The media are on the verge of declaring smash-and-grab robberies “mostly peaceful looting.”
In response to viral video footage of mobs demolishing store display cases and calmly walking out with armloads of merchandise, a growing number of media outlets claim the whole phenomenon has been exaggerated by “right-wing media” looking to create a “moral panic,” retailers angling to hoodwink the public, and “law enforcement lobbyists” desperate for an excuse to increase police funding. But these conspiratorial allegations are often refuted by the stories’ own reporting — not to mention numerous independent sources.
In recent weeks, the media seem to have created a new genre of coverage: smash-and-grab denialism. Outlets from The Atlantic, to NBC News, to the Los Angeles Times have dabbled in the narrative, which MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tied together during a December 29 segment titled “Debunking The Right-Wing’s Shoplifting Freak-Out.” Hayes admitted the nation’s skyrocketing homicide rate is “real, and really bad.” But he claimed without proof that “right-wing media is [sic] constantly peddling … a completely propagandistic story, specifically about out-of-control retail theft,” which has “basically no evidence to actually support it.” Hayes also, predictably, played the race card. “Like, there is nothing that Fox [News] loves more than surveillance footage of, particularly, black people stealing a thing, and they will run that 24/7 if they can,” Hayes asserted.
Coverage of smash-and-grab crimes is far from limited to “right-wing” sources. Last November 24, CNN ran a story by Faith Karimi titled “Why some US cities are facing a spree of ‘smash-and-grab’ crimes.” The New York Times followed suit two days later. The Washington Post reported in December that “large-scale ‘smash-and-grabs’ have been on the rise this year.” Even Hayes noted the “narrative that America is awash in crime” has appeared in “a lot” of “local news, as well,” although he ignored the fact that coverage of the same story across media outlets from every part of the political spectrum — conservative (Fox News, Newsmax), liberal (CNN, NYT, WaPo), and nonpartisan (local news) — increases the likelihood that the story is true.
That is the problem. Few things destroy a politician’s chances at reelection like a crime surge, especially one spread throughout cities controlled by the same party — so the same media that spent 2020 whitewashing “mostly peaceful protests” and 2021 denying the existence of CRT in public school curricula must now insist that spooked consumers collectively hallucinated a crime spree.
One of Hayes’ guests, Amanda Mull, got the revisionist ball rolling with an essay in The Atlantic accusing stores and retailers of fomenting a “moral panic” and of backing measures that “encourage people to see even the pettiest property crime as a mortal sin.” (Deliberate theft is a mortal sin; Mull should mull over staying in her own lane.) But she admitted that in San Francisco’s “central district, where expensive fashion boutiques and other kinds of retail outlets are clustered together, larceny theft was up 88 percent from 2020 as of early December.”
Mull essentially makes two arguments: She rightly notes the difficulty of finding accurate crime statistics about smash-and-grab crimes; and she claims, while shoplifting may be up from 2020, it is down long-term. Unfortunately, numerous measures say otherwise. New York City had seen “more than 26,000 shoplifting cases through September alone, the most to that point in the 26 years the numbers have been tracked,” according to the New York Post. On the other side of the continent, the Los Angeles Times admitted that statistics show a 56% increase in organized retail crime nationwide between 2015 and 2020, with store owners experiencing “losses to organized retail crime at $2.1 billion nationwide.”
Hayes diverted his viewers’ attention to a December 27 NBC News report that tried to downplay the reality of smash-and-grab robberies in Los Angeles: “LAPD warn of crime wave, but data shows theft, robberies down.” Yet 20 paragraphs into the story, NBC admitted, “Robbery is up 5.2 percent this year compared to this point in 2020 … and theft is up 0.7 percent, recent LAPD data shows.” The story added, “the department says coordinated thefts are on the rise … the recent wave has been unprecedented and overwhelmed retail workers and shoppers with a sense of helplessness.”
Much of the problem in finding accurate statistics stems from the fact that too many perpetrators are never arrested in the first place. (More on this later.) Thus, the only statistics available are those collected by the shopkeepers and their representatives. The National Retail Federation noted in its annual report that their respondents’ biggest complaint since 2015 is the increase in “store-related violence” and organized retail crime. Half of all stores suffered more shoplifting in 2020 than in 2019, and 57% of stores said they experienced more organized retail crime during the pandemic, with 22% calling it a “significant increase.” Despite the spike, shoplifting prosecutions fell by 22% between 2019 and 2020 — and 83% since 2015. Meanwhile, the robberies have become more costly. “The average retail robbery netted more than $7,500,” an increase of more than $4,700, or 163%, since 2019.
