It’s a common observation, at least in social work, that everything is connected by systems we interact with every day. Some people pay big money to hire someone to draw fancy eco maps, but I want to try and demonstrate that it’s not so difficult to draw a vivid picture with a single object. This is a small Speed Stick deodorant. It costs $1.25 at Family Dollar. Family Dollars are profitable in a lot of our communities because even though $1.25 seems like a lot to spend on such a small quantity, a family might just be spending their last $1.25 on this just to try keep up.
There’s something interesting on the back of this. It’s an anti-theft security tag. Someone thought to put this here to stop someone else from walking out with it. If it were in a CVS, it might be down the aisle from the laundry detergent and toothpaste locked behind glass and a few aisles away from shelves of baby formula; empty because we decided we can’t help that a private corporation controls 48 percent of the market and accidentally poisoned it.
We have so many Family Dollars here because the people who live here can’t afford better stores. They can’t afford better stores because they don’t have better jobs that treat them with respect or pay them enough for a decent life. Those jobs don’t exist because we’re dependent on subsidizing ever fewer corporations to attract business, who vacuum up greater shares of profit from outside the community, and most local families won’t see any of it. Maybe then you’ll start to imagine why something like this might be stolen in the first place.
Now how convenient would it be if we just said that someone would steal deodorant because of some mysterious criminal pathology that we quietly assume has something to do with the people that live there. Which brings me to the police bills still sitting in perfection, presumably because the County might get it for “free” from the state ARPA funds. While you might think that getting free funding for more cops and a wider network of surveillance cameras is harmless, I’m here to tell you that it is not.
Think about this $1.25 stick of deodorant, and then think about how much it costs to hire a police officer to sit in his car in the parking lot all day, ready to take someone down for trying to steal some. Not to be confused with a school shooting where he and over a dozen officers will stand outside, mace the parents, rescue their own children, and then do nothing for an hour. Now think about how difficult your life would have to be to feel like taking the risk of being caught stealing is worth it for hygiene products. I promise you that it would cost less money just to provide food and hygiene to everyone who needs it, and it’s almost certainly going to have a stronger impact on the crime rate. Because if police spending made us safe, then you would think the safest country in the world is the one that spends more on it than all countries spend on their military except for that of the US, by a wide margin, and China, a country of 1 billion people.
Now you see how a single object can say profound things about what a society’s values are and how it chooses to allocate its resources. You don’t need to fund a million-dollar grant to figure out what we actually need if we’re honest about our priorities.