Logan Saw a Dude Steal Some Coffee And Said Nothing And Mike Is Like, That’s Wrong

Logan: I was in the Starbucks in our building yesterday. I’d ordered a mocha and I was waiting for my mocha, because it was Thursday and I Deserved It. The Starbucks is busy, it’s always busy. So I’m standing around with maybe half a dozen people waiting, and I see this this guy—I don’t want to say he’s homeless, because like, maybe he has a home, I don’t know, but he had on a lot of clothes and maybe two coats and wasn’t very clean. And also kind of talking to himself.

Anyway, he was very over-the-top stage-acty considering the display of coffee by the drink pick-up counter. Looking over his shoulder, picking up a bag of coffee, looking at it really hard, reading the label, mumbling some stuff about it. And then he put it in his coat. This huge bag of coffee. It was the least smooth move I’ve ever seen. I think I laughed. Not outloud. But to myself. And after he put it in his coat he sort of walked around and then went back and started doing it again. And then my drink came up and I picked it up and then I left. And then I told you what I saw, and you were like—well, you can explain what you were like.

Mike: Yes, this is a WWYD situation. When you told me this happened, I asked you if you considered telling an employee about it after you witnessed the theft—that was apparently still occurring!—and your answer was … 

Logan: No. Well, no-ish. I did consider that it was a possibility, but a few things very quickly made it not a possibility. One: They guy was just so over the top and obvious, it felt to me that there was no way that an employee hadn’t already noticed him. Two: The Starbucks was so busy. Everyone who works there is behind the counter. There was no delicate way for me to have said anything to anybody, really. It would have involved weaving around a bunch of people and waving somebody to the end of the counter and then saying what I saw and pointing to the guy, and: No. Three: He was stealing some coffee, and it was not my problem. It really wasn’t even any of the employees’ problem. Theft happens in retail. It’s a given, it’s built into their operating costs. In retail jobs I worked, the deal was that if you saw a theft happening, you should alert the manager and maybe they’d go over and intervene, maybe. But it’s never part of the job description. That’s an extra bonus thing (really: I think at my last retail job, if you “disrupted” an instance of “product loss,” you got a small bonus). So it’s not like anyone is going to lose their job because someone stole some coffee on their watch. Okay and four: I am not going to intervene and ruin someone’s life. Like: I don’t know that guy’s life. What if he’s stealing coffee for his sister’s dying child? WHAT IF HE IS JEAN VALJEAN? So you see, there are many reasons why I said nothing. Would do it again.

Mike: And that is your prerogative! And since this is a WWYD, I would say that if I were in your position, I would have tried to quietly tell one of the employees. Also, I go to that Starbucks pretty much every day so I know the employees, and they know me, so I feel like as a regular, I’d feel more comfortable telling someone who sort of knows me (or at least knows what kind of drink I get every day). When I worked in retail, I was told something similar: Don’t confront a person who is committing theft. Tell the manager on duty and have her or him handle it, and most importantly, if the thief runs out of the store, do not give chase. Let the manager call the police. Also, I think it’s interesting that you considered this person’s backstory, because what would have gone through my head is: “Oh! That man stole some coffee. And he’s doing it again!” And then I would have quietly told an employee about it.

Logan: You say “it’s your prerogative,” but I feel like you think I am complicit by seeing something and not saying something. True?

Mike: Well, it is your prerogative, because you were there as a customer—not as a security guard. But I do think that more people would say something than not say something in this situation. Some people don’t want to get involved for whatever reason, but I think this is an instance where I would have wanted to say something. I mean, it’s not like I always say something. I see people smoking pot in the park sometimes, but it’s not like I call the police to report them—and yes, they are breaking the law too! I think it’s even illegal to smoke cigarettes in public parks in New York now. I’m wondering if the reason you chose not to say something was because it’s Starbucks. Like, if it was a family cafe run by a husband & wife or something, if you still wouldn’t have said something.

Logan: Hm that’s interesting. I think I would have thought about it more, and still not said anything. Or maybe said something after the fact? Like, “FYI, I think that guy who just left stole some coffee.” That might be as far as I went. I feel like people steal for a lot of reasons, and I can’t know the reason why someone is stealing, and I don’t want to intervene and mess up anybody’s life. It’s just not something I’m interested in doing.

That said, talking about this has got me thinking about Kitty Genovese—the woman who was murdered in front of 38 witnesses, none of whom called or helped—and I absolutely do believe in intervening in situations where someone is in danger. I called the cops a few months ago when a couple was having an argument across the street from my house that just felt really violent. But even then I did hesitate—is getting the police involved going to make whatever comes next worse for this woman? Being a citizen of the world is hard.

