Little Criminals

As the months go by I find it increasingly more and more difficult to write anything very meaningful as ideas for my column become scarcer and scarcer. This month I am lucky to have had a burst of pilfered inspiration brought about when it was suggested by Justin Kinch that I do a story on how young people are all too often discriminated against when they enter certain stores. This kind of abuse, I have learned, is more prevalent in department stores and music stores, but it can certainly happen in many other types of stores. It seems, unfortunately, that it is also extremely common in some malls, specifically.

Teenagers are often followed around and watched more closely than necessary when they first enter a store by sales personnel who usually fear that the child in question is planning on stealing something, when in reality that teenager may actually have a lot of money to spend! I saw an episode of Street Cents a year ago on this very subject, but at the time had never personally been harassed in such a manner, and thus found it difficult to relate to the plight of the teenagers depicted on the show. All that changed, however, when I was looking in a music and video store with a bunch of my friends at The West-End Mall in Halifax on the first day of Christmas vacation.

I had been in that very same store at least half a dozen times before and had never noticed anything unusual about the way the people who worked their were acting. They just seemed to be going about their business as usual. In fact, in retrospect, I don't even think anyone acknowledged my presence there at all, let alone followed me around. It must have only been because I was alone, for when I returned later with the rest of my friends, I felt as though I were all but in another store entirely!

The salespeople became extremely pushy, and could not stop following our group of only four throughout the entire store during our entire visit. There was even one gentleman in particular who insisted on asking not quite every minute if he could help us with anything, despite the fact that none of us gave him any apparent indication that we required assistance.

At one point I decided to test my theory that they were more intent on ensuring that we didn't steal anything, rather than simply wanting to be helpful. While my friends slowly made their way up an aisle towards the front of the store, I retreated to the back of the store where I began mindlessly browsing their collection of classical works. Sure enough, as soon as I did this, one of the people who had been stalking us came up right beside me to see what I was doing. He frowned. I pretended not to notice. No "may I help you," he just stood there. I was going to say something, but I just decided to wait it out. He circled the floor and paced back and forth. He turned towards me and I made an abrupt about-face and left with the rest of my friends at the front of the store.

Just after we had left, I looked back to see that the man who had followed me to the back of the store abandoned his post as soon as I was gone. This I found very irritating, and I really thought I should have said something about it. But I didn't.

After that chagrin experience I finally knew what many kids my age (sixteen) had been talking about for so very long. About how it feels not to be trusted whenever you enter a particular place of business, whether or not you have money to spend there, just because of your age. In fact, I am not convinced that this inquietude many shop keepers have about teenagers always being the shoplifters and menaces to society is well founded at all.

If anything, stores are driving away many of their younger customers, sometimes the ones who spend the most in certain instances, by this arrogant attitude they adopt so quickly. Below are the concerns of one person I know on the ccn-youth mailing list:

I was in the it store the other day and I met up with a friend of mine that I hadn't seen in a while. The clerk was standing behind the counter and if I so much as moved my arm he'd readjust himself so that he was real close to me and able to see my hands. When I moved my positioning on the floor (my feet), he moved to match me. Finally it really got to me, because there was an elderly couple in the store at the same time and they were looking at everything, picking through everything, picking stuff up, and one of them even put something in their pocket at one point to make it easier to carry to the cash-register. But he never even so much as gave them a second glance after he looked to see who come into the store. My point is that us teenagers could be just looking through stuff with a lot of money to buy things, and actually plan on buying stuff, but someone with older could just come in and put stuff in their shirts, go out ten pounds heavier, and the clerks wouldn't even notice. It just isn't fair!! Kathryn's here too, and she says if she goes into a store with her school jacket on they don't watch her at all, but without her jacket they watch her just as much as any other teenager!! How unfair is that? Is there no justice?? First O.J. Simpson gets off innocent after murdering his wife, or at least arranging it, and now, well, I guess it's always has been like this. Teenagers are being followed around. One of my friends is black and she says it's even worse for her. Even other black people prejudge black people to be thiefs!!

Darla Crewe, ah412@ccn·cs·dal·ca

You can see that Darla has some very strong feelings concerning this issue, and though I am not going to comment on the O.J. Simpson trial (which I like to think is over and done with), I can see where she's coming from (I hope ;-)). I am also not certain why a school jacket would have any effect on a concerned shop keeper, but then again, I wasn't there.

In fact, statistically, most serious crimes (theft, et cetera) that occur in large department stores or music stores are perpetrated not by teenagers, but by individuals over twenty-five years old! I think that before salespeople go about accusing all teenagers of being criminals by this kind of abuse, they should examine the facts more thoroughly. If the majority of people who are known to have stolen from you in the past are under the age of twenty, then by all means, make every kid who enters your store leave his or her bag at the door, go ahead and persecute every teenager who steps on your doorstep, just don't expect to see me around anymore.

I plan on re-visiting this issue relatively shortly, but for right now I must bid you goodbye. I wrote the above article as a replacement for the one I had earlier been preparing for my column this month, after that one essentially bombed. Though I had earlier said I would post an article discussing various aspects of the alt.conspiracy newsgroups, that will have to be put on hold for a while now. Cheers. (PS: Check out the design for my new homepage at By Matthew A. MacDonald


Chebucto Connections YOUTH CORNER
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