Illumed, Illusion, Ill used one
Another commentary done in a unique style by a former Slate commenter Weldon Berger. I had read about the Walgreen’s shoplifting media frenzy elsewhere. If you have been in a Walgreens, you have probably seen the cameras in the ceiling, wide open aisles,
“Sparsely Illumed,” Weldon Berger, Bad Crow Review (substack.com)
“Where’s the hammer?”
Honolulu Civil Beat has a long piece about the horrible shit local prosecutors get away with, generally with no apparent discipline from the Hawai’i Supreme Court or the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC), the two bodies with the authority to discipline misbehaving attorneys including prosecutors.¹
At the moment we have one former prosecutor — the now ex-wife of the now-imprisoned former police chief — in prison after being convicted on a whole raft of charges, which include framing her uncle in order to get her hands on some property, while her former boss faces a slew of unrelated charges. Both were the subjects of complaints, and neither was publicly disciplined by the ODC or the court prior to being charged.
Hawaii court records describe a range of improprieties by prosecutors going back decades, including baselessly attacking the defendant’s character, withholding evidence and introducing prohibited information into a trial.
Credible claims of prosecutorial abuses have also shown up in lawsuits. Although prosecutors are required to pursue only cases in which they believe there is probable cause, they sometimes go after cases that defendants and judges say fall short of that standard.
In 2020, Honolulu taxpayers shelled out $1.4 million to settle a malicious prosecution case filed against former prosecuting attorney Keith Kaneshiro and several of his subordinates, including disgraced former prosecutor Katherine Kealoha.
The case occurred five years before Kealoha was convicted on federal corruption charges.
Prosecutors made cases using overt racism and unsupported character assassination, along with the evidentiary hijinks. One prosecutor told a jury to go with their gut to decide a verdict rather than considering the legal “mumbo jumbo” from the trial.
As with most cities, Honolulu becomes a very small town for people at the top of the power structure, and prosecutors circulate in that environ—it’s not uncommon for them to run and capture higher office, and their positions are intrinsically powerful ones. They work closely with the cops (and sometimes intermarry) and they hobnob with politicians and heads of organizations that may one day need investigating.
Those incestuous relationships are the primary reason corruption probes here sometimes end up in federal hands when one wouldn’t necessarily expect them to—our prosecutors and cops can’t be relied upon to investigate impartially.
The ODC was not always the political creature it seems to have become in recent years, but neither they nor the supreme court come off looking good in the story, and neither do our prosecuting offices. Of particular concern is the ODC’s attitude toward attorneys who may have inadvertently fucked up, something potential clients might want to know before deciding on a lawyer.
This is to say that lawyers have the right to incompetence and/or unwarranted leniency, but the public has no right to hear about it.
Disclosure: I once had a disbarred lawyer as an in-law. Great guy but you wouldn’t want him handling your legal affairs, which he did for years before his (mostly ethanol-powered) misdeeds caught up to him, in the full knowledge on both his part and the disciplinary committee’s that he was a chronic fuckup.
The instruction here is that way more corruption and damaging incompetence goes unpunished than otherwise. People have their reasons not to shine a light, and to portray every instance as an isolated one.
How Walgreens manufactured a media frenzy about shoplifting
In a conference call with investors on January 6, Walgreens Chief Financial Officer James Kehoe was asked how shoplifting and related problems impacted the company’s financial performance. Kehoe admitted that “maybe [Walgreens] cried too much last year” about the issue, adding that the drugstore chain probably spent “too much” hiring private security companies.
Kehoe added that theft at Walgreens had “stabilized” and the company was “quite happy with where we are.” Walgreens’ “shrink” — an industry term for inventory losses from theft, damage, or administrative errors — had gone down from 3.5% of sales last year to roughly 2.5% in its last quarter. Walgreens declined to specify how much of the “shrink” was due to shoplifting as opposed to other causes, like employee theft and damaged goods. Across the industry, “external theft” accounts for only one-third of total shrink. That means shoplifting at Walgreens likely amounts to less than 1% of sales.
But Kehoe’s upbeat comments gloss over Walgreens’ central role in fomenting the national panic over retail theft. Just a year ago, Kehoe said that part of the reason Walgreens’ reported lackluster earnings was because of “gangs that actually go in and empty our stores of beauty products.”²
That’s from Judd Legum’s Popular Information newsletter, to which you may want to consider subscribing. One didn’t see a lot of press outlets questioning the organized shoplifting narrative and, as has become typical of the paper in its coverage of easily sensationalized stories, the New York Times was at the center of promoting it.
One of the first viral stories on Walgreens’ alleged theft issue was published by the New York Times’ San Francisco Bureau Chief Thomas Fuller in May 2021. “The mundane crime of shoplifting has spun out of control in San Francisco, forcing some chain stores to close,” read the subhead. In the piece, Fuller recounts a time in 2016 he saw a man grab “a handful of beef jerky” and walk out of a Walgreens. Based on this five-year-old anecdote and a statement from Walgreens, Fuller declared a “shoplifting epidemic” and called into question a sentencing-reform measure that reduced some thefts from felonies to misdemeanors. The piece, notably, does not include any data on crime rates in San Francisco.
Is shoplifting a problem? Sure. Is it responsible for mass closures of chain store branches? Why no, no it is not. Are any of the guilty teevee and newspaper outlets rescinding their breathless coverage of the issue? Why no, no they are not.
Sparsely illumed, not least in service to propelling a resurgent lawnorder agenda, of which it’s appropriate to ask who benefits.
Today’s music to have written by
BC Camplight, “Shortly After Takeoff;”³ Pip Blom, “Welcome Break.”⁴
I like both but Pip Blom better.
That, Comrades, is all I got
1 Civil Beat on Honolulu’s prosecutors and disciplinarians
2 Judd Legum on the shoplifting panic
3 BC Camplight live, You Should Have Gone To School