A $14 Robbery Ruined My Neighborhood

RobberyThere goes the neighborhood. Over the past month, there have been a string of break-ins in our neighborhood. It all started with a singular incident in which $14 was stolen from someone’s kitchen. When I heard the news, I was nervous. But it seemed like an isolated incident, and I brushed it off as teenagers, or possibly even residents of the house. But then, there were more. A string of homes was hit all in one night. In one home, one of the burglars was caught on a nanny cam. He remains unidentified. Our normally quiet subdivision was stunned, but my neighbors have been anything but silent about it. And my neighbors have made it really clear the type of neighborhood we live in:

The Houses Didn’t Ask For It

Whoever committed these crimes is, unquestionably, a criminal. Though the world seems to have lost its mind with the rapist on the Stanford campus, the simple true is this: you commit a crime, you become a criminal. I am continually gobsmacked by the number of people who still don’t understand that when crimes happen, it’s not the victims’ faults. But apparently they don’t. Just ask my neighbors.

As soon as news of the break-ins was posted, I was floored by the number of people who tried to blame my neighbors, not the burglar. It seems like one homeowner forgot to shut her garage door. A few other homes left laundry room doors and back doors in their fenced in yards unlocked for their college-age kids who come and go throughout the night. Another person locked his door but didn’t push it shut all the way. Instead of asking if everyone was OK, people in the crime and safety forum on NextDoor, a garrulous social media network for neighborhoods, immediately started leaving comments like, “This isn’t Mayberry, folks. Lock your doors” and “What do you expect?” Well, I’d wager to say that if they expected that leaving their door unlocked would lead to theft, they would have locked their door. But that’s just me.

Of course, an open garage or an unlocked door poses a security issue. But the fact of the matter is breaking and entering is a crime; forgetfulness or naivety is not. I am confident that these homeowners are rethinking every decision they made that evening, in addition to feeling majorly violated by the burglar. To feel betrayed and shamed by your neighbors is the last thing anyone should add to the mix. It’s not complicated: criminals commit crimes, not victims.

Do As I Say & What I Say is Scary

If you’ve followed the news at all in the past decade, you know that Chicago is having some serious issues with gun violence. That gun violence has spilled out into the suburbs and is growing at seemingly unstoppable pace. I can’t log on to any of my personal social media accounts–including NextDoor–without seeing pleas and memes and posts begging for solutions and condemning the violent offenders. They should be dealt with in the harshest way possible. Violence is never the answer.

Unless you’re my neighbor. Then, you find out that there has been a string of break-ins in your neighborhood, and you post an open invitation for the individual to enter your home that very next night: “Because when he does, he can ‘Say hello to my little friend.’” Now, I’m assuming this means he’ll shoot the intruder, but I suppose he could just want to show off his gun or run lines from Scarface. And this is where things get really scary for me. Yes, dear neighbor, I–and the rest of the world–understand that we will be unable to pry your gun of your cold, dead hands because it is your constitutional right to defend yourself and bear arms. You’ve posted the memes a thousand times. But where I get really frustrated is that you’re not just defending yourself. You’re posting an open invitation in order to have an excuse to be violent. My hunch is that comment was lined with false bravado and would never come to fruition, but the duality of that post and your previous calls for peace is unsettling.

Privilege Found, Burglar…Not So Much

Yesterday, I thought the apocalypse was upon us. There were so many police cars in my neighborhood that I was certain there was a zombie uprising and they had come to tell us that it was every man for himself. It turns out, though, that someone had called in a description of someone matching one of the cat burglars. Here’s what they saw: a tall black man. This tall black man was walking through people’s yards in broad daylight. What they forgot to tell the police was that this tall black man was wearing a vest, and he was walking through people’s yards because he was a meter reader hired by the village to, you know, read our meters.

I appreciate my neighbors wanting to be vigilant. I truly do. I still sleep fitfully. It is unnerving to have crimes committed down the street. But I also know that if this burglar has hit homes only between the hours of 2 and 3 am, it is highly unlikely that he will be strolling through our neighborhood in broad daylight. Especially since photos of him have been plastered throughout our city, social media, and newspapers. I’d also like to tell you that this meter reader debacle is a one-time incident, but last week, someone reported the Comcast man. Sure, he wore a uniform and drove a Comcast truck emblazoned with the Comcast logo. But he was a tall black man. And if you’re a tall black man, you’ve apparently lost the privilege of working in my neighborhood.

