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When former President Trump hysterically called for shoplifters to be shot in a speech last week before California Republicans, we know who he thinks he’s talking about: Black and Brown people. “We will immediately stop all of the pillaging and theft,” Trump said. “Very simply: If you rob a store, you can fully expect to be shot as you are leaving that store. Shot!”
It continues more than four decades of Trump unapologetically calling for capital punishment or for the accused to be kneecapped way beyond for what crimes usually call for. Those who have a long memory about Trump will recall his full-page ads in New York newspapers 34 years ago calling for the death penalty in after the Central Park rape that wrongfully sent Black and Brown men to prison.
Now this, as the former president remains the clear front runner for the Republican nomination to return to the White House. Now, the easy thing here is to keep going about his ongoing efforts to place the political mark of the beast on Black and Brown people. But his fascist rant to bring the full weight of lethal federal law enforcement against shoplifters carries a peculiar irony. Trump is so unhinged, he forgot that most shoplifters are White.
Despite the decades of Black people being profiled in stores as possible shoplifters (and being shot and killed, as was John Crawford in 2014 for holding an unboxed pellet gun in the sporting goods section of a Walmart outside Dayton Ohio), much of the loot that leaks out of stores iare in the backpacks and purses of the least profiled.
According to a 2014 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, 77.5 percent of shoplifters are White, significantly above their 59 percent of the national population. Only 8 percent of shoplifters are Black and only another 8 percent are Latino, well below their shares of the national population. That study said, “Shoplifting was significantly more common in individuals with at least some college education, among those with individual incomes over $35,000 and family incomes over $70,000.”
Going even farther back, a 1986 Washington Post story on shoplifting in the Washington, D.C. area found that while young Black males were routinely put under heavy surveillance in stores, 71 percent of people arrested for shoplifting were from middle- and upper-income brackets. That story said:
“If there was a profile of a shoplifter, it might show a woman from a middle-income group, who has either a high school diploma or college degree. In reality, the statistics show that shoplifting cuts across age, educational and income levels. All available evidence suggests, in fact, that young black males, as a group, between the ages of 18 and 25, pose no greater threat as shoplifters than most groups.”
In a 2013 interview on National Public Radio, Rutgers University marketing professor Jerome Williams said, “About 70 percent of all the shoplifting in this country is done by whites. And in fact, if you look at store shrinkage or loss, most of the loss is done by employees and not by customers. And in some states where we’ve looked at the data, what we call the modal group that’s most likely to shoplift is white women in their 40s and 50s.”
When Trump went off about shooting shoplifters, his audience of California Republicans cheered as if a football team scored a touchdown. That was because in that same speech, he referred to California as a “dumping ground.” Trump has long used the phrase to refer to Mexico dumping its “worst elements” into the United States.
The crowd clearly assumed that shoplifters in the crosshairs of another Trump White House would be Brown and Black. The data says otherwise. If Trump really means what he says, he’s about to mow down a whole lot of White housewives.
Derrick Z. Jackson is a former Boston Globe columnist and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary.
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