Teen Vogue is telling its readers that attempting to put possible criminals on trial is unfair. The argument is that the – possible – crimes were committed as part of demonstrations against the injustice of the system. Therefore, they should be excised, as it is wrong to pursue the possibly guilty to trial. This misses two important points: one, that it is the willingness to risk punishment that shows the seriousness of the rejection of injustice. The second is that we have a very long tradition of treating normal crimes more stringently when they are committed at times of civil unrest.
The Teen Vogue writer is a public defender complaining that she even has a job to do in trials of those arrested during the Black Lives Matters demonstrations.
“What is the price of dish soap? For Lanell, a 46-year-old Chicagoan, the price could be three to seven years in prison and a completely shattered life and future. Prosecutors say he took dish soap from a Chicago convenience store without paying during the uprisings after George Floyd’s murder by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. For this and nothing more, Lanell was charged with ‘burglary’ and ‘looting.’
The idea that those who broke the law in order to protest injustice should not be prosecuted does not stand up to examination. For it is the very risk of being punished for breaking the law which provides the power to the protest against the injustice. The very willingness to risk is what shows commitment.
Going further, to those who committed more traditional crimes – theft from a shop say – during those demonstrations and riots, the law has always worked the other way around. Precisely because there is general disorder minor crimes are more important. The logic is that if the police have to work at keeping civilized order then the deterrents for the more usual crimes have to rise.
Theft during a riot has always been treated as a much more serious crime than mere theft.
Teen Vogue likes to style itself as the destination for the next generation of influencers. This includes their 11.6 million monthly readers, their near 14 million followers presence on social media. This brings with it a certain responsibility. To tell the truth, to actually explain how society works.
It’s entirely true that stealing some dish soap is not the greatest of crimes. But doing it while there’s a riot going on outside makes it worse, which is why the legal system takes it more seriously when done under such circumstances.