Dec 27, 2006

On Burglary, Robbery, and Rage

Broken window from a burglary (Toledo, OH) A friend of mine - a fellow UT graduate student who has taken the doctoral student vow of poverty - traveled to Michigan to visit relatives over Christmas.

He was away for two days, and when he returned, he discovered thieves had broken into his house. Gone were most of his worldly possessions with any value - TV, DVD player, and a small amount of cash and jewelry.

The burglary occurred near Jackman and Sylvania Avenues, hardly a high crime neighborhood, but an area I know well as a crime victim. For nearly a decade I operated some retail businesses in West Toledo, and over that course of time my businesses experienced dozens of robberies, burglaries, and visits by short-change artists, bad-check scammers, and just about every sort of human debris imaginable.

So it was with a high degree of empathy that I listened to my friend express his frustration at being the victim of this crime.

Over the years I became quite bitter about the relative nonchalance that this type of criminal exhibits toward the human beings that their crimes affect. I canot fathom how someone could live with themselves after causing harm to another person.

While I do not condone crimes against large corporations or the government, I can at least understand how someone could rationalize this behavior. Cheat the IRS out of $500 on taxes: "Eh, the government has enough of my money." Rob a bank: "They are insured, and they make millions of dollars anyhow."

Such people, while engaging in crime, at least have elevated themselves above the reprehensible lot of thugs who would bring harm to another person (I am setting aside the ancillary issue of shareholders and taxpayers in my examples, as losses are spread across thousands or millions of "victims").

Cash money But I digress, as my more pressing concern is my own peace of mind. I consider myself a fairly even-keeled person, not prone to rash actions and one who abhors violence. And yet, I pray that I never actually meet someone face-to-face desirous of committing a crime against me or my family.

For despite my dozens of experiences as a crime victim, I have rarely met the perpetrator. As a business owner, the robberies, burglaries, and scams happened to my employees, and I arrived after the fact.

My biggest fear is that - if directly faced with a thug bent on illegality - I would not be able to exercise sufficient self-control, and that my pent-up rage would cause me to dole out an indictment-worthy ass-whooping.

Or worse.

About ten years ago I stopped at a gas station in Toledo, and some punk-ass rode up on a bike right next to me and snatched out of my pocket my paycheck. I had just climbed back in my car on this sunny afternoon, and my first instinct was to "run this motherfucker over." I threw the car in reverse and hemmed him in between the fence and my car.

A tense standoff occurred. He had a check, which would take some work for him to cash. I wanted my check, because I did not want to wait two weeks for a replacement. Finally I cooled down enough to accept his "offer" of the money in my wallet, which was a whopping $15 or so. He got some fast cash, I got my check back, and nobody got injured or killed. That time.

Robbery suspect I am not sure I will be so lucky in the future, should I be faced with a similar scenario. What I really fear was that impulsive rage inside me, the righteous fury that made me want to run over some skinny drug addict over a stolen piece of paper.

By the end of my career as an entrepreneur, I got to the point that I used to stash objects around the store when I worked late nights. I was so sick of being the target of crime that I almost wanted some stupid fool to try and pull a robbery on my watch.

This was not misguided heroism - it was a burning desire for raw vengeance. Time has mellowed me a bit, but I found myself cracking my knuckles and tasting a smidgen of that malignant bile when my friend described his recent burglary.

May I continue to be the victim of crimes in which I do not meet the perpetrator, for their welfare and mine.


microdot said...

I was robbed once by two jerks with a box cutter to my neck in NYC, then treated by the police as a joke because I lived in the part of Manhattan I did. That was traumatic.
I developed some kind of street smarts, a sort of radar to warn me of potentially dangerous situations.
Then my apartment was broken into by junkies and I instictively knew who was the culprit. I understand how you feel, because I lost it, kicked down a door, dared the culprit to call the police and got some of the money back. The guy actually paid me back in full over the next few months. One night I heard a scream out on the street and it was my girlfriend who was wrestling with a guy who had been following her down the block in his car...I had a friend at my house and we were out side in seconds, knocked the guy out, called the police. My girlfriend, who is now my wife, said that she was almost parylized with fear until she started screaming Help...she said that in her mind was the Beatles song "Help" and she was singing it at the top of her lungs. She had just bought a new Nikon Camera and wa carrying it in her purse with all the lenses after a latenight developing session at the Camera Club at Union Square and she wasn't going to let go of the bag with out a fight!
The theif didn't have any idea what he was getting himself into, we saw the case all the way through!
It's amazing what a primal experience like fear will bring out of you!

Mark said...

You can't predict how you'll act when the adrenaline gets going. Everyone, I think, has an inherent desire not to be a victim and will do almost anything they can to prevent it.

I say that you can be forgiven for attacking someone trying to steal from or attack you. This is not how a civilized society works, and this is why the penal system exists.

However, I am perhaps more concerned to hear of gang violence and theft rising in my former (and current) hometown (Toledo, OH and DeKalb, IL). I realize that such crime worsens when the economy is bad (and in the Rust Belt, it seems to be particularly bad lately), but it seems to be worse than usual.

How are community officials responding? That's the primary concern.

Anonymous said...

What disturbs me, is that you see photos of white collar crime in jump suit & hand cuffs on the front page of the newspaper, but rarely do you hear of the prosucution and punishment of these other violent ticks. We can take up space in prisons with the likes of Kevorkian or Noe, while punks and thugs get on parole early due to overcrowded prisons.


Hooda Thunkit said...

I've never found myself in that kind of situation (yet) either, so I cannot judge what I would do. But then, I'm a bigger guy and most people generally stay clear of me anyway ;-)