What history says about petty crimes
I heard from a police official about a buyer of a stolen mobile phone who was arrested. During the investigation, people wanting to sell stolen phones constantly called him. So, police arranged a meeting with every caller, 80 of them over the course of two days.
While some of them were homeless or teenage runaways, the majority were average citizens, including high school students and office workers. It is hard to understand their motives. One of them was a son of a school principal, who could not believe his son stole a phone.
The police investigation stopped here. These were average people who were supposed to be “law-abiding citizens,” and their guiltless petty crimes suddenly frightened police into thinking that maybe the entire population was turning into criminals.
Nowadays, we find the “good people” stealing every so often. And they are not necessarily lacking in education. Last year, 1,160 of them had higher degrees and 5,060 were college graduates. Compared to five years ago, the number of graduate degree holders increased by eight times and college degree holders doubled.
Simple larceny used to be a result of financial difficulties. But these days, some thieves steal without clear motivations, and cases of larceny are constantly increasing in number.
Supermarkets and department stores are waging a war against petty thieves. Security guards are constantly watching shoppers, but they cannot seem to stop seemingly good people from stealing not-so-expensive products. The supermarket chain Homeplus got one up on the thieves. Its security guards and employees extorted millions of won from people caught stealing.
About 70 security guards and employees were charged with blackmail because they took advantage of the unlawful conduct of others to enrich themselves. A police officer was said to have cooperated in their crimes.
It leaves a bitter taste just to treat it as a news story. In history lessons at school, we learned that when a country is about to fall, thieves thrive, migration increases and corrupt officials run wild. The Han Dynasty of ancient China remained strong for 400 years, but its fall was inspired by the Yellow Turban Rebellion.
Of course, before the farmers become rebels and thieves, corrupt officials and royal families had long been creating chaos and making administrative mistakes. It may be too much to equate historical cause and effect to the rise in petty crime.
However, it makes me wonder when good people commit petty crimes, and security guards and police officers extort the petty criminals. Which point of history are we at?
* The author is a deputy editor of culture and sports of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yang Sunny