Social Class Vulnerability: The Nations Fresh "Shoplifter" Extortion

Disclosure: I may be a witness in this case. The following does not directly cite or allude to the incident I witnessed

Hamilton Police arrested and charged a 30-year-old loss prevention worker for Nations Fresh Food - a grocery store in Jackson Square - with three counts of extortion and two counts of fraud under $5000.

The allegations - not yet proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the courts - are that the accused extorted individuals he accused of shoplifting by telling them to pay him a fee to avoid having the police called.

There is an assumption in online conversation about this arrest that the victims were shoplifters - not "innocent victims".

It's easy to understand the assumption, who would pay the extortion except someone guilty and looking for an easy out.

The answer would be 21-year-old Joey Coleman.

This assumption fails to understand vulnerability of disability and social class, and how often the poor are victims of crime because of their vulnerabilities.

Most of us reading this, and me today, would be confident of our ability to prove our innocence to police - we wouldn't be the targets in the first place.

Those who are vulnerable to exploitation can be spotted in our Downtown, you probably have a person in mind after reading that passage.

Say you are one of those vulnerable people, you have enough in your limited budget to purchase food on special at Nations as part of your end-of-month shopping. Unknown to you, something has been put in one of the bags you have from your shopping at the Farmers Market. (You don't have a car to store items, so you're carrying all your shopping)

You leave Nation Fresh, after paying for your groceries. The store agent chasing you down, and producing the "evidence". What do you do? You're just a person on welfare, precariously housed (or not housed in many cases) - who is going to believe you? The cost of proving your innocence is too high - you're not going to get a lawyer, you have to explain to your case worker that you are in court instead of trying to find a job or working at a temp agency.

Maybe you work for a temp agency that will fire you if you are late for work in two hours?

Think about a person on probation for a youth offense who has got their life together, and the calculation they must make.

The store agent is convincing, he's got "evidence", and it will be their word against his in front of the police.

I write from personal experience - without going into that experience because this isn't about me - I was victimized at age 21 shortly after I aged out of the system as a Crown Ward.

I stood for my innocence, and I paid a heavy price for it. My vulnerability of being a Crown Ward made me a target in the first place.

After my experience, had I encountered a situation such as what is alleged to have happened here, I would've likely paid the exploitation - feeling that I'd be screwed either way, at least paying off and never returning to that store again would be a predictable outcome.