Mike: I think you over-think things! Again, for me, I don’t know what you heard, but in this situation I’d think, “It sounds like someone is getting attacked!” And then my instinct would have been to call the police. I mean, if I were in a situation where things were getting violent and I was screaming, I would hope someone would also call the police. Also, back to the coffee situation, I think it’s interesting that you empathize with the thief, but not for the place that is getting something stolen from. Is it a, “well, this is a shop, and they’ll recover,” kind of thinking? Whereas the thief is stealing because it’s his survival instincts kicking in? Basically, I think that you have been watching too much Les Miserables.

Logan: I don’t think it’s that I’ve watched too much Les Miz—I think it’s more that I’ve read too much and worked too much with people who are really, really struggling, and I know that it’s basically impossible to live on the up-and-up if you’re down and out. But, yes: Corporations are not people. People are people. And yes, I think about things a lot. TOO MUCH. (Not enough.) And to clarify: No violence was happening in that earlier scenario, I just had a Feeling.

Mike: Haha, yes, corporations are not people. Okay, so what I’d like to know if I opened up a coffee shop and you saw someone stealing from it, if you would still not say something.

Logan: I would tell you after. Because what if I told you and you confronted the person and the person was actually deranged and then that person murdered you?!

Mike: Then I would expect you to avenge me and then to start a scholarship in my name. Also, I’m not opening a coffee shop, EVER.

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41 Comments / Post A Comment

NoReally (#45)

What if you walked out and the guy was there, and he thanks you for not telling on him? And then he hands you half the coffee? Do you drink it? Keep it and not drink it? Put it in the poor box? What if the next day he’s there, and he tells you, “Spill your purse while I use the diversion to walk out with this stainless travel mug”?

Camilla (#3,134)

Yep, and as a social worker, I totally admire that Logan considers his backstory. Not that I think the guy is a saint but it’s probably way more trouble than it’s worth to try to intervene in this situation. IMHO.

sockhopbop (#764)

I’m with you, Logan! Loose shoplifting lips sink ships/can mess up already-struggling people’s lives, just over $8.

BananaPeel (#1,555)

Hmm. I mean, it’s not like he stole something he really, really needed. Like, if you had no food and no money to buy food, you wouldn’t steal coffee to snack on. Also, isn’t that coffee not even ground up yet? What do you think he was going to do with the coffee?
In conclusion, I don’t know. I guess I would go up to an employee and say “Hey, did you guys just notice that guy stealing two pounds of coffee beans under his jacket?” Not saying that would be the best thing to do, just that it’s what I would probably end up doing.

julnyes (#2,807)

RE: Kitty Genovese – That case did not happen the way most people think:
http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2007/10/truth-behind-story-of-kitty-genovese.html

That’s funny because I was just about to email you a WWYD about this time I was visiting New York and a guy in alley was all like “PSST! Hey buddy, wanna buy some coffee?” and opened his trench coat to reveal two bags of Starbucks-brand beans.

This is why Dunkin Donuts always has cops hanging out there.

chic noir (#713)

@forget it i quit – it must be the coffee because no one is going to steal those stale donuts.

EM (#1,012)

What if you tell the Starbucks employees and one of them strangles the shoplifter?

faustbanana (#2,376)

Let’s talk about Mike Dang’s “pretty much every day” Starbucks consumption. Doesn’t seem very Dang-y. Mike Dang, is this in your I-choose-and-budget-for-this-small-luxury category? Let me just say your name a few more times, then I’ll be done with this comment.

readyornot (#816)

@faustbanana I think Mike and Logan have spoken to this before, when we commenters were all like, the Awl Industries don’t shell out for coffee for its editors? No? Then why don’t you just buy a French press, an electric water heater, and call it done? Way better than Starbucks. And I think the answer was something like, we do it for convenience, camaraderie, and we’re trying to quit.

chic noir (#713)

@faustbanana we don’t spend shame here. We all have necessary luxuries.

faustbanana (#2,376)

@chic noir I wasn’t trying to spend shame – just curious because it seemed out of character for him. No judgement here. I have plenty of my own necessary luxuries!

eaglet (#3,168)

I work at a Sbux in San Francisco, and we get a lot of people stealing whole bean coffee. Apparently they sell it to convenience stores and to other folks who sell the bags (along with other pretty random groceries) on the street. As a barista, I don’t have a stake in stuff being stolen (other than when someone tries to grab the tip jar), but the management does and so they’re definitely more proactive about confronting people who they see stealing. Personally, I have a bit more sympathy for people who are stealing actual food, but I’ve never personally had to intervene in a theft situation (though I’ve given plenty of stare-downs to people who were lurking suspiciously.)

