The story of Ganave Fairley is a story of failure—not just of her own failed life, but also of a failed criminal justice system and a failed intellectual class that, led by a pernicious media, effectively rewards rationalizations, lies, and excuses. As a result, people are able to avoid facing the truth about and the consequences of their own bad behavior, even as that behavior causes themselves and others considerable harm, and costs the state (read: taxpayers) enormous amounts of money.
From 2016 to 2018, Fairley, a 38-year-old black woman, was a resident of San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood. During that time, she terrorized her neighbors by stealing packages from Amazon and other companies that were left at neighbors’ doors and on their porches. According to her sister, Fairley would sell the packages “for a little bit of nothing, just to get high.” This, while living in public housing and receiving public assistance for herself and her daughter, who is now 8.
On Nov. 1, The Atlantic published an 8,478-word article on Fairley. Written by Lauren Smiley, the article is part of The Atlantic’s “project ‘The Presence of Justice,’ which is supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge.” And yet, notwithstanding the article’s vast length, and ostensible focus on “Justice,” Smiley never expresses disapproval of Fairley’s actions. Rather, the takeaway is that Fairley is—what else?—a “victim” of “racism” and “poverty.”
To be sure, men and women are never in need of help when it comes to shirking who they really are and the meaning of their conduct. For this vice virtually everyone has a natural, terrible talent. Smiley, who conducted numerous interviews with Fairley, writes:
Fairley insisted to me that she stole only a small number of items—“I did it maybe once or twice, three times at the most; it wasn’t like a new job I went into”—and that she sold just one of them, a set of storage bins, for about $20. (She also told me she stole mostly in order to buy necessities, not drugs.) She thought the packages would be replaced by Amazon and other senders, so her gain wouldn’t be her neighbors’ loss. “That’s what eased my conscience taking someone’s property, because I’m not a bad person, it was just a bad choice,” she told me. “I was in a desperate state.”
But in fact, in August 2018, thanks to video evidence, Fairley was found guilty of 23 misdemeanor charges of petty theft, receiving stolen property, and mail theft. And though Potrero Hill is an expensive area in which to live, Fairley, again, received public assistance, including food stamps, so her claim that “she stole mostly in order to buy necessities, not drugs,” is quite implausible and, as we have already seen, contradicted by the testimony of her own sister.
Notice, too, the bad faith of Fairley’s reasoning. Since “Amazon and other senders” would replace the stolen goods, she wasn’t doing her neighbors any harm after all. True, the big corporations would take a loss—but so what? They’re rich! It is as if Fairley never actually stole at all. Certainly, she is “not a bad person.”
Fairley was hardly the only thief in Potrero Hill. So severe was the problem of package theft that residents began to use the social networking service Nextdoor to report on criminals like Fairley. But alas, a disproportionate number of these persons were poor and black, so the progressives found themselves dealing with matters of “income inequality” and “racism.” Thus, Smiley writes about “the charged dynamic of ‘white-privileged homeowner’ [the victim] versus ‘someone who is barely making it’ [the typically black criminal].” She relates the story of
A union-leader neighbor, Jason Rosenbury, [who] showed the person he suspected of stealing his succulent plants a Nest recording of the heist, and said he wouldn’t report it to the police if he got the plants back. Upon their return, he glued new pots to the concrete to avoid further strife. “I’m a full-blown socialist,” he told me, “but I’m also for law and order.”
One imagines Rosenbury would get along very well with “Margett,” who, Smiley explains, is “a white woman and a proud lesbian sporting a Mohawk ponytail.” For Margett, a lover of “diversity,” “The pulse of the neighborhood…is more important than petty crime.” Soon, perhaps, there will be a pioneering reality television show that allows progressives to combine their twin loves of masochism and “social justice.” Progressives will compete to see who can take the most abuse from Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and other rabble while affirming their commitment to ending “white privilege” and “systemic racism.” For inspiration and plotlines, the writers of this show could draw on my July 12 column “The White Punishment Project.”
Not to imply that even a writer of genius can equal the loony spectacle that reality itself has become. As Smiley writes,
In January 2018, [Mark] Arnold [one of Fairley’s neighbors and victims] took time off from work to attend one of Fairley’s hearings, at the suggestion of the prosecutor then handling the case. (An organized group of San Franciscans also has taken to sitting in on burglary cases to show elected judges that voters are watching.) While Arnold sat in the courtroom, his wife texted that Fairley wouldn’t be showing up: She was on their stoop that very moment, apparently in the middle of another stealing expedition. (Fairley was not charged in this alleged incident, and her lawyer declined to comment.)
[Meanwhile,] Margett had retaliated against Fairley by placing her Boston terrier’s poop in a decoy box on her stoop….
Smiley’s article is full of such unintended comedy, enabled by a dreadfully incompetent progressive criminal justice system. That incompetence is evident in passages such as the following:
San Francisco County courts have long referred many low-level offenders to rehabilitative programs while they are awaiting trial rather than have them sit in jail. This practice endlessly angers the victims of the property crimes, and concerns cops, too. “Our big request is for consequences,” said Commander Raj Vaswani, who headed the district responsible for Potrero at the time, adding that police typically only pursue an arrest if a person or a camera directly witnesses the package being stolen….
