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November 21, 2017

Is Shoplifting Still a Crime?

Harry M. Covert

The right of free speech is, in all probability, the most cherished privilege in American society. Every person can say almost anything without fear at any time, no matter how silly, foolish, erudite, meaningful or profane.


Every thought turned into talk is okay. The public merely accepts the words. This is treasured. Often, in these days of tearing down barriers, social customs are being put to the test.


For example, three freshmen basketball players, all on expensive scholarships, have been caught up in scandal in China. They were arrested and charged with shoplifting in several upscale stores in Hangzhou. Their collegiate companions from UCLA were competing in a tournament. Big time basketball.


It just so happens the king of tweeting, President Donald Trump, was on tour in Asia at the same time. The Chinese criminal system was at work and jailed the young cagers, using old sportswriters’ lingo. Panic, of course, raced through the sporting and political worlds. Fortunately the doer in the White House jumped into action. He got the boys released by the Chinese president with whom Mr. T was enjoying convivial times.


It was the right thing to do. No. It was the great thing to do. A three-year to 10-year jail term for stealing in China is no lark. Evidence is rather strong that thieves, other law breakers and criminals in general, are not treated well.


Once the players returned home safely, they thanked Mr. Trump for their release. It looked as though their comments were pre-written by UCLA officials. That was helpful and sounded good and helped them to make a good impression.


One of the charged players was LiAngelo Ball. His father, LaVar Ball, didn’t waste his free speech and said the president didn’t get the boys released. Well, that’s rather ungrateful, plus the elder Ball said it was no big deal, shoplifting is no big deal. What? There are lots of people who are considered criminals for stealing. The situation is – indeed – terrible and the players have been suspended by the university. They could lose their scholarships and probably should.


It matters not that Father Ball obviously dislikes the president. At the least he should be appreciative of the quick action to intervene in the damaging situation. Diplomacy is not always fast.


Mr. Trump, the nation’s Tweeter-in-Chief, didn’t take the churlishness lightly. He said, “I should have left them in jail!” Maybe the parents of the young should grow up and pay attention to the power of the Oval Office. Perhaps presidential critics should listen, too. President Trump wouldn’t have done that.


The right to criticize government is cherished. The foolishness of some parents is incredible.


A Maryland newspaper reported quotes from a mother who said that there was no reason for her son to be shot while he was robbing a store with a hand gun. Glory be!


Remember the death of Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student, who died after his release from a North Korean prison. He had been charged with stealing a sign in a hotel and given 15 years and constantly abused.


So, what has free speech to do with the tragedy involving sports in China? LaVar Ball had the right to disrespect the president. He did so after his son was back on U.S. soil and safe. Has the son learned anything? That’s a wait-n-see question.


The man at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has the same right to react. It’s rather refreshing that he does fight back. Too many people have forgotten some presidential history. Mr. Truman, “give ‘em Hell Harry,” took exception to a criticism of his daughter’s singing recital and, get this, threatened to sock the newspaper critic in the head.


Besides free speech, how great is freedom of the press. Let’s count the ways.


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