“Stop Thief!” – a Moral Dilemma

A funny thing happened yesterday which put me into an unwanted dilemma. I was walking down the high street next to Next when I was knocked down by a running man from nowhere in a baseball cap and shirts over his arm.
“Fucking hell man!” I exclaimed as I struggled to my feet. Next thing I saw two women with radios in warm pursuit.
“Did you see that man?” one asked.
“See him?” I said, “He almost killed me!”
“Why didn’t you stop him?” the other one said.
“Are you taking the piss?” I said.
“Where did he go?”
“I’ve absolutely no idea!”
“But did you see where he ran?”
“That way,” I said, pointing with my injured foot.
As the two women ran off I then realised they were staff from the shop the man had looted.
“I’m fine,” I said to myself disgruntled, “Thanks for asking,” and brushed myself down. As I limped down to the town centre, the incident bore into my mind. I became irked that a few shirts costing peanuts in the scheme of things were more important than me. And I wondered were they annoyed because I’d done nothing to stop the thief? Should I have done? Did I neglect my civic duties by failing to make a citizen’s arrest? And if I had seen the man coming, would I have stopped him? Then no, I thought, because the man was probably homeless and his story was possibly more tragic than mine, and the cost of a few shirts he badly needed for a fix or even to wear, heaven forbid, would cost him hundreds of pounds but cost the company pennies because they got made in a sweat shop in India. And if I’d intervened, what if he’d pulled a knife on me? What if I’d misread the situation and the shirts were legit and the man in the cap was just keen on running with shirts over his arm (people have the strangest hobbies) and accused me of assault for wrestling him to the floor? No, I mused, that story was unlikely. Nevertheless, I finally decided with equanimity, I wouldn’t have stopped the thief. Because as a homeless guy myself I knew where he was coming from… if not where he was going to.


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