Washington Post: Stop the ‘Moral Panic’ at Shoplifting, America Built on ‘Stolen Land’

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You can tell a newspaper’s liberal when it’s upset that Fox News is exploiting crime in overwhelmingly Democrat cities. On Friday, Washington Post “features reporter” Maura Judkis wrote a badly disguised opinion piece about organized retail theft under this provocative headline:

The zombie CVS, a late-capitalism horror story

How one Washington, D.C., drugstore got spun by the culture wars into a symbol for America’s shoplifting panic

CVS shut down another big-city store, and the Post doesn’t like that counter-narrative:

It has been like this since at least October, when the Legend of the Empty CVS of Washington began to spread beyond the District’s borders. It became a horror story of Late Capitalism. Tales were told on social media, and in the comments sections of local news stories, and they were full of spooky scenes (harsh fluorescent lights shining on bare shelves!) and jump scares (hordes of teenagers reportedly ransacking the stores!).

But the thing about scary stories is that they metastasize with each retelling. So by the time it got to the New York Post, and then the conservative British tabloids, and then Twitter accounts with names including “No. 1 Deplorable,” the empty CVS had somehow become a stand-in for all that is wrong with American cities — and liberals (and liberal democracy?) — in 2024.

In other words, don’t connect the dots on what happens when you push “Defund the Police” and your local judicial system won’t hold thieves accountable. Judkis went so far as to try to shame colonialist America for caring about theft in its Murdoch-inspired “moral panic.”

America is a sticky-fingered nation built on stolen land, and its current moral panic is about shoplifting. It’s not just a worry in Columbia Heights. All over the country, from sea to shining CVS, there are concerns about petty theft, which some retailers claim is worse than ever before. Videos of brazen thefts have gone viral. It has become a political talking point, and a political liability.

But the data is murky. Theft has gotten worse in some cities but better in others; it’s either underreported or overexaggerated, depending on whether you’re asking a corporation or a bureaucracy. Anecdotes and vibes have filled in the gaps. It doesn’t help that 2024 in America feels a bit like visiting a dying mall. Will some new stores open and bring everyone back, or will it be razed to create a parking lot?

Judkis lamented a similar narrative on Fox News in April 2023 after a Whole Foods store closed in San Francisco, when “partisan critics on Fox News greeted the news with glee.”

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If a Whole Foods couldn’t make it in San Francisco — the land of $14 kombucha and artisanal farro — then things must be really “spiraling out of control,” said Geraldo Rivera on Fox’s The Five.

“This city is disgusting,” declared co-host Jesse Watters. And “now, they can’t have organic rhubarb.”

In certain conservative circles, there’s a wild narrative about cities as terrifying hellholes of crime, theft and lawlessness. The bleakness of the D.C. CVS played right into this belief.

Judkis claimed without evidence that the local Fox station was reporting “very fake” liberal messaging.

In January, Fox 5 reported on a set of fliers that had been posted in Columbia Heights with the rallying cry “Shoplifters Unite,” encouraging people to “Take everything that’s not nailed down. Bust windows.” The poster also makes allegations of racism against a Safeway manager and contains a jumble of left-wing talking points referencing Palestine, reparations, the Black Lives Matter movement, and disability rights. It seemed, quite frankly, very fake, designed to exacerbate neighborhood tensions. The Fox reporters took it seriously, interviewing people in front of the zombie CVS.

But the funniest part is Judkis somehow trying to turn this back to Donald Trump: “Maybe there’s just some ennui about nihilistic lawlessness in 2024. If a former president can commit financial crimes — and still run for office and probably win his party’s nomination — well, what’s a little petty shampoo theft, in the grand scheme of things?”

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