Rod Dreher

A Chicago mom who is a university teacher and regular Whole Foods shopper got confused trying to leave the store one day with kids in tow, and says she accidentally forgot to pay for a jar of vitamins — this, after having just spent $40 on groceries. The store accused her of shoplifting and banned her for life. Chicago magazine picks up the tale:

Our natural instinct is to judge Portes guilty of an honest mistake and Whole Foods guilty of grossly overreacting. But from the store’s perspective, it’s hard to distinguish the Lisa Porteses from the real criminals: Those who get caught with items they didn’t pay for always have a story about how this is all just One Big Mistake. “A lot of shoplifters use children as decoys,” says Rachel Shteir, who is writing a book about shoplifting. (Shteir, coincidentally, is one of Portes’s colleagues at DePaul.) “And a lot of them buy some goods but steal others.” In other words, Portes looked exactly like a shoplifter. The ban, Shteir says, was obviously meant to shame Portes, but a zero-tolerance policy also prevents habitual shoplifters–say, “boosters” who turn around and sell stolen goods online–from talking their way out of trouble. In this context, one can understand why Whole Foods doesn’t try to figure out which people did it intentionally. A rigid protocol lessens the frequency of customer lawsuits regarding false arrests, racial profiling, and injuries during apprehension.

Whole Foods later changed its mind, and told Portes they believed her. Still, given what information Whole Foods had at the time, do you think its actions were defensible? Why or why not?

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