Final Thoughts

Here’s what I know: race and violence and privilege are complicated. While I don’t have the magic bullet to address any of these systemic issues, I do that if we don’t hold ourselves in check, ugliness unfolds in the most insidious ways. And fast. Just ask my neighbors. A $14 robbery took place, and I don’t know who to fear more: the criminal or the vigilantes next door.

Note: In less than 1,000 words, I hardly scratched the surface of so many of the different issues that are bubbling in my neighborhood and in many neighborhoods across the country. It was never my intent to oversimplify such lofty issues; instead, I wanted to share a personal connection. I would love to hear your own thoughts, insights, and experiences if you’re so inclined.

A $14 Robbery Ruined My Neighborhood

16 thoughts on “A $14 Robbery Ruined My Neighborhood

  1. Ugh, sorry so much violence is happening there. I live in a suburb of Indianapolis, and petty crime has increased some here as well. Nothing close to what’s going on in Chicago, but it’s still unnerving.

  2. I feel like any comment I leave is just…not enough. Everything I want to say needs to be said over coffee and with lots of time for back and forth. There’s so much to unpack in this post, and like you said, you scratched a surface. But, this story is a good entryway into important conversations. I’m especially interested in the police response to the meter reader. I mean, does he resemble the guy caught on the nanny cam? Did I miss that? Was the nanny cam guy tall and black? ANYWAY, it sounds like a scary time. But – and I don’t mean to diminish the victims’ pain – at the very least, it’s possessions that were taken, not lives. The feeling of violation is still very real, but people are still intact and whole. That’s no small thing.

    1. Yes, the burglar was a talk black man. But. I mean, that describes a ton of people. I think the police are caving to pressure from the subdivision. I mean, I’m glad that they are responsive, but I also think it’s a really, really sticky situation!

  3. It’s amazing to me how things like this can “take off”. It is definitely a problem and it is certainly the criminal’s fault, not the victims. I doubt the criminal stole the Comcast truck though… give the poor guy a break! One of my former (online) students lost a nephew to the kind of violence you speak of. An older brother shot and killed his younger brother thinking he was an intruder. SO SAD… I have no good answers, but guns can end the “game of life” so fast.

  4. We had a break in at one of the nearby houses a few months back, and Jon got a bit overprotective for a while. Fortunately, i don’t subscribe to the neighborhood email list, so I am happily ignorant of what my neighbors think unless they tell me in person or Jon mentions it.

    But yeah, I worry about folks with guns (we are in a wooded neighborhood, and it’s not unusual to hear rifle shots anyway. I usually just hope they are after the darn deer that destroy everything.) I worry about the teenaged black kids who live in our neighborhood not getting properly recognized by all of our neighbors. (I know I don’t know all of the teens.)

  5. Thank goodness the meter reader didn’t have Skittles, or he might not have survived your gun-happy neighbors.

    I too get nervous about people who brag about guns as a safety mechanism against burglars — especially given the statistics. Well, I get nervous when they welcome people *because* they have the guns.

    When we had fence issues and had some homeless people wandering into our back yard (and stealing food from the chest freezer), we taped a note to the top that reminded them that AZ is an open carry, gun-happy state. It wasn’t safe for them to do that. Sure, the implication is that we had guns. (We don’t.) But I was seriously worried for their safety if they tried that with any other random yard in Arizona.

    I hope they catch the guys soon, but I doubt you’ll feel safer for a while.

  6. Someone breaking into my house is one of the scariest things I can think of – it steals the sense of security you have in your own home.

