From the Left



Smash and Grab

Susan Estrich on

The worst was the Home Depot store on Friday night. A swarm of robbers ran in and grabbed sledgehammers -- presumably to use to rob additional department stores and high-end boutiques. Later that night, four suspects in the sledgehammer theft were arrested by Beverly Hills police after an "alert" citizen noticed cars driving around Beverly Hills without license plates.

On Wednesday and again on Friday, swarms of robbers descended on malls in fancy neighborhoods in Los Angeles, raced into upscale department stores, headed straight for the fancy handbags and made off with thousands of dollars of merchandise. Nordstrom seems to be a favorite; they were hit at least twice. So was the Bottega Veneta boutique on fashionable Melrose Place and assorted other high-end outlets. The Grove was hit, and so was the Beverly Center and the Topanga Mall.

Everyone is talking about it except the local media. The word around the collective water fountain, which is what social media has become, is that the relative silence, not to mention the absence of pictures, is a reflection of our collective discomfort at what you'll see. Or won't see.

Maybe it's selectivity in reverse, maybe it's not accurate, but the pictures I've managed to unearth are an advertisement for racial profiling. In Hancock Park, a few days later, a video that even I've been sent twice shows a woman with a stroller being followed inside a gate where she is then robbed. Two Black men are being sought. On the video, it looks like they are taking something from the baby!

Merry Christmas. What do we do?

You know what is going to happen. Young Black people: Watch out when you go shopping. Don't shop in groups. Stay away from the fancy handbags, even if you're interested in buying one. Keep away from large windows. Make sure your license plates are up to date.

It is horribly unfair.


My son tells me he and his girlfriend were followed by a security guard the other day. They figured he was looking for someone safe to follow, and my son and his girlfriend fit the bill. There is that, too, the reverse racism when the car with no license plates turns out to be driven by a middle-aged white woman who is almost certainly armed with nothing more dangerous than an oversized handbag.

We are not at our best, individually and collectively, when we are jumpy as hell. If you're not suffering sticker shock when you walk into a store, if you're not trying to figure out whether you should even be there in the first place given that no one seems to know anything about this new variant, then you need to keep an eye out for a swarm or for an overzealous security guard or for a shopper taking matters into their own hands. Me, I'm shopping online even more than usual, which means I buy less.

In point of fact, the police called off the tactical alert on Saturday. But that doesn't stop the rest of us from feeling the added uncertainty. The problem with correlations -- like the one between young Black men and crime -- is that they are both statistically accurate and inherently racist. This is not about causation. We have a right to be treated as individuals.

I used to teach a hypothetical in my criminal law class about young men in gang attire window-shopping in Beverly Hills. A shop owner calls the police. You are the police officer, I would ask my students. What should you do?


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