Not only are organized attacks on businesses increasing, but criminals appear to be becoming more violent. A gang of 80 people mobbed shoppers, spraying bear spray on one victim inside a Nordstrom store in Walnut Creek, California, on November 20. Four days later, the perpetrators of another smash-and-grab used bear spray on a security guard in Canoga Park neighborhood of Los Angeles before making off with $25,000 worth of goods. A robber used a firearm to shoot open a display case during a Christmas Eve robbery in Takoma Park, Maryland. The escalation goes both ways. Last Thursday, four men tried to use bear spray on a jewelry store owner in Upland, California, but he banished the robbers by pulling a gun.
Yet the Los Angeles Times tried to call the retailers liars. A December 15 story titled “Retailers say thefts are at crisis level. The numbers say otherwise” blamed the perception of increased smash-and-grab robberies on “retail and law enforcement lobbyists” and asserted “there is reason to doubt the problem is anywhere near as large or widespread as they say.” Then, like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Times essentially blamed the victims. The increase in mass shoplifting “is, in some part, traceable to decisions made by the retailers themselves,” it said, citing an industry analyst’s statement that security guards can no longer aggressively pursue shoplifters, “because of safety concerns and liability issues.” That is, storeowners fear they will be sued if anyone is injured in the chase and, absent tort reform, the legal process could cost them more than the illegal robbery.
The Los Angeles Times also attempted to dismiss the allegations by citing the FBI’s national statistics, which show a decline in shoplifting arrests nationwide — but the problem is not a national problem. It’s very much one focused in certain cities suffering the malign neglect of a certain breed of district attorney. For instance, Chicago-area State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s “policy to prosecute felony shoplifting only for thefts of more than $1,000 led to a steep decline in charges, from 300 per month to about 70,” according to The Marshall Project. “Not only is Foxx charging a smaller share of shoplifting cases, but police are bringing fewer arrests for felony review.” George Gascon of Los Angeles, and Chesa Boudin of San Francisco implemented similar policies — with similar results. Fewer arrests lead to a decrease in crime on paper, even as the problem worsens.
That lends more credence to besieged storeowners, who argue precisely that this is not a problem captured by arrest and prosecution statistics. They specifically state that district attorneys refuse to prosecute crimes, leading police to shrug their shoulders and wonder why they should make an arrest — leaving stores, and the customers inside them, on their own. Liberal DAs’ obsession with theoretical concerns about how prosecuting lawbreakers of color might impact “equity” has left law-abiding people of all races abandoned, unprotected, and at the mercy of gangs with crowbars and bear spray.
Mull insinuated that all of this is OK, because a professor told her so:
[A]ccording to Jay Kennedy, a criminologist at Michigan State University, police declining to get involved in low-level offenses doesn’t necessarily signal a crisis. Kennedy echoed Hayes’s explanation for the sometimes scant police response to small thefts, but told me that his research has found that people tend to be fine with police and prosecutors prioritizing more serious or violent crimes over petty offenses.
Neither Mull nor Kennedy appeared to consult the American people: 80% of Americans see this form of theft as a national problem; 63% think sentencing guidelines are too lax; and 79% say prosecutors should stop releasing smash-and-grab perpetrators without bail. These organized crime events terrorize ordinary shoppers: 48% of Americans said they now feel less safe shopping in person, according to a poll commissioned by NewsNation.
“There’s no political will to prosecute the people in this climate. Why should a police officer waste time getting into an altercation when the person is not going to jail?” asked Pete Eliadis, a former law enforcement officer who founded a security company, Intelligence Consulting Partners. “The takeaway is we need the political will, more prosecution and backing of law enforcement.” At a time when criminals have shot and killed more police officers than any time in U.S. history, and the FBI acknowledges many of these shootings stem from “what they heard and read in the media,” a change in media focus would seem to be in order. Yet rather than goad prosecutors into doing their jobs, some in the legacy media have now decided to close out 2021 by covering up their nonfeasance and accusing police and crime victims of pulling America’s collective leg.
The legacy media has spent much of the last year accusing conservatives of enabling an insurrection by trying to downplay or “erase” the harms of the one-day riot last January 6. What should we make of liberal media outlets that deny, minimize, and obfuscate the impact of daily assaults — perpetrated, not against the most elite elements of society, but in middle- and working-class neighborhoods — especially when they seem willing to lie in the process?
The media’s crime advocacy posing as journalism puts every American in greater danger.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.