GREEN MOUSE follows up: “How Dollar Stores Became Magnets for Crime and Killing.”


Picking up where we left off on February 13, when I asked, “What sort of upper crust prohibitionist’s rationale is being advanced here?”

GREEN MOUSE SAYS: Neo-prohibitionism, foppery and hypocrisy at Indiana Landmarks as Family Dollar on Vincennes gets a perfectly legal alcohol sales permit.

This led to a traumatic Facebook kerfuffle, deletions and recriminations, and subsequently I was made aware of other back-channel goings-on, but by then the dark pandemic clouds were gathering and nothing much happened with any of it. Honestly, I’ve no idea whether the Family Dollar in question ever received the alcohol permit.

At the time, I was perfectly well aware of the controversies engendered by the contemporary growth of Family Dollar, Dollar General and other such carpetbagging stores in the context of impoverished areas, employment practices, food deserts, inept local governments and a host of other ills that capitalism gleefully exploits for the benefit of the accumulators of capital, at the expense of ordinary people who exist to be steamrolled.

What particularly bothered me back in February was the involvement of Indiana Landmarks, whether active and real or merely tactically suggested by opponents of the Family Dollar alcoholic beverages permit, as well as the paternalistic attitude of more than one self-identified (and Reisz-stuffed) historic preservationist concerning their responsibility to help the poor folks lest too many paychecks get squandered on booze — an argument that was tired and regrettable a century ago in the run-up to Prohibition.

To be precise, I take none of it back — not a word — and note only that with the intervention of more important matters, the discussion came to an end. So it goes.

Now, about Family Dollar, Dollar General and others of the species. ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power, and in this gripping long read, Alec MacGillis explains “How Dollar Stores Became Magnets for Crime and Killing.”

 … The Gun Violence Archive, a website that uses local news reports and law enforcement sources to tally crimes involving firearms, lists more than 200 violent incidents involving guns at Family Dollar or Dollar General stores since the start of 2017, nearly 50 of which resulted in deaths. The incidents include carjackings in the parking lot, drug deals gone bad and altercations inside stores. But a large number involve armed robberies in which workers or customers have been shot. Since the beginning of 2017, employees have been wounded in shootings or pistol-whippings in at least 31 robberies; in at least seven other incidents, employees have been killed. The violence has not let up in recent months, when requirements for customers to wear masks have made it harder for clerks to detect shoppers who are bent on robbery. In early May, a worker at a Family Dollar in Flint, Michigan, was fatally shot after refusing entry to a customer without a mask.

The number of incidents can be explained in part by the stores’ ubiquity: There are now more than 16,000 Dollar Generals and nearly 8,000 Family Dollars in the United States, a 50% increase in the past decade. (By comparison, Walmart has about 4,700 stores in the U.S.) The stores are often in high-crime neighborhoods, where there simply aren’t many other businesses for criminals to target. Routine gun violence has fallen sharply in prosperous cities around the country, but it has remained stubbornly high in many of the cities and towns where these stores predominate. The glowing signs of the discount chains have become indicators of neglect, markers of a geography of the places that the country has written off.

But these factors are not sufficient to explain the trend. The chains’ owners have done little to maintain order in the stores, which tend to be thinly staffed and exist in a state of physical disarray. In the 1970s, criminologists such as Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson argued that rising crime could be partly explained by changes in the social environment that lowered the risk of getting caught. That theory gained increasing acceptance in the decades that followed. “The likelihood of a crime occurring depends on three elements: a motivated offender, a vulnerable victim, and the absence of a capable guardian,” the sociologist Patrick Sharkey wrote, in “Uneasy Peace,” from 2018.

Another way of putting this is that crime is not inevitable. Robberies and killings that have taken place at dollar store chains would not have necessarily happened elsewhere. “The idea that crime is sort of a whack-a-mole game, that if you just press here it’ll move over here,” is wrong, Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, told me. Making it harder to commit a crime doesn’t just push crime elsewhere; it reduces it. “Crime is opportunistic,” he said. “If there’s no opportunity, there’s no crime” …