complained that giving people money to open supermarkets in inner cities was an evasion of the problem. Like Ms. Lawless, we thought the priority should be on making sure that civil society prevailed in these areas. We suspected that if the areas could be made safe, insurance costs would drop, entrepreneurs would come in and the problem would solve itself.
But standing up for values, insisting on certain types of behavior, demanding that civil society prevail is very hard. It is much easier to appropriate some money and say that you solved the problem.