AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Shirley
After the Washington, D.C. City Council decriminalized street vending without a license last year, shoplifters began ransacking stores and then setting up stands to sell the stolen goods – sometimes mere feet away from the businesses they just robbed. But while even far-left Democrat Mayor Muriel Bowser has called on the council to reverse the decision, councilmembers are incredibly blaming police for rising theft.
In April of last year, the D.C. City Council unanimously passed the Street Vendor Advancement Amendment Act, billed as an “overhaul” of street vendor laws that would “remove red tape” and allow more people to sell food and other items to make a living or earn extra income. Democrats on the council complained that police were “harassing” street vendors and argued that someone should not have to have a special license to be a street vendor.
Less than a year later, the result has been complete chaos on the streets of the nation’s capital.
As one local D.C. news outlet reported on January 5, dozens of stores around the city have been completely emptied by thieves. A Target in Columbia Heights now requires anyone under 18 to be accompanied by an adult. Many drugstores and corner markets have entirely bare shelves.
On January 10, one man in D.C. was arrested for robbing the same CVS store six times. At another D.C. CVS location, robbery is so bad that, instead of displaying products for sale, the store displays framed photos of the products.
But the thieves aren’t going far. Thanks to the city council’s decision to decriminalize street vending, many are simply walking a few blocks and setting up open-air black markets to sell the stolen goods at a heavy markdown – cash only, of course. Another local news station, Fox 5, interviewed one of the street vendors, who claimed that he got several bottles of detergent for sale at a “flea market.”
In another shocking display of just how brazen the thieves have become, fliers posted on lamp posts throughout Columbia Heights called on shoplifters to “unite” and target a local Safeway store.
Overall, theft was up 23 percent in D.C. in 2023 over 2022 numbers, with a grand total of 3,470 robberies and 13,349 other instances of theft last year.
The problem has gotten so bad that Mayor Muriel Bowser – an avowed leftist who signed the Street Vendor Advancement Amendment Act last year – has called on the council to reverse the legislation.
But the Democrats on the city council have showed no intention of doing so, and have in fact doubled down while blaming police for the sale of stolen goods. In a post on X, Councilman Phil Mendelson noted, “It is still ILLEGAL to sell stolen items. It is up to the police whether they want to enforce the criminal law.”
In a comment to Fox 5, D.C. Police Union Chairman Gregg Pemberton said that Mendelson’s comment shows “he has a very limited understanding of the unintended consequences of his misguided legislation.”
“Phil Mendelson voted for and passed The Street Vendor Advancement Act of 2023, which decriminalized illegal street vending and prohibited MPD from engaging in street vending investigations and enforcement,” Pemberton continued.
While the problem has become particularly acute in D.C., it’s hardly unique to the nation’s capital. In blue states across the country, organized retail theft has become a major problem.
A 2023 Forbes survey of small businesses lays bare how bad things truly are for retailers, in particular smaller stores. 90 percent say they have experienced theft at least once at their stores, while 83 percent describe theft as “at least a somewhat major issue.”
Small businesses with less than 20 employees were most likely to experience theft, with 21 percent reporting regular robbery at least a few times a week. Only five percent of small businesses say they have never experienced retail theft.
Even more alarmingly, 88 percent of small business owners said shoplifters had become more violent and aggressive. To offset their losses, 64 percent said they were forced to raise prices, while 50 percent paid to install cameras or other security measures.
According to the National Retail Federation, theft cost the retail industry $100 billion in 2021 – more than twice the $45.2 billion cost reported in 2015. That figure likely only increased in 2022 and 2023 as the country witnessed shocking scenes of organized gangs of shoplifters rushing into stores and leaving with armfuls of stolen merchandise.
Yet like the D.C. City Council, Democrat leaders in other blue cities and states have refused to acknowledge the connection between shoplifting and policies that make it easier for shoplifters to both escape accountability and profit from their crimes.
Andrew Shirley is a veteran speechwriter and AMAC Newsline columnist. His commentary can be found on X at @AA_Shirley.