A Theft is a Theft is a Theft?

Is it worse to steal money from a child than from a local
business? This isn’t a random, ‘it’s 2 a.m. and I can’t sleep’ type of question.
Instead, my thinking was precipitated by a video that just came to my
attention, though it first circulated four years ago. At that time, two
teenagers in an upscale Florida neighborhood snatched an envelope with $164 in
it from a nine-year-old cookie-selling Girl Scout and jumped into their car. As
shocking as the crime was, it paled in comparison to the ideas expressed by the
two thieves when they talked to news reporters. (Warning: some of the
language is not refined.)
It is hard to believe you are not listening to a
badly written script. Both girls seem truly confused as to why people are upset
that they took the money, since they really wanted it. 

When the interviewer presses one of the girls as to whether
she feels bad because of the age of her victim, she responds, “Well, money’s
money.” A short while later the two young ‘ladies’, who clearly were not sentenced
to Alcatraz for their crime, ate breakfast at a local Denny’s and left without
paying their bill. While in the normal course of events, this probably would
not have made the news, because of their past notoriety, it did. The Denny
manager says, “The fact that they ripped off the Girl Scouts is far worse than
ripping us off.” I have to say that in this case I agree more with the
miscreant’s statement than the manager’s. There can be truth even in the words
of an amoral girl who (I’m going to take a wild guess here) was not brought up
with reverence for certain “Thou Shalt Not” verses. Not only is money, money,
but theft is theft.

There is a reason that Lady Justice is often depicted as
blindfolded. A society cannot survive when it is all right to steal from some
people but not from others. When the attitude becomes, “Stealing from a
business isn’t like stealing from a person,” we can expect more theft from both
businesses and people. A friend of mine works at the mall as a saleswoman. In
the few years that she has been in this position, she has noticed a change in
the attitude of shoplifters. When she started, she saw furtive behavior.
Perhaps one person demanded her attention when his or her peer slipped an item
or two into a pocket. Lately, she says that shoplifters simply walk in, openly
take the goods and walk out. They, and she, have learned that despite being
videotaped and knowing that mall security will be called, no one is going to
follow through.

Clearly, most people’s heartstrings are tugged at more by
the sight of a stunned and unhappy child than by a line in a corporation’s
report revealing money lost due to shoplifting or unpaid bills. It is likely
that hundreds of citizens who heard about the stolen cookie money made a point
of buying Girl Scout cookies from that specific little girl; I doubt that
Denny’s had many people mailing checks in to their location. However, a
government and justice system that treats one crime as worse than the other is
broken.  In an election year where one
party’s appeal is largely based on entitlement and envy, it is imperative for
those of us who disagree to respond rationally and morally rather than
emotionally to suggestions that ‘theft by any other name is not as bad theft.’



3 thoughts on “A Theft is a Theft is a Theft?”

  1. And MF Global, probably John Corzine, steals money from what are supposed to be segregated client accounts to meet margin calls on his bad positions and nothing happens, other than he hosts $30k/plate dinners for one of the candidates. There are lots of stories from the housing bubble and collapse. When the people at the top get away with theft, fraud – how can you tell these two women it is wrong? Is their only crime that they aren’t politically connected?
    If you wish to instill values, start from the top. The manager at Denny’s has one point – a single unpaid meal might be evil, but the Denny’s won’t go out of business. The 9 year old’s would. Of course if it was a big wall street investment firm the thieves would pay themselves bonuses out of taxpayer bailout money.

  2. It’s hard to believe that this is not just a clever hoax for these two young “ladies” with their Starbucks drinks to break into the movies. At least I want to think that instead of the alternative. I mean these people will actually breed and will raise other amoral people who in turn also will be allowed to vote! You hit on the head,Susan, when you said that this election may be determined by “entitlement and envy.”
    Rich F. Walnut Creek, Ca.

  3. A story is told of high school that over the summer vacation time had equipped it’s Computer Science classroom with all brand new computer workstations complete with flat screen monitors, etc.
    Shortly after the first day of school, the Computer Science teacher discovered to his shock and horror that his new flat screen monitors had began to disappear from the classroom. A meeting of school officials was convened to discuss this theft, and ideas were tabled as to how best to address the problem.
    One brilliant suggestion went as follows: “Hey, I’ve got a great idea! How about if we make little signs and post them at each of the computer workstations where the students will surely be put on notice. The words that I recommend that we put on these signs should be “Thou Shalt Not Steal”.
    I told this little story one time while seated with a group composed of both friends as well as some aquaintences that I didn’t know all that well. One particular couple was so taken aback that I would have the audacity to even jokingly suggest that one of the Ten Commandments ought to be posted in a public school, that they silently looked at one another and without saying a word, stood up and left the room. I’ll never forget it. That was their way of protesting and seeking to enforce a speech code that says ANY MENTION of the Ten Commandments will be strickly VERBOTEN!

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