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The Anti-Shoplifting Hysteria Has Now, Predictably, Gotten Someone Killed
A Kansas auto parts store employee is being charged with murder for strangling a shoplifter.
On Tuesday of last week, 39-year-old O’Reilly Auto Parts employee Carl Kemppainen strangled a 23-year-old man named Diamond Steen to death after suspecting him of shoplifting in the store. He has since been arrested and charged with second degree murder — unlawful and reckless, but not intentional.
Police say they were called to the store following a report over a “disturbance” and when they got there, they were informed that two men had walked into the store and attempted to shoplift, a fight broke out between the men and some employees, during which Kemppainen killed Steen. First responders attempted to revive him, but to no avail. The other accused shoplifter is currently in the hospital recovering from injuries.
Surely, this amount of force was necessary to prevent the loss of a windshield wiper or whatever it is that people would buy at an auto parts store.
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I don’t really want to have “How long do you have to strangle someone before they die?” in my Google search history, but I know that I can hold my breath for about a minute, so it has to be longer than that. It cannot be an easy thing to do, to hold your hands or arm around somebody’s neck through any fighting, to feel their life start to drain out of them and then keep going. It may not have been pre-meditated, but it’s hard to imagine it was entirely unintentional.
Imagine being this kid’s parents and friends and knowing that your loved one is actually dead because of something as stupid as this. Because of some stupid thing he did as a 23 year old. As carceral as America is, shoplifting is still not a capital crime. It’s not something we kill people over.
Kemppainen is obviously at fault here, but this is also the entirely predictable result of the recent widespread hysteria over shoplifting, as well as the public celebration of the vigilantes who attack suspected shoplifters.
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Right-wing pundits and social media users have, as late, elevated shoplifting from a minor crime that people don’t even usually go to jail for to an absolutely horrific crime that is not only tearing the social fabric of our nation apart, but forcing businesses to drive prices up for the good, non-shoplifting consumers. They have been cheering for vigilantes, calling to arm retail workers, and generally just cultivating an atmosphere of extreme overreaction to a non-emergency-level crime.
As I’ve mentioned 10 bajillion times, I spent a long time working in retail before finally getting my first job as a writer. There are reasons why workers are not supposed to confront shoplifters, and it is because of things like this. Or because, as my former manager at Afterthoughts told me — your life is worth more than a scrunchie.
It is also because sometimes you are wrong and people are not actually stealing anything and accusing them of stealing could land the store in a lawsuit. I can tell you, I had a number of throwdowns over the years with workers and managers believing that Black people, in particular, were likely shoplifting. I’m not saying that’s what happened in this case, but it truly would not surprise me.
Carl Kemppainen did not save lives from a mass shooter, he ended a human life over a muffler or perhaps some hubcaps, at a job that likely does not give a flying shit about him and that likely paid him about $12.71 an hour, and now he will be spending nine to 41 years in prison for his efforts. Not only did he decide that Diamond Steen’s life was worth less than a patriotic license plate frame, he decided his own was as well.