I can't stop thinking about the Seattle Police Department's recent Retail Theft Operation. Its location: A downtown drugstore; its result: "11 shoplifting suspects" arrested. How it went down: SPD detectives worked very closely with "loss prevention teams to identify prolific shoplifters in the store." In this manner, the detectives watched a number of people "gather items like clothing, makeup, food, and liquor, and then walk out of the store with no attempt to pay." After officers caught these people, pictures were taken of the items whose ownership was not transferred by the market's universal equivalent, cash. The SPD's Twitter post composed of these pictures captured over 320,000 views.

Clearly, a significant number of this city's residents wanted to see the kind of things that these inveterate criminals stole. The narrative at KOMO, KIRO, and other mainstream news outlets was basically this: Shoplifting was destroying downtown; businesses were closing because the police had their hands tied by the radical left running City Council. All of this CHOP-fevered talk about de-funding the police had backfired spectacularly. And Seattle was looking more and more like Escape from New York. Without this narrative, Bruce Harrell would not be the mayor and a Republican, the City Attorney. 

One mean response to the SPD's operation tweet:

Do more of this and give them more than a slap on the wrist and we might get somewhere!!! It’s a joke, albeit a sad joke, around town how stores aren’t allowed to detain thieves !!!


This is wonderful news. I do hope that there are more operations like this. At this point criminals have been emboldened to do their worst, and it must be curtailed.

Yet another:

Outstanding! Arrest everyone. Then, give them a bus pass back to their state of origin.

But what kind of narrative did the items recovered by SPD tell? Was it the politically powerful narrative of a dying city or of criminals who were the mirror image of the villains in John Carpenter's Reagan-era movie? Nothing of the kind. By the look of things, the narrative of the shoplifters was one of deep and crushing poverty. Meaning, mostly basic things were stolen: food and toilet paper. Almost none of the items had the kind of street value needed to score drugs. The narrative of the shoplifters was hardly villainous or satanic. It was instead, one of people being shut out of the dependency that defines human sociality.

And here I must make a point about dependency and poverty. The thinking is that the poor are too needy, too dependent. If they are not getting handouts from the government, then they are depriving hardworking people of their property. This anti-dependency discourse is, as Nancy Fraser and Linda Gordon pointed out in their paper "A Genealogy of Dependency: Tracing a Keyword of the U.S. Welfare State," is a recent invention.

Not too long ago, dependency on others was not at all a negative thing. It was seen as a normal part of life. Humans always need others. But the right, which dominates the discourse on common sense, not only successfully switched the charge of dependency (from positive to negative), but went as far as to identify it with the poor and those living on the streets. They were in this situation because of too much dependency.

But if you look at the life of a "productive" member of society, what you see is not independence, but easy access to things and services they very much depend on. Dependency was not removed but privatized. You do not have a (human) right to it. It must be obtained with cash: the water you need to wash your body, the heat you need to keep warm, the waste that must be collected regularly. All of this and much more depends on other people. The person on the street is, in fact, suffering from too much independence.

A final note. The responses to the SPD's Retail Theft Operation tweet were not all mean. Some saw the matter with clear eyes. I will end this post with one such tweet.

It would have cost the city less to just reimburse those stores than to pay your bloated salaries. Congrats, you are literally worthless.