A teenager strapped to a backpack reeking of marijuana boards a city bus. The stink permeates the vehicle’s interior the moment the teen reaches the top step. Sneering at the fare box, he walks by the driver and plops into a seat. I guess he doesn’t have to pay. I do, but he doesn’t. Oh, okay.
The toothpaste at my local CVS is under lock and key to prevent theft, one more marker, as if an additional one were needed, on our road to social disintegration. In a conference room within the recesses of headquarters, the corporate overlords of this retail operation (and so many others like it) have determined that accommodating the likelihood of theft by locking down merchandise costs less than it would to confront the thief and insist on his arrest and prosecution. It pains me to say they’re probably right. But besides turning a mindless errand into a trial of patience for the paying customer, the problem with this brand of “tolerance” is that it guarantees the company will get more of what they have decided to tolerate— and they have received it in abundance.
The self-appointed consciences of our decaying culture fall back on bleating about “equity” in the first instance—the kid has had a rough shake, cut him some slack, the last thing he needs is discipline—and “hunger” in the second, as if a miscreant loading a duffle bag with tubes of toothpaste is or could possibly be hungry. If hunger were the issue, the thief could stand in a line for fifteen minutes at any of scores of charitable missions spread throughout the city and receive a bag of groceries or a hot meal, or both. Or steal candy. No, the toothpaste is going to be hawked for a dollar or two a block from the store. What a bargain! And with the day’s take, the thief will go and purchase some fentanyl and beam himself into oblivion for a few hours or, if overdose statistics have any relevancy, forever.
I’ll concede that no one was killed during the fare-snubbing transport of mind-numbing pot. No orphanages were burned in the liberation of a tube or twelve of Crest. But there’s no such thing as a victimless crime. Somebody somewhere along the line is being hurt. Hundreds of thousands of pilfered bus rides contribute to the revenue shortfall the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is forever moaning about, as the system sinks deeper into insolvency. The MTA chief himself noted that to ignore farebeating “tears at the social fabric”—a moral shoulder-shrug that emboldens and encourages more serious crimes.
And eventually, that CVS outlet will decide to cut its losses and shutter that location, and grandma, or more likely someone assisting her, will have to go farther out of the neighborhood to obtain her prescriptions, until it becomes too inconvenient for that well-intentioned assistant, and maybe grandma has to do without.
We don’t yet know half the tragic details, but the death in Memphis of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police has a queasy connection to the teenage fare-beater and the neighborhood shoplifter. Leaving aside the lowered hiring standards of the Memphis Police Department (we get it; nobody wants the job) and the rank stupidity of indulging in thuggery while wearing body cameras, it would be naive to assume this was the so-called Scorpion Unit’s first such abuse of their writ. Indeed, one officer, Demetrius Haley, was accused in 2015 of brutalizing an inmate when he worked at the Shelby County Corrections Department. Haley, who has denied the allegations, was not punished. On the contrary, he was rewarded with a promotion.
All five police officers involved in Nichols’ death have been fired and arrested and charged with murder. They await their fate, presumably to be decided by a jury of their peers, but to those who might suggest that justice is being served, or that somehow it will be in the end, I would point out that justice, unlike other virtues, is always retroactive—we should demand to know how we got here in the first place. It’s not as if we, as individual members of society, of a shared culture, don’t have a stake in this. We do.
Should anyone suspect that these cascading failures are uniquely American, let me take you north of the border, to the Dominion of Canada. I’ve written previously about the death of my father-in-law, Columba Joseph (Colm) Harty, who was struck by a vehicle in late August 2021, and died of his injuries a few days later.
The driver who hit him, now identified as Terry Albert Collins, was a resident of Qualicum Beach, the town in British Columbia where Colm and my mother-in-law also resided. A sinister sidelight: My father-in-law wasn’t his first vehicular victim. In 2019, Collins was in another accident, one in which a passenger in his car was killed. Collins, in direct contravention of Canadian law, was not criminally charged in either case. He was responsible for a deadly accident and walked away scot-free, at liberty to do it again. Which he did.
Were these shocking details revealed in anything resembling a mainstream Canadian press outlet? Hardly. (The news that is not covered constitutes a moral collapse of its own, but we don’t have time to get that into here). The facts were brought to light through the dogged efforts of Lois Sampson, a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, who practices old-fashioned investigative reporting. Ms. Sampson’s “hyper local” online newsmagazine, Second Opinion QB, is a recognized news source, and she is also the publisher and sole proprietor of the not-for-profit corporation that controls the title.
Ms. Sampson’s work uncovered a final insult: Colm Harty, a vigorous man of 80 years in perfect health, is lost to us, while Collins, for his part, “expressed ‘no remorse’” according to Sampson’s article, and in fact, the Crown (the DA’s office) withdrew any charges they might have pursued against him in the 2019 incident on the very day Colm died. A request by the family for Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) investigative records was stonewalled with a terse bureaucratic statement quoted in the Sampson link above. Collins is believed to be currently housed in a nursing home, despite only being in his mid-60s, perhaps taking up a spot that may once have been reserved for dementia patients. Whether or not he exhibited any symptoms of Alzheimer’s or the like remains unclear. My wife’s family, and Colm’s many, many friends, are left to endure the bitter taste of justice denied.
There’s a definite through-line to these collective slaps in the face. They are all of a piece. No correction, no chastisement, no rebuke, no punishment. We’ve crossed the threshold of no consequence, and this is where we stand. The corporate, the societal, the legal, all forces are acting in either unconscious or conscious concert to retool the rules, the moral imperatives of a just society. Exactly why is anyone’s guess.