    It’s crazy what fear can do to people, throw out common sense and allows them to rationalize very unlikely scenarios – i.e. A broad daylight person doing their job leads to a 911 call

  7. Fear can sometimes bring out the worst in people. In my development, we’ve recently had some increased break-ins and drug dealings, at least that’s what we finally heard from the homeowners association because they hired a security firm to patrol at night. It was a complete shock to me because I felt like we lived in a safe neighborhood and I hadn’t noticed anything out of sorts. But while there may be higher-crime and lower-crime areas, there really are no “safe neighborhoods”. It’s terrible that tall black men can no longer do their job in your town. We live in a very diverse community, and that was one of the things that attracted us to it. I hope they catch the burglar near you as well as the one(s) near me and hold them responsible.

  8. I think the blame the victim mentality is sometimes (not all) a defense mechanism for the “Not Me” crowd. I’m afraid I succumb too. We had a robbery recently in our subdivision where the offender broke in and held up the homeowner and his teenage daughter with a gun. Then he told the homeowner to remove everything from his safe. Everyone’s reaction on “Next Door” was like “well the victim obviously new him” and that makes us feel somewhat safer. It also makes me never want to allow a service person or contractor in my house again.

    If it weren’t for the caring alerts about lost and found pets, I’d remove myself from Next Door in a heartbeat. It’s worse than FaceBook, at least in my community. All the complaining and holier than thou attitudes heighten my desire to get a plot of land with no neighbors too close.

    1. Agreed. I think a lot of the bravado and blaming the neighbors themselves is a mechanism for trying to feel secure. “I am somehow different so it cannot happen to me.”

  9. I’m so sorry that your neighborhood is being impacted in this way. It is scary what fear does to people you formally trusted and admired. My house was robbed in 2010, and most of the houses on my block were, too. It was unnerving. If I had not been on a short trip, I would have normally been at home asleep when he entered. But, I wasn’t. We felt violated, but not overwhelmingly so. We had renters insurance and did not lose much because we did not have much. But we lived in a city-city. Our neighbor was packed full of diverse people. We all got by, but didn’t really know one another. This meant that our paranoia had to die a quick, natural death. We did not look at the community listserv after noting the paranoia. I wish it were easier in a city to know one another.

    Solidarity. I hope that people can begin to surprise you in good ways again.

  10. Christie says:

    Excellent post, and great reflections. Thank you for sharing. On so many levels, I’m really sorry that’s going on.

    We are in the city where there is certainly some crime. Our neighborhood had a rash of muggings last winter, so I just tried to be more vigilant when out walking the dog. And there are always weird crimes here and there. I’m not on any of our neighborhood interweb groups, which probably helps me to like my neighbors more (oh who am I kidding – it probably helps them to like ME more! haha!). Overall, I think most of the people in my immediate neighborhood have a similar perspective to mine. It’s a pretty diverse area – culturally, economically, etc. Maybe that helps? I’m not sure, though. Again, I’m so sorry that’s going on in your ‘hood. A bunch of trigger-happy neighbors might make me just as edgy as theft would. And worse, it would make me feel really sad about humans.

  11. Theft is not just a taking of your property, but of your sense of security. I’m sorry that you’re dealing with this – and the overzealous neighbors on top of it. You should be able to feel safe in your home. I hope that things start to change, for your community and this country . . . we really need something to happen.

  12. There’s so much to talk about here, but I’ll keep it focused.

    1. Great post. Thanks for bringing up these important issues.

    2. It seems that we have nearly identical neighborhoods, though the security cameras in ours show white teenagers. We think they live in the neighborhood.

    3. These images and reports of petty theft have been sensationalized through NextDoor as well, with threats of gun violence here too.

    4. No, it isn’t okay to steal from anyone, especially your own neighbors, but making a few stupid decisions seems to be a rite of passage of most teenagers. Killing them over a few bucks takes away their opportunity to outgrow the phase and become productive members of society. Plus, those bullets can pass through walls into other people’s homes.

    5. Is NextDoor good or bad for our neighborhood? I don’t know. It’s nice for finding babysitters and garage sales, but it seems to stoke the fires of panic and hatred.

    6. Our personal solution so far: keep the doors locked and the porch lights on. We also put a padlock on our gate. Our house doesn’t have to be Fort Knox, just less penetrable than the one next door.

    7. I too am now more worried about our neighbors than about the (thankfully, so far) nonviolent crime.

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