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Friday Ephemera

It’s Petty When It Happens To Someone Else

Currently, 17 percent of American homeowners have a smart video surveillance device, and unit sales are expected to double by 2023… The popularity of these devices has led to the “porch pirate gotcha” film genre, a sort of America’s Funniest Home Videos of petty crime.

In the pages of The Atlantic, our sympathies are solicited. Though not for the people being robbed, of course:

The first time Ganave Fairley got busted for stealing a neighbour’s Amazon package, she was just another porch thief unlucky to be caught on tape.

The words first time and unlucky should perhaps be borne in mind.

The deliveries that were dropped daily on her neighbours’ porches caught her attention. At that point, she didn’t know about the cameras or [neighbourhood watch app] Nextdoor. In the months that followed, the police would find a cache of the neighbours’ belongings and mail in her possession… Her sister told me that Fairley generally sold the packages “for a little bit of nothing, just to get high.”

I sense that some of you may not be feeling overly sympathetic.

Ms Fairley - who invokes racism as a cause of her local notoriety, and whose extensive cache of stolen belongings included other people’s credit cards - is described to us at length and in the softest possible light. We learn of her dysfunctional upbringing, her struggles with a mouldy apartment, and her various drug habits, including “trekking daily to a methadone clinic” - a heroic feat, apparently. Ms Fairley’s failure to attend numerous court dates – for petty theft, mail theft, receiving stolen property, possession of heroin, and child endangerment - is, we learn, due to her having “a lot going on” in her life. In at least one instance, it turns out that what was going on was stealing from a resident she’d previously targeted and who, while being robbed again, was waiting to see Ms Fairley appear in court.

The fact that Ms Fairley is gay is mentioned too, as if that were somehow relevant or an explanation for credit card fraud and chronic thieving. We’re also told, touchingly, that she has “family members’ names tattooed on her neck.”

The author of the piece, Ms Lauren Smiley, informs us that these are crimes “committed by the poorest,” “the Artful Dodgers of the Amazon age” – yes, those charming rascals - before inviting us to feel bad for thieves caught in the act for the umpteenth time:

Stings and porch-pirate footage attract media attention—but what comes next for the thieves rarely gets the same limelight… Offenders may be routed to drug treatment and housing… Those with previous convictions could be eligible for jail time… One [suspect] pleaded guilty to stealing $170.42 worth of goods, including camouflage crew socks and a Call of Duty video game from Amazon, and was sentenced to 14 months of probation.

Readers will note Ms Smiley’s attempt to trivialise habitual thievery by selectively mentioning the contents of packages that were stolen, as if the thieves hadn’t just swiped someone else’s property regardless of the contents, which were, presumably, only discovered later. Not caring what it is you’re stealing and doing it anyway isn’t, I’d suggest, the strongest excuse for habitual criminal behaviour. [As illustrated via Schuler in the comments, here, here and here.] We’re then, inevitably, reminded of “wealth and race disparities,” again with the implication that not being well-off, or having brown skin, is a mitigating circumstance, at least for Ms Smiley and her elevated peers.

Fairley was correct in thinking that, in many cases, Amazon will replace pilfered packages. Her major miscalculation was in thinking that her neighbours would, therefore, just shrug and move on.

Alas, Ms Smiley doesn’t share her home address, along with times at which she would be out or distracted - disclosure of which might have allowed some testing of her own, first-hand reactions.  

Update, via the comments:

The direction of Ms Smiley’s sympathies is fairly obvious in the piece, and equally so on Twitter, where she mocks the theft of “Montessori books and dog probiotics,” as if only unimportant possessions were stolen, which is untrue. And as if law-abiding people weren’t being targeted repeatedly - to the extent that they were actually being robbed by Ms Fairley while they were in court waiting to see the woman answer for her previous crimes. This quip about dog probiotics is immediately followed with ostentatious agonising about how our chronic thief and credit card fraudster “lost darn-near everything.” As if Ms Fairley somehow wasn’t the author of her own miseries, determinedly so, and somehow hadn’t wrecked or rejected endless opportunities to improve her situation.

Ms Smiley also seems offended by the fact that Amazon’s Loss Prevention Manager was “cheering arrests” of the people robbing his company and its customers. And, of course, there’s the obligatory minimising waffle about “the root problems” – which are never quite specified or causally explained, but which apparently don’t include bewilderingly bad choices, pathological selfishness, and choosing to rob your neighbours again and again and again.

It’s an odd thing, being expected to identify with, and sympathise with, someone who repeatedly demonstrates that she isn’t at all inclined to return the favour. And who, when faced with the consequences of her own antisocial predation, promptly invokes racism as a diversion and excuse. Someone so profoundly selfish that she endangers her own children and steals from her own neighbours, who are treated only with contempt. As people from whom things can be taken

Lordy, a button. I wonder what it does.