Unethical Quote Of The Month: San Francisco Homeless Resident Joseph Peterson

“I just stole to eat.”

 —Joseph Peterson, a homeless man in San Francisco, lamenting the demise of the Whole Foods in his neighborhood and attempting to draw a material distinction between the rampant theft from the store by those seeking to sell what they stole, and his own shoplifting.

And there it is! In such carefully crafted rationalizations lie the seeds of societal rot. Peterson thinks his personal shoplifting—he cops to stealing macaroni and cheese and chicken from the hot food bar at the now closed grocery store a number of times, but believes that his theft is justifiable, unlike those who wanted to sell their heist for cash. Also believing his thefts were justifiable are many of San Francisco’s elected officials. They also believe that the “bad” shoplifters in Peterson’s view are equally justified, and in fact they are. What’s the ethical difference between stealing food to eat it, and stealing food to sell and use the money for other needs? There is none. In both cases, the expense of the food stolen is borne by other city residents, who will have to pay higher prices for their food, unless the prices become so high that they resort to theft as well.

The article that quoted Peterson also painted this vivid picture of what the Whole Foods branch that opened in a downtown San Francisco neighborhood and left just 13 months later had to endure:

[T] he store was soon confronted head-on with many of the problems plaguing the area. People threatened employees with guns, knives and sticks. They flung food, screamed, fought and tried to defecate on the floor, according to records of 568 emergency calls over 13 months, many depicting scenes of mayhem. “Male w/machete is back,” the report on one 911 call states. “Another security guard was just assaulted,” another says. A man with a four-inch knife attacked several security guards, then sprayed store employees with foam from a fire extinguisher, according to a third. In September, a 30-year-old man died in the bathroom from an overdose of fentanyl, a highly potent opioid, and methamphetamine…. Police described theft as rampant at Whole Foods, with thieves walking out with armfuls of alcohol, at least at the start. After 250 shopping hand baskets were stolen, the company restocked with 50 more. Those went missing, too. During the store’s 13 months in operation, at least 14 people were arrested, including on charges of grand theft and battery, according to official reports…plainclothes officers were sent there and security improved over time, but seemingly not enough for the company.”

Typical of these greedy corporations: it didn’t feel like accommodating good shoplifting like Joseph Peterson’s.

These are the Bizarro World ethical values that radically wokified cities like San Francisco are deliberately and successfully—if you can call the breakdown of civilization a success—working to install nationwide. Peterson is a victim of the damage, but also a participant in inflicting it.


Pointer: Ann Althouse

23 thoughts on “Unethical Quote Of The Month: San Francisco Homeless Resident Joseph Peterson

  1. I would concede that stealing food in order to survive is not inherently immoral.

    I am also not a big fan of the welfare state, as it is not a charitable program, but a political one (thus subject to all of the manipulation that political programs have).

    Having said that, a “reasonable” (that is where the politics will sneak in) welfare program that provides the truly needy with food assistance seems to be an appropriate government function, especially as it should obviate the need to steal food in order to survive.

    So, why is Mr. Peterson stealing food? If food assistance is available, there is no excuse for stealing.


    • Why is Mr. Peterson stealing food instead of availing himself of the endless government programs available? He’s mentally ill. Or just too fucked up in some way for some reason or other to be able to function. And I bet he’s okay with the situation.

      • Good point and something I was thinking about as I read this entry. Remember back when Katrina hit and people were desperate for food? Some of them took it from store shelves. Others took merchandise, such as high-end shoes and electronics.

        I remember a pundit on the news, upon being asked if there was a difference between food that was taken because of the surviving residents’ dire needs and those grabbing expensive goods that were not food? The pundit responded, “How do you know they weren’t going to sell it?”

        Somehow, selling stolen merchandise became just as understandable as stealing food, for some reason.

        The situation in San Francisco is nowhere close to being as bad as post-Katrina (though, I suppose, time will tell if grocery stores keep abandoning the city), yet the idea that stealing goods in order to sell them is now a thing and even shoplifters compare themselves favorably to those who do the former.

        • I dunno. This sounds like greedy corporate greed manifesting itself as greedy corporate greed, intentionally creating food deserts (desserts?) in the downtrodden, poor parts of town created by greedy corporate raiders intoxicated by greedy corporate greed. Otherwise, it’s just about a guy going to prison for stealing bread to feed his starving sister and her family .


          PS: I can’t believe I just typed that stupid sentence. Someone stop me. Please!

      • Other possibility is that he does get the debit cards that are the current version of food stamps, but sells them for the cash to buy booze or drugs. Walking a few blocks to a charity that provides meals is just a bother when they can be stolen nearby.

  2. And how about the ethics of the NYT editor having the quote in the article without any sort of comment or countervailing observation.

  3. Just to clarify…

    It’s just as unethical to steal food to feed your family as it is to steal a tv for yourself?

    • It’s unethical to steal, mitigated if the thief then turns himself into authorities and confesses. Then it’s still illegal, but at least the violator is accepting the penalty of the theft.

      • If you told me you were about to shoot someone, and I steal your gun so you can’t do it, is that unethical?

        • If you kept the gun and did not turn it over to authorities with the reason you took the weapon then it is still unethical because you derived a direct benefit from the taking and there was no conversion.
          If there was no welfare there is another option it is called Work. If you have enough energy to steal there is something you can do to earn money.

        • Amy,

          Yes. It is unethical to steal, regardless of the reason. It is also illegal, regardless of the reason.

          And I’ll expound. The only reason I would shoot someone would be to prevent that person from inflicting personal, physical harm on me or my wife or our children. So if I told you I was about to shoot someone, and you stole from me my primary means of self-defense and left my family exposed to danger, would that be unethical on your part?

          • Ok so it’s unethical to steal someone’s gun to prevent them from shooting up a school.

            That makes sense.

            • Amy,

              You did not answer my question, but that’s ok.

              Do NOT suggest I am saying something that I am not saying! This is about an individual admitting to stealing from Whole Foods and you are taking the ethics of that to me shooting someone then to an extreme place of a school shooter to justify…something…I’m not sure what that is any longer.

              Of course, there is a “greater good” ethos. If I must commit a crime to prevent physical harm to, or the death of, others, then yes, there is a justification that can be made. And I would make it…if a shooter approached a school with evil intent and I could stop it by stealing his gun or using my gun to shoot him first, I would.

              But as a general principal, stealing is always unethical and it’s always illegal. If you’re using those examples (guns and mass shooters) to somehow justify stealing food from Whole Foods…is that what you’re suggesting?

  4. Bart: Uh, say, are you guys crooks?

    Fat Tony: Bart, is it wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family?

    Bart: No.

    Fat Tony: Well, suppose you got a large starving family. Is it wrong to steal a truckload of bread to feed them?

    Bart: Uh uh.

    Fat Tony: And, what if your family don’t like bread? They like… cigarettes?

    Bart: I guess that’s okay.

    Fat Tony: Now, what if instead of giving them away, you sold them at a price that was practically giving them away. Would that be a crime, Bart?

    Bart: Hell, no.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.