Everyone loves the Great Los Angeles Train Robbery story. America’s current fascination began with videos shared on Twitter by photojournalist John Schreiber: a vast debris field littered with opened and discarded packages, looted from boxcars sitting idle, unguarded, and unlocked on the rails in LA’s Lincoln Heights neighborhood. The vision seemed to crack something open in the media: a hot story about systemic decay. Reporters jumped into the detritus like kids in a ball pit. Stories fell into a pattern:
- To drive home that real people are affected, reporters identified the consumer litter found along the tracks, with solemn acknowledgement of personal items, special focus on high-end items like scarce Xboxes and robotic arms, and timely references to precious COVID-19 tests.
- Background was provided by a letter sent by Union Pacific (a publicly traded company worth $155 billion) to LA’s progressive District Attorney George Gascón, wherein the railroad claimed a 160 percent rise in rail thefts since December 2020 and lamented that the hundred-plus arrests railroad security agents made did not result in prosecution. In fact, the letter alleges, Gascón-sponsored state law renders charges so minor that criminals boast they can go right back out to the tracks and keep on stealing.
- The DA’s dutiful response that it’s hard to prosecute somebody unless they’re caught in the act. (How do we know they didn’t already have that robotic arm?)
- And then, as context, mention of the homelessness and poverty in the area where the trains are robbed blind, eyewitness reports of organized groups loading up vehicles, and finally, mention of how supply chain issues mean trains may spend more time idling in these areas, thus creating the opportunity for more “trainshopping.”