Occasionally, something will happen that shows a latent tendency of dishonesty in people regardless of class or station. Once the lights go off or security is suspended, there is an explosion of thefts or some riot. I remember one Christmas seeing what looked like lawyers or businessmen trying to use umbrellas to unhook fur decorations on the Christmas tree in the Daley Plaza that were part of a Canadian holiday display. One was actually on the other one’s shoulders. I am not sure why I am always surprised. However, this weekend, the food stamp computer system in Louisiana experienced a glitch where it would not show the limit on cards. Most stores stopped purchases with the EBT cards. However, Walmart stores in Springhill and Mansfield, Louisiana decided to continue to make sales. The word quickly spread and the stores were mobbed with shoppers who took virtually every item off the shelves. Then the EBT cards came back online with the limits on the cards . . .
Suddenly, hundreds of people fled the store after it was announced that the card were showing the limits again. Dozens of over-stuffed carts were left in lines and all of the shelves were stripped clean. Given the low level of food support on such cards, it raises a moral dilemma in the interpretation of laws on theft. Should such laws include a Jean Val Jean exception in the prosecution of people overcharging food stamp cards? Are such act justified on a relative scale given poverty issues? After posting this blog early this morning, many have insisted that it is and even objected to taking note of the story. Yet it raises an interesting question of the relativity of crime. ABC News reported the story as a “shopping spree” as opposed to theft.
Police were called before the system came back on line because people were fighting to get their hands on any item.
One woman was detained because she rang up a bill of $700.00 and only had .49 on her card when the system came back. However, she was released when Walmart decided not to prosecute. Walmart said it did not want to prosecute anyone.
What is left is another breakdown of basic notions of honesty and responsibility. It is particularly disturbing to hear of children being enlisted to strip the shelves and then fleeing with their parents when the system came back online. I do feel there is the mitigating circumstance due to the fact that these are poor individuals and the level of support is low. I am less troubled by such scenes as I am more affluent forms of theft like banking fraud and government perjury that goes unpunished. However, this still constitutes a form of theft.
What is interesting about the single woman being detained is that she committed theft. Those in line had not committed any crime if they abandoned their carts before using their cards. She was not prosecuted. Many others succeeded in the effort to circumvent limits.
There is also the question of liability. Xerox is being blamed for the glitch in 14 states. Yet, Walmart made the decision to honor cards without limits. That would seem a superseding intervening act.
We have had a number of people say that such actions are justified due to the poverty of the individuals. What do you think?