Alabama Judge borrows from Nazis to sentence Wal-Mart shoplifters

This is a guest post by regular AlterNet commenter Eddie Torres.

Earlier this month, Judge Kenneth Robertson Jr. of Attalla City, Alabama, ordered two shoplifters convicted of stealing from a Wal-Mart Supercenter to serve a a 60-day jail sentence or stand in front of the store for 8 hours wearing a sign reading "I am a thief; I stole from Wal-Mart."

After the two shoplifters decided to wear the signs, the judge convinced Wal-Mart to allow the sentence to be carried out. However, after the first 4 hours of the sentence had been served, Wal-Mart abruptly changed its mind, stating "…upon further review, we simply would rather the punishment not be carried out on store property."

Before Wal-Mart's higher-ups reversed their position, the manager of the Attalla City Superstore said that "the only comments we've heard so far have been positive… most of them thought it was a good thing… maybe they [the shoplifters] will think twice about doing it." In contrast, convicted shoplifter Lisa Fithian said some people who read the sign described the punishment as "cruel".

America's protections against "cruel and unusual punishment" have been under constant pressure since well before 9/11, with plea-bargaining that is weighted against the poor and uneducated, an informant system that pays criminals to turn in other criminals in exchange for immunity, and sentencing rules that fill prisons faster than authorities can build them.

But why does shoplifter Lisa Fithian's punishment sound so chillingly familiar? Because similar placard-around-the-neck punishments were used by German judges both domestically and in "People's Courts" in occupied territories after the Nazi party rose to power in the 1930s:


"I have allowed myself to be shamed by a Jew"


"I am a partisan and I set fire to German buildings"


"We are partisans and we shot at German soldiers"

The use of placards around the necks of condemned criminals has historically had two specific purposes: to humiliate the criminal and to send a message to the rest of the population. But Judge Robertson in Alabama is not a member of an occupying regime.

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