The New York Times has a blood-boiling story revealing how corporations like Walmart pursue people accused of shoplifting for payment for the stolen goods—even in cases where those people are eventually cleared in court—and threaten them with lawsuits if they don’t pay up. The law allows them to do this:
Many of the laws were established so retailers could pursue shoplifters without clogging up the courts. Retailers, though, often move on both fronts, pressing criminal charges against suspects, while demanding that they pay up before cases are resolved.
In many states, retailers do not have to return the money they collect if the cases are ultimately dismissed or the people are cleared.
They don’t even have to give the money back.
The Times also reveals how corporate exploitation works hand in hand with white supremacy. In one case, a black customer was humiliated and threatened with a lawsuit over $200, for something she did not do:
Yatarra McQueen got ensnared in the system after she exchanged an inflatable mattress for a grill at a Walmart in Montgomery, Ala.
Store employees suspected that she had stolen the mattress. But they let her make the exchange and leave the store.
A few days later, Ms. McQueen found an arrest warrant in her mailbox. She drove to a detention center, where she was searched and made to wear a blue jump suit.
At the same time, Walmart forwarded her name to Palmer Reifler. The firm sent her two letters demanding that she pay $200 or face a potential lawsuit on top of the criminal charge, according to a suit she later filed against Walmart. Ms. McQueen said she was scared of being sued, but she did not have the money to pay.
The practice reveals a callous indifference. Walmart can afford to pay an army of lawyers to pursue money from individuals indiscriminately, without bothering to follow up and find out if they actually are guilty. According to the Times, a Walmart executive “acknowledged that the company did not follow up to check on whether people it sought money from had been convicted of shoplifting” in a court deposition. In other words, it does not care what happens to these people.
Let’s even put aside things like the health insurance industry, which exist to profit off charging people more money than they have to pay for their care, or things like corporate tax avoidance, where companies fuck us all by failing to pay their fair share. Let’s put aside the million ways corporations rob us all on a systemic level just by existing. These are ways that corporations abuse, exploit, and extort individual Americans, who are usually poor and unable to do much about it since they lack the vast power that the corporation wields.
Corporate America has extensive legal systems in place to rob regular Americans. They have binding, forced arbitration to shield themselves from legal consequences for anything, really, baked into terms of service that no one reads or really has much power to reject. They pursue people who fell behind on their rent and didn’t appear in court over it, sometimes because the notice to appear was never delivered, and slap them with the legal fees. And they have a solid majority on the Supreme Court to keep this oppression in place.
This is what class war looks like. It’s waged by obscenely wealthy corporations in pursuit of whatever money they can get. Walmart had a goal of about $6 million in shoplifting-related collections in 2016. It had a revenue of $128 billion this quarter. $6 million is nothing; it’s 0.004 percent of Walmart’s quarterly revenue. The company has the resources at its disposal to be as cruel and miserly as possible, to crush individual Americans and make their lives hell just to throw on an infinitesimal amount of extra revenue onto their balance sheet.