Tonight I saw a homeless man steal a sweatshirt from a mom & pop souvenir shop. He simply took the garment off a rack that had been placed outside near the sidewalk, put it under his arm and started walking away.
For a second, I considered calling out, but almost immediately thought better of it. This is not my business, not my concern. The shopkeeper needs to take better care of his merchandise. Maybe the homeless guy really needs it. And who was I to call out? Had I never stolen anything in my life? Nobody would blame me for walking on and not getting involved … except me. I had witnessed a criminal act. If I did nothing, wasn’t I condoning it? I decided that I could not remain silent.
I went inside the shop to tell one of the clerks what I had seen. Both of them were busy with customers, so I waited briefly until they were free and then explained that a shoplifter had just taken one of their sweatshirts. I noticed that the retail counter in the back had a closed circuit video display connected to six security cameras, one of which pointed right at where the theft had occurred. I said, “Look over your security footage and you’ll see it. A bearded man in a Nike windbreaker, a hat like a fishing cap and pants falling down off his buttocks.”
The younger of the two clerks asked me to point out the direction in which the shoplifter had gone, which I did. Then he took off that way to see if he could catch the guy, but it was too late by then. Again, I suggested they check their footage and keep a better eye on the video. A customer who overheard us chirped in that putting the racks by the sidewalk was just asking for trouble.
That might have been the end of it, but when I got to my bus stop, I heard a large belch come out from behind the bus shelter. Through the grating at the rear of the shelter, I could see it was the homeless guy. He was taking off his windbreaker and putting on the sweatshirt I had seen him steal.
Again, I felt conflicted by a question of involvement. It was too far to go back and get one of the clerks, and I’m not in law enforcement. Nobody would blame me for turning my back on the whole matter … except me. I again felt compelled to do something. But what?
Before I explain my solution to this ethical dilemma and ask for feedback, I’d enjoy hearing from anyone with an opinion on situations like this. At what point do we speak out, step forward and cross “the line.” And when is it okay to walk away and say, “none of my business?”