This week a friend had a terrifying experience: He found himself handcuffed on Nanjing Road E. after he more or less admitted to shoplifting. Problem is, he never stole anything.
It was a very valuable lesson for him in the importance of keeping a cool and level head under moments of extreme stress.
The drama began as my friend, a local who wishes not to be named, was approached by two men claiming to be plain-clothes police officers. They asked to look in his bag and said staff at H&M suspected he stole a white T-shirt from there.
He had just left H&M, so wondered if the men had been watching him and were trying to scam him.
At this point he did the right thing and refused to open his bag until the officers could prove who they really were. They did so by approaching a uniformed officer on the street to verify their identity.
That’s when things started getting heated.
My friend, who was wearing a white H&M T-shirt, had another white H&M T-shirt in his bag. The officers asked him if he just stole it, and in the heat of the moment he began to believe that maybe he did.
He had just been trying on T-shirts in the changing room at the clothing outlet and left without buying anything. That’s when he started to question himself: “Could I have accidentally put it in my bag?!”
“I didn’t take it on purpose,” he said. A huge mistake.
That’s when he was placed in handcuffs and taken to the nearest police station as he cried and tried to convince the officers that he is a good person and would never do such a thing.
They told him that, since the T-shirt was only worth 39 yuan (US$5.75), he could write an apology letter, which he did at the station, and then they’d take him back to the store to pay for the T-shirt. The important thing is that you learn a lesson from this and don’t steal again, the officers said.
It was on their way back to H&M in a police car that he had time to finally calm down and think clearly. That’s when he realized where the whole situation had gone off the rails.
The T-shirt in his bag wasn’t new at all — it was a T-shirt he had bought weeks before which he planned to wear for dance class after work. He had somehow, in the heat of the moment, forgotten and then been led down a path which ended up with him being arrested.
“Why did you admit you stole it then?” the officers asked.
And that’s the scary thing: He never really admitted to stealing anything, but under immense pressure he allowed himself to be led astray, and it could have cost him dearly.
In the end the situation was left there and, thankfully, no records were taken of the incident. But it was a good lesson for my friend, and now hopefully for others, too.
Probably a better idea would have been to first request that the store in question provide video evidence of a crime taking place, especially since nothing was actually stolen. Unfortunately, though, H&M refused to look through the video footage to vindicate my friend, claiming that they were too busy — they said that thefts occur dozens of times a day and that if they had to provide evidence each time it would be too much.
To be honest, that’s a bit slack, especially when it comes to accusing someone of stealing something.
Most importantly, though, never admit — or even allude — to having done anything you didn’t do. It sounds easy in retrospect, but it really needs to become second nature in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
This incident involved a series of people confused about an alleged crime that never actually took place. Things would have been put to bed much quicker if my friend remained calm, had confidence in himself, stuck his ground and demanded video evidence.
So that’s my advice here, however simple: Stay calm, take a deep breath, sit down if you need to, and try your best not to end up in a sticky situation.