Arnold thought the whole cycle looked like institutional apathy. Three times, he walked up to the window at Vaswani’s station in the Bayview, the southeastern-most district of San Francisco, which is among the poorest, with high violent crime rates. The officers seemed underwhelmed by his package gripes, saying that petty theft is a cite-and-release sort of misdemeanor and asking, “What do you want us to do?” Arnold would respond, “Prosecute her,” referring to Fairley. They said that was the district attorney’s job.
Nor was the judge who sentenced Fairley any better than the “underwhelmed” police. Smiley reports:
Judge Charles Crompton acknowledged that economic necessity had contributed to Fairley’s actions, and sentenced her to a minimum of one year in a full-time drug rehab program—the first stage of three years of probation—and imposed a stay-away order from the blocks she’d targeted.
What exactly does it mean to say that “economic necessity had contributed to Fairley’s actions”? There is a rather vague idea of causation here (“contributed”), but tellingly, Judge Crompton does not use the word cause itself. Of course, he would not explicitly say that Fairley’s thefts were justified by “economic necessity.” But he does convey just this, or something like it, in an imprecise (and perhaps disingenuous) fashion. It is difficult, given his language, to know what Judge Crompton believes. Does he really believe that Fairley had to steal from her neighbors out of “economic necessity”? Well, the man was appointed by the super liberal Jerry Brown, one might say cynically.
To be sure, there were times when, cycling in and out of jail, Fairley lost custody of her daughter, and therefore her public assistance; but even then, is not stealing still wrong and avoidable? Shouldn’t Fairley, if she needed to, have gone to a food bank or a homeless shelter? (Not to mention looking for work, something we never hear about Fairley doing in Smiley’s article.)
No doubt a drug rehab is a good place for Fairley to be, but what justice is served by that (or by probation)? What about making some type of restitution to her neighbors? For even if Amazon and the other companies replaced their stolen goods, their inconvenience or suffering is not addressed by that. Consider, too, all the money Fairley cost taxpayers, from public assistance (hardly deserved, given her irresponsible lifestyle) to her many trips to court. In view of that, the woman should have been ordered to do community service. It’s all well and good for her to receive “a stay-away order from the blocks she’d targeted,” but what’s keeping her from targeting other blocks? Nothing. But a jail cell could.
It is one of the dirty tricks of journalism, as I myself learned some years ago when I briefly worked for a liberal newspaper in suburban Philadelphia, to use an “expert” to convey your own conviction. Thus, Smiley writes:
[L]ocking up low-level criminals won’t solve what [W. David] Ball, the Santa Clara University law professor, believes is the root cause of these crimes: poverty within astronomically expensive cities. “Everyone assumes that jail works to deter people. But I don’t know if I were hungry, and had no other way of eating, that that would deter me from stealing,” he said.
Suppose, however, that Fairley were white rather than black. Would it be true, then, that poverty “is the root cause” of her crimes? Do we ever hear this falsehood in regard to poor whites? No.
Smiley quotes Fairley’s defense attorney, Brandon M. Banks, who says “Fairley had been caught in a web of surveillance, gentrification, and racism.” Again, try to imagine this nonsense being said of a poor white criminal.
Smiley reports that “wealth and race disparities were obvious in the courtroom” where Fairley was tried, and the writer seems to think that “the criminalization of poverty and addiction” are “systemic issues.” In this sentimental confusion, Smiley is like any number of progressive ninnies, and there being an abundance of such enablers, it’s no wonder Fairley seems to have learned nothing from her crimes. Says Smiley:
I visited Fairley in jail several times this past spring while she was waiting for another rehab program to accept her…. Fairley continued to insist to me that she only stole a couple of times, and she seemed to feel worse for herself than for the people she stole from: “I never took anything that was somebody’s worldly possessions or anything that was personal…. I didn’t feel like it was that big to them.”
If there’s one thing you can count on from a delusional character it’s selfishness. Of course “Fairley seemed to feel worse for herself than for the people she stole from.” Who, after all, is willing to make her accountable? “Worldly possessions” simply means “something owned; any tangible or intangible possession that is owned by someone.” There are no non-worldly possessions; worldly (and “personal”) is exactly what the stolen possessions were. And does Fairley know that the possessions were not “that big” to her victims? No.
The saddest thing about Fairley’s story is her daughter, the little girl already being in the habit of “taking things…that aren’t hers and claiming that she ‘found’ them.” The other adults she encounters, one hopes, will spare her from the destructive blind pity that has enabled her mother—an awful influence.
It is the behavior of people like Ganave Fairley that leads to white flight, although if you try to get away from such behavior, you’ll be deemed a hard-hearted racist who doesn’t care about “inequality” and the poor. In 2019, just as blacks are always victims, so whites are always guilty.
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