I got burglarized two weeks ago. They threw stones at my house until the glass in my back door broke, then unlocked the door and let themselves in. The alarm didn’t deter them in the least, and it was 6:20pm, so broad daylight, at an hour when people are getting home from work. Talk about brazen. The rocks damaged the outside of my house and left gashes on my lovely hardwood floor and molding along the floor.
They stole mail that had arrived that day: packages with gifts from a dear friend, handmade products, lotions, and so forth. They also took the time to walk through my house and invade my most intimate spaces. They went upstairs and entered my bedroom. They also entered my office, which is my sacred space and my Tarot reading area. They found the one item I really cared about that was irreplaceable, my MacBook Air. I cared not because it was hideously expensive when I bought it in 2013, but also because it had all my documents and photos of trips I took for work, places like Chad and South Sudan, and also trips for pleasure and of festivals, conventions, my family, my social life, and friends. I had painstakingly labeled the hundreds of photos and put them in very organized files. Yet, I had been too lazy to back up my files on an external drive for 2-3 years. I also had personal information in that computer.
Fortunately, they left unharmed the other thing I care about, not an item but a helpless living being, my kitty, Pixie. In fact, she seemed perfectly unfazed by the event when I got home. She certainly was curious about all the broken glass, which she made sure to walk all over, and fortunately she didn’t get hurt.
It took hours to clean up that glass, and hours again after I had the door replaced the next day. I lost a day of annual leave and nearly $500 replacing that glass. It cost me a lot more time and money to replace my computer with something equivalent. Well, actually, better. The technology is even nicer now and I decided to upgrade a bit since I was spending the money anyway.
I try to put it into perspective. My cat’s okay and my computer and door are replaced and I could afford to do that. They did not ransack my house. Other people would have been worse off. The men who replaced my door were really kind and I enjoyed talking to them. They were from North Africa and they let me practice my French. I like my new computer much more than my old one.
The interesting thing is that what makes me angry and has been hardest to cope with was the utter lack of policing that followed this burglary, and the apathy this sort of incident draws from our society. The alarm company notified the police, and two officers arrived very promptly. But then, the alarm company called back, saying they had to convince the police to stay long enough for me to get home from work. I took the Lyft home, rather than the Metro, because it was faster, but it still took a good 20 minutes in rush hour traffic. Think about this. The police had to be convinced to stay a whole 20 minutes and so they could do their work.
The officers were polite and took my ID and copied down my details for their report. They noted down the loss of the mail and gave me their card. I had not yet realized the laptop was missing. Then they left. Just like that. Nothing more.
An hour or so later, I realized the criminals had stolen my laptop, so I called the number on the officers’ card. The operator told me to call 911, so I did, and another officer arrived promptly. He was also very polite and he made a few calls. It was clear that he was having trouble getting attention to the matter, but he finally got somebody to take the call and listen. Then he said the theft of the laptop had elevated the nature of the crime and that I would hear from a detective sometime soon. That never happened.
A few days later, I saw some police parked near the Metro, and I asked them for advice, whether I should call or just let it go. They shrugged and said these things seldom get resolved. But they were kind enough to look up my report and discuss the issue with me and even offered advice on getting bars and cameras since the neighborhood is so far from really improving. They said in another 10 years things would improve and I’d probably want to remodel and take the bars down. I appreciated their honesty.
I didn’t have the card with me to give them the report number so they searched by my name – and nothing came up. Then then they searched by my address, and a few other ways, and finally found it. The original officers had entered my name in so badly it didn’t even resemble my actual name. Nobody had entered in the information about my stolen computer. These officers also said that no matter what had been stolen, the crime was considered with the same level of severity. They also didn’t expect I would hear from anybody else from the police about it.
In order for this case to have been solved, somebody would have needed to dust for finger prints. You may be the typical person who hears this kind of story and shrugs and thinks it’s no big deal, and things like this never get solved anyway, right? But these criminals are probably the same who burglarize houses all over my neighborhood and in other parts of the city – with no consequences at all. If the police had taken fingerprints and investigated even a little bit during any of these sorts of “no big deal” burglaries, many or most would actually be solved. If you still think this doesn’t matter, imagine DC’s astronomical murder rate, with the associated nearly non-existent solve rate, is due in part to the same lack of policing.
I moved to DC in 1993, when the city was so bad on every level it felt like a poor, developing country. It was far more dangerous in those days, too. My new neighborhood feels like the entire city felt back then, so I should be used to this atmosphere, but it’s been a long time since things were that bad citywide. I have always known the DC police were not especially effective, but this was such an intimate demonstration of this reality that it almost physically hurts to think about it. It bothers me that these thugs will get away with invading my life and stealing my precious things, and that they do this to so many other people, and we just shrug. I also know they will be back any day to take more from me. I now hide my new computer when I am not home.
A couple of days ago, I met a neighbor who lives about two blocks from me. He moved into the neighborhood five years ago. He has been burglarized four times and his car window has been smashed in a number of times. He hides his one electronic item, his Ipad. He shrugged about it. My elderly neighbor (who wanted me to deal with my weeds) told me more stories like this. She at least was disgusted.
We live in a lawless city, and it is the Capitol of a powerful, rich, advanced country. And we roll over and accept this, we normalize extreme criminality for ourselves. I realize that normalizing and becoming indifferent to serious, negative, harmful matters is a survival mechanism, but it also allows the bad circumstances we are trying to survive to thrive.
Do we maybe deserve the results of our complacency? I think that, possibly in a way, people who shrug off lawlessness do deserve a lawless society.
This is what bothers me the most about what happened.
I will probably send a version of this blog entry to the mayor and city council. I refuse to be one of the shruggers.