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An unwitting witness to a crime


I was walking to the Walgreens at Fillmore and Bush when I heard running footsteps behind me. It was 4:25 in the afternoon on the Fourth of July.

I turned to see a group of young people, perhaps 20 or more, bolting up the hill. As they surged past me, one knocked me aside and I fell against the building. No one paused, though one of the bunch glanced back at me with an almost apologetic look. Then the group tacked left in a flock and burst into Walgreens. I entered right behind them.

Inside, it seemed a scene from a movie. The kids were working the hair and dental products, toppling merchandise from the shelves into cloth bags, laughing and moving quickly down the aisle. The more expensive items were out of their reach, locked up behind clear plastic shields. The thieves seemed content to load up on the cheaper merchandise.

They ranged in age from about 10 to 25. The youngest boy in the bunch took the sentry’s position by the front door. He grinned at the employees behind the registers, picked through items a shopper had left behind in a returned basket, then tossed them back. Apparently they were not worth stealing.

Walgreens employees were taking it all in stride. Two were calmly filming the melee on their phones. After about three minutes, the youths swept out in a mass, leaving behind heaps of fallen merchandise in the aisle for store employees to pick up and put back on the shelves. A woman behind a register saw my incredulous look and said: “This happens all the time. The police will come, but not right away.”

I asked her what would happen then. “They’ll say they can’t do anything,” she said.

Someone had called 911 the moment the young thieves had swarmed into the store. I hung around for about 15 minutes afterward, dazedly carrying out a haphazard mix of finishing my shopping and helping clean up. As the editor responsible for compiling the monthly Crime Watch report in the New Fillmore, I was slowly processing the fact that I had been swept up in one of my own crime reports.

No officers had yet arrived. Employees had left their tasks to clean up the mess. The line at the registers grew longer.