Saturday, February 24, 2007

D.C. Crime Victim

Those were the words I read the other day on a button pinned to the lapel of a man’s coat. He was on Metro and got off at the same stop I did. His button gave me pause for thought and left me feeling incredulous. On the one hand, I know what it’s like to be a victim of crime. On the other hand, I choose not to be a victim.

In 2002, I had my car stolen. Crime is never a fun experience to deal with. First, there’s the disbelief that something like this could happen to you. You think, “Maybe this isn’t happening…” In my case, I thought, “Maybe I didn’t park my car where I thought I did…” I looked up and down the street, hoping it would be in a space I hadn’t remembered parking it in. But alas, no.

After you’ve realized things aren’t right, you feel a sense of shock and wonderment. Tired, sound bite clichés immediately come to mind and usually start with “This kind of thing doesn’t happen…” But it does. And it happens to all kinds of people in all kinds of places, regardless of demographics. No one is immune.

Once you get over your cliché, you call the police and deal with the endless questions. At some point, the cop or detective is going to ask you about your involvement in the crime, if you’ve had any. As if having your property or person violated isn’t enough, now the cop—albeit doing his job and eliminating suspects—contributes to your sense of victimization by implying that you might be a criminal.

The rigamarole goes on… And it consumes a large portion of your time. Phone calls to your insurance company and your bank. Distractions at work as you deal with details during regular business hours. Juggling how you’re going to get on with the little things in life. In my case, it affected my ability to get around in a reasonable manner. It short, crime is a pain in the ass.

While I empathize with the buttoned gentleman, I wondered at his choice to advertise his plight. On one level, I understand that crime is traumatic and you want people to know you’ve been victimized. The reality is, you’ve been robbed of your voice or your dignity and you want to get that back. On the other hand, by wearing a button that declares your victimhood, it seems you’re declaring that you are still victimized. In other words, you’re choosing to remain a victim.

I don’t want to paint too broad a stroke here and say that people who have had crimes perpetrated against them should just get over it and move on. It’s one thing to have your car stolen; it’s fairly easy to get over that. It’s just a thing. And no one was hurt or killed in the process of it being stolen, at least to the best of my knowledge in my specific case. Hopefully, no one was victimized, hurt, or killed while the thieves were in possession of my car either. More than likely, the person who stole my car felt they needed it more than I did. But, it’s another thing entirely to have a loved one murdered, raped, mugged, or assaulted in any manner that violates and robs them of their humanity, and possibly their very life.

I could see where it would be easy to stay in that victim role after something like that. I don’t know what crime this man experienced. And yet, I feel sorry for him. I feel sorry that he feels he has to self-identify as a victim. I’m sorry that injustice leave us feeling like victims. I’m especially sorry that crime disenfranchises us and often favors the criminal, leaving those in their wake with little recourse and a sense of powerlessness.

They say crime doesn't pay, but when you're one who's on the other end of that crime, it sure feels like you got the raw end of the deal, no matter how you slice it.

Photo copyright: iStock Photos.


Sister Mary Lisa said...

Great post, Janet. That would suck to have your car stolen. Wow. And I think maybe his button was not to elicit pity from you but rather to make people think: crime can happen, even to me.

Honest said...

I too wonder if his button was a statement about crime and not the fact that he was a victim. My car was broken into twice and it wasn't so much the radio or CD's I lost (those were international ones which were hard to replace) but the fact that someone entered my personal space without my permission that hurt the most. I've gotten over the lost radio and CD's and have also gotten over having my space invaded but I won't forget it.

JMK said...

SML: It's an excellent point. I hadn't looked at it that way. I suppose I focused more on the word "victim" and how it seems, more and more, in our society that people are looking for someone to blame for why their life isn't what they want it to be. All of which is, undoubtedly, a total projection on my part given how "victimized" I felt coming out of my last job. There's a point in victimhood where one has choose not to be a victim anymore. I guess that was my concern... that this guy was letting the victimizers win. Thank you for the added perspective.

Honest: As with SML, thank you for adding the perspective that maybe I focused on the wrong word on his button. And you're totally right about the invasion of personal space you feel when someone steals from you. It's really unsettling, isn't it? For a few weeks after the theft of my car and the subsequent retreival and clean-up of said car, I harbored the nastiest thoughts about the folks who stole my car. I've always thought I'd be one of those people who would shrug something like this off and say, "Eh, s/he probably needed it more than I did. It's okay." But, in point of fact, I wanted the bastards to hang. That's harsh, I'm sure, but when I found coins from a peep show and porno in the car (not to mention all the other damage they'd done that cost me $1,500 to fix), it made me furious! Of course, they've never caught the guy(s) who stole my car and I've long since over it, but there was a time when I wasn't.

Reid said...

To add to what Honest said, I wonder if the guy's intention was more to raise awareness than to find some pity, that maybe he was thinking: People need to know what a problem that crime is in this city, and by seeing an actual person who was a victim of crime instead of just reading about him in the paper, maybe it will make fighting crime more of a priority for people in this city.