U. Wisconsin official: let's stop prosecuting shoplifting

A University of Wisconsin-Madison official claims laws against shoplifting are just an excuse to over-police minority communities.

“I just don’t think that they should be prosecuting cases… for people who steal from Wal-Mart,” said Everett Mitchell, director of community relations for the university, during an on-campus event. “I don’t think [with] Target or all them other places, them big box stores that have insurance, they should be using the fact that people steal from there as justification to start engaging in aggressive police practices, right?”

The event, a panel discussion on “Best Policing Practices” moderated by Associate Professor Karma Chávez, examined the issue of “over-policing,” particularly with respect to the use of deadly force by police in minority communities.

In his opening remarks, Mitchell identified the core mission of law enforcement as providing for the safety of the community, but asserted that, “we have gotten to a place where we are no longer able to define what safety means for us.” Rather, he claimed, that authority figures now make decisions “about what they think we want them to defend for us,” and often do so in ways that the community may not support, or that may lead to more aggressive policing practices in minority communities.

Mitchell, a former assistant district attorney, offered shoplifting as an example, suggesting that communities of color may prefer that police refrain from enforcing laws against theft from large retail chains because responding to such crimes leads to an increased police presence in neighborhoods where shoplifting is prevalent.

Mitchell also noted that police generally defend their actions by saying they are merely directing their focus toward high-crime areas, but rejected that explanation, saying, “they do that all the time to justify why they’re going to over-police our children.”

In response to requests for comment, representatives at the University of Wisconsin referred Campus Reform to a statement from Mitchell posted on the school’s website.

“I am saddened that those with differing agendas have taken a selective portion of a larger conversation out of context in an effort to discredit my views,” Mitchell wrote.

“My comments around ‘big box’ retailers were in no way an endorsement of shoplifting or other criminal behavior, but part of a point about how the distribution of police resources to areas with high numbers of misdemeanor crimes can bring low income or people of color into frequent contact with law enforcement.”

He elaborates, explaining that for misdemeanor offenses, “I believe the community should explore a restorative justice model in which non-violent offenders between the ages of 17 to 25 perform community service.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete