The ridiculous reaction to an act of self-defense

“It’s insane that Walgreens has armed security; there’s nothing in that store worth a human life, and Walgreens is not taking care of our community. We demand an end to armed security.”

These are the words of an activist named Jessica Nowlan, from an organization called the Young Women’s Freedom Center (source: Yahoo News). These words came in response to the death of Banko Brown, who was killed by a security guard while attempting to shoplift from a Walgreens in San Francisco. Because Brown happened to be black and transgender, the worshippers of political correctness predictably erupted in outrage, calling Walgreens and its security guard racist and transphobic.

Nowlan’s reasoning does not make sense from a moral point of view, for reasons that I will explain below:

First, all people have a fundamental right to possess whichever type of weapons they want, whether they are a security guard or not, and whether they are on the job or on their own personal time. Therefore, to demand an end to armed security violates the right of security guards to bear arms.

Second, I don’t really understand the criticism of Walgreens for “not taking care of our community.” Walgreens is not obligated to take care of any community. Walgreens is a business, and its job is to sell products. As long as Walgreens is not violating anyone’s rights, it is not doing anything wrong.

And Walgreens did not violate anyone’s rights in this case. Obviously, in normal circumstances, people have a right not to be killed. But that all goes out the window if a person is doing something wrong. By stealing things, Brown was violating Walgreens’ rights. And when you violate someone else’s rights, you forfeit your own. Neither Walgreens nor its security guard did anything wrong by defending their own rights against someone who was trying to violate them.

This brings me to my most important point, which is to address Nowlan’s claim that it is “insane” for Walgreens to have armed security because “there’s nothing in that store worth a human life.” The problem with this line of reasoning is that you don’t determine right from wrong merely by weighing two things and determining which is more valuable. Obviously, if you weigh a person’s life against the stuff that is sold in a store, yes, a person’s life is the more valuable of the two things. All else being equal, of course it is better for Walgreens to lose some of their products than for a person to lose their life. But in this situation, all else is not equal. The person in this situation – Brown – did something wrong, while Walgreens did not. It is actually morally preferable for Brown to lose their life than for Walgreens to lose their products, because Brown created the situation that necessitated choosing between life and products in the first place. It is wrong to expect Walgreens to just absorb the theft of its products in order to protect the life of the person stealing them. This would punish Walgreens, an innocent party that did nothing wrong, while allowing Brown, who did something wrong, to avoid punishment. Any outcome that involves an innocent entity being punished is not a morally acceptable outcome, even if the entity is a huge corporation such as Walgreens.

One might, of course, argue that death is a disproportionate punishment for shoplifting, and I would agree with this argument. But the alternative to giving Brown a disproportionate punishment is for Walgreens to simply absorb the theft of its property, which is morally unacceptable for the reasons explained above. It is still morally preferable for someone who did something wrong to be punished excessively than for an innocent entity to be punished at all.

Nowlan’s reasoning is wrong because it completely ignores a fundamental, basic moral concept: the distinction between someone who has done something wrong and someone who hasn’t.

To reiterate sentiments that I’ve expressed numerous times, but which continue needing to be repeated, the fact that something bad happened to a black, transgender person does not mean that the bad thing happened because the person was black and transgender. Brown was killed not because they were black and transgender; Brown was killed because they were shoplifting from Walgreens.

Brown is the person who did something wrong in this case, not Walgreens and not the security guard.