At least where I work, if Logan had said something before the guy left the store, a manager would’ve walked up and told him to put back what he’d taken, and to please leave and not return. Occasionally we threaten to or do call the police, but it’s very rare that they show up in time to do anything, which is just fine by us. So I wouldn’t be too worried about ruining the guy’s life if you say something to a manager.

But, I would probably have done the same thing as Logan, which is to waffle about what to do until it’s too late to do anything. And as a lowly barista, saying something to me after he’s gone is almost worse than not knowing– because now I’m annoyed at us being busy, annoyed at myself and my coworkers for not being on top of things and noticing him, slightly annoyed at the customers for not saying anything, and annoyed that now I have to tell my manager (who will be annoyed at us). Unless you recognized the guy and can give a good description so we know to be on the lookout for him later, I’d rather not know in that exact moment. We’ll know it was stolen later because of inventory counts anyway, and management can give us a pep talk about vigilance if it’s having a major impact on store finances. So, if you see something, say something, or don’t, because I’ve got a gajillion lattes to make right now.

Mike Dang loves rules, doesn’t use swears. How does Mike Dang feel about jaywalking? I have to know.

hopelessshade (#580)

@Kate Dollarhyde@twitter I have to say, I kinda do not trust people who don’t swear. It probably makes me a bad person!

chic noir (#713)

I’m with Logan and from the description she gave, I don’t think I would want the manager or one of the employees trying to apprehend the guy. A ten dollar bag of coffee isn’t worth your life or God forbid, major medical debt.

velveeta chz (#3,171)

I’m a public defender, so I’m with Logan here. The criminal consequences of a theft of even a minimal amount can be severe for someone who is already on the fringes. In MD, theft under $100 carries a potential penalty of 90 days in jail, with additional penalties possible if the person has prior convictions. I have seen people who stole less than $10 worth of stuff go to jail, even when the complainant got his or her money back. Sometimes people have mental illness, sometimes they have substance abuse issues, sometimes they’re just poor and trying to make a little cash on the side. I know a lot of people have more sympathy for the guy stealing lunch than they do for the guy lifting DVDs from walmart, but I have to say, having had both those clients, often their lives are equally unstable. This isn’t to say that I think theft is okay, or that the law shouldn’t prohibit it, but once someone gets brought into the machine of the criminal justice system, it brings about a whole host of consequences, some very far-reaching, that are often disproportionate to the offense.

I just think the criminal justice system is horribly, terribly unfair to poor people, which for me is best encapsulated in this quote, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 23 (1956) (quoting Anatole France).

tuntastic (#2,769)

@velveeta chz That citation is totally redundant (as you point out).

coupdefoudre (#3,172)

“But I do think that more people would say something than not say something in this situation.”

Do we think this is true? I, for one, would absolutely not even have considered saying anything. Maybe tried to make eye contact with an employee with a crooked, “what’s this now?” face, but that is the max. Definitely seems like a thing that is none of my business or responsibility.

ennaenirehtac (#199)

@coupdefoudre Yeah, I think Mike Dang is in the minority on this one. People generally have more sympathy for the poor man than the corporation.

selenana (#673)

I am also with Logan on this one, and would not tell on someone for something like this. And I absolutely would/do intervene if it’s something involving violence. And I would consider his backstory too.

If the guy was pulling those shenanigans in an indie place and was doing it right in front of me, I’d probably say something to him like “not cool man.”

aetataureate (#1,310)

Oh my gosh, these comments are fascinating to me. I for sure would have said something and the rest of it feels like really elaborate rationalizing. I’ve also told an employee when a person was talking loudly to himself in a coffee shop, and I’ve called the police when a person was slim-jimming into a car in my neighborhood. To draw an imaginary line around the fact that it’s Starbucks or any corporation seems really silly, arbitrary, and slippery to me.

Sean Lai (#559)

You did the right thing, Logan. It’s not even rationalizing based on his background – it’s just a bag of coffee. If a dude in a $2000 suit stole a bag of coffee from a Starbucks, I MIGHT say something in passing to an employee but I wouldn’t really believe a theft like that would warrant doing much about it. Maybe banning him from the store in the future, I guess.

Property rules exist to serve humans, folks. They don’t have meaning independent of our social judgment.

Also, holy bejeebus Mike Dang, I can’t believe you even contemplate calling the cops on people smoking weed in a park. Good lord.

