A Hefty Price to Pay: Quianna Canada Condemns Lethal Violence Against Suspected Shoplifters in the US
American citizens have recently paid a hefty price for shoplifting—one thought to occur only in regimes judged as non-democratic—and that price is death. Earlier this year, police officers shot and killed a Virginia man after a shop owner suspected the man of shoplifting designer sunglasses.
In April, a Walgreens security guard stopped a trans man for shoplifting. After a confrontation ensued, the security guard fatally shot him. Then in May, a South Carolina store owner fatally shot a 14-year-old boy in the back after wrongly accusing him of shoplifting.
While this article does not argue the US government or its legislatures have passed a law that makes shoplifting punishable by death, each incident has raised the question as to whether there is an oral code that makes shoplifting in the US punishable by death. According to the Marshall Project, 11 states seek to amend legislation as it relates to shoplifting. These new amendments seek to mete out harsher punishments for individuals who steal.
Although legal scholars in the US have asserted that life in prison for shoplifting rises to an Eighth Amendment violation, it may be difficult to show that a sentence is so disproportionate as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment. However, it cannot be denied that death is an indisputably disproportionate sentence for shoplifting.
“The US is the only democratic state that has not ratified the ICESCR.”
The Human Rights Committee has articulated that countries such as the US—that have not abolished the death penalty—only may impose the death penalty for the most serious crimes. This means the U.S. must interpret the term “most serious crimes” restrictively and should appertain only to crimes of extreme gravity, involving intentional killing. Crimes not resulting directly and intentionally in death, such as economic crimes, can never serve as the basis for the imposition of the death penalty under Article 6.
A Hefty Price to Pay: Quianna Canada Condemns Lethal Violence Against Suspected Shoplifters in the US and Offers Recommendations
Quianna Canada condemns extreme punishments for minor theft offenses, and calls on the US to:
(1) Encourage stores to use alternative methods of shoplifting prevention besides confronting, physically detaining, or, using lethal violence against the alleged suspect;
(2) Increase penalties for excessive or lethal use of force deployed by shop owners and law enforcement officers;
(3) Raise awareness regarding excessive use of force and lethal violence dangers through public service announcements and other educational campaigns;
(4) Encourage stores to adopt restorative justice practices that focus on repairing harm and amends rather than lethal force.
Include Persons Attempting to Reintegrate in SNAP Boost Benefits Exemption
The temporary boost to SNAP benefits put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, known as emergency allotments, ended nationwide in February 2023. While veterans, people experiencing homelessness and young adults transitioning out of foster care will no longer be bound by work requirements at any age, this exemption does not include previously incarcerated persons.
Evidence shows previously incarcerated persons are impacted by collateral consequences and have a difficult time obtaining employment once they are released. Therefore, I renew my recommendation for the Biden Administration to make it easier for Americans to reintegrate.
The US is the only democratic state that has not ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Therefore, I urge the US to ratify the Covenant, as this would make it easier for citizens to access their rights.
 HRC (2019). Capital punishment and the implementation of the safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty. A/HRC/42/28, at para. 8. Available at: https://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/42/28