Mike Dang (#2)

Sean, I don’t contemplate calling cops on people who smoke weed—I just wanted to throw that in as an example of something I wouldn’t think about doing, that although I do respect laws, I don’t always follow them. (To the commenter above, yes, I jaywalk too).

And I also don’t think Logan chose to do the wrong thing and never says she does (she chose that title while putting this post together). She chose to do one thing, and I would likely choose to do another, just like you might choose to say something depending on how you were feeling on a particular day. I think that the reason we choose to do one thing rather than another is often drawn from our own experiences. Personally, I was taught that stealing is wrong both by my family and church, and although I’m no longer a practicing Catholic, I still feel very strongly that it’s wrong. I also had a very good friend who was brutally attacked and put in the hospital for a long time, and the reason her attacker was found not long after was because he was caught after someone reported him for theft. Even so, I do understand that people steal to survive and their reasons aren’t always malicious, and that the criminal justice system is hard on people who are down and out, and these problems are deep-rooted and institutional and that there should be more programs and options available to help people so that they never have to resort to stealing in the first place. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I’m not always a coldhearted narc, I swear.

Sean Lai (#559)

@Mike Dang I believe you! You seem like a cool guy, as much as it is possible for me to evaluate something like that through the internet.

My point was actually much better encapsulated by the public defender above; that is, people who were protesting the hard line against the theft were mostly talking about whether the guy needed the coffee in order to survive, which is natural. But even beyond that, the criminal justice system is so brutal (both in its immediate effects and its long-term consequences) that I’d say we should be trying to keep people who commit minor harms out of it if possible, regardless of whether or not they are an authentic Jean Valjean.

PS, Asian raised-Catholic-but-not-really-involved-anymore solidarity.

dham (#2,271)

It is impossible to imagine caring that anyone, rich or poor, stole from a Starbucks. Unless, as mentioned above, it was the tip jar.

QUESTION. Did you see the man actually leave the store without paying for the coffee? Benefit of the doubt: until he walks out the door, it’s not a theft. Maybe he just needed somewhere to store it before paying for it? (Probably not.)

lizard (#2,615)

if i was sitting down and trying to enjoy my coffee while this man was in there i would probably say something just so i wouldnt have to spend my time being paranoid of a crazy man.

tuntastic (#2,769)

Miiiiiiike. Mike. Stoppit.

Harriet Welch (#127)

Huh. I probably just wouldn’t really know what to do. I have a pretty big “stealing is wrong” thing, and even though starbucks is a corporation, the theft hurts people that have a stake in the corporation.

Although, if this was my favorite mom and pop place where I learned to smoke cloves and read dark books while drinking black coffee, I’d probably tell the guy to hit the bricks.

VintageGirl29 (#723)

velveeta chz comment, for real. I think that Logan had more empathy even for a second for a human being rather than a huge cooperation (I’m not saying Starbucks is evil, but I’m fairly sure they may still be part of the problem facing this country) means that maybe there is hope for us all.

Grimbalake (#3,180)

Well…. Starbucks has been avoiding paying millions of pounds in tax to the UK Treasury (you might say they have been stealing this tax liability from the UK tax payer). They paid £8.6m in total UK tax over 13 years during which they recorded sales of £3.1bn (taken from the article below, if my math is correct that’s a tax rate of 0.3%). Couldn’t some have the money they owed have been used to help people like your coffee stealer out of poverty? http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/dec/03/amazon-google-starbucks-tax-avoidance

emmabee (#2,008)

Yes to everything Velveeta Chz said – Logan, you did the right thing. Also, I think the question “is it ok for a homeless man to steal coffee” is separate from the question “is Logan ethically obligated to tell a manager that a homeless man is stealing coffee.” And I think the answer to the second question is a lot clearer than the answer to the first question. There’s a higher ethical threshold for bystander action — like maybe “if I don’t intervene, it’s likely that someone will be hurt.”

messica (#2,810)

I think even less than, “What is this guy needs it?” I would think, “What if the manager who gets the message is a d-bag lunatic?” In my retail experience I found most of my co-workers didn’t care at all, except for the 5% who did who were big time assholes, you know? Like, barricade the door, start a fight, haven’t you heard of using your bootstraps, I will end up filing a police report about a bloodied thief type people. Obviously this is not scientific but if there is even a chance someone might get a black eye because of misplaced self-riteousness I err on the side of silence.

@messica YES THIS. I had a manager at a non-profit who would put his direct line on acknowledgement letters I prepared, instead of the customer service line – not to give people good customer service, but so he would be the first one to find out if I made a mistake. Some people just really like confrontation!

Oh goddamit Logan and Mike I’d JUST gotten “Red and Black” out of my head.

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