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rant: stupid children

Tue Jan 22 17:18:36 EST 2008

I've lived in Lowell 11 years. I've walked through "bad"
 neighborhoods at all hours without suffering so much as an unkind
 Thursday night a masked kid stuck a gun in my face and said:
 	"Give me your money"
 I was inclined to argue. The gun was 90% fake looking and the kid
 had to reach up over her head threaten me. I probably had 50 more
 pounds of muscle on her.
 A second later I saw three more kids with masks. Each was about
 my height. I took out my wallet. I gave one of the kids three
 dollars and put my wallet back in my pocket.
 The 3 of the kids started to run off, the one who took the money
 said "give me your phone". There was now only one skinny,
 kid with no obvious weapon facing me. I was again a little
 reluctant. I took it out, held it up but kept twitching it away.
 The other kids doubled back, and surrounded me again. I gave up
 the phone. The kids ran off.
 I walked 70 feet to the Dubiliner, a bar across the street from
 LTC and the national park. The bartender called 911.
 After the basic details. the first cop on the scene was most
 concerned with why I thought the robbers were kids and why I
 thought the gun was fake. This was when:
 	  "stupid, stupid kids"
 ...started to run through my head.
 As the beat cop observed, a fake gun lets somebody with a real
 gun to kill you without fear. There is no danger a fake gun will
 shoot back. Law and society offer no sympathy to people killed
 pointing a fake gun.
 As the beat cop finished with me, A detective arrived. We went
 over events again. The detective was hopeful that the call
 records on the phone would allow the cops to ask:
 	 "Who called you?"
 	"Where do they live?"
 When I got home, Laura was asleep. I took the dogs for their
 good night walk. A few minutes after I got back, Laura's phone
 rang. It was the cops at the front door. I'd given them her
 number for obvious reasons. I'd figured to let her know about
 events the next morning. It was probably a good thing the call
 didn't come when I was walking the dogs.
 The cops had people they wanted me to look at:
 	"You are going to be shown people,
 	They may or many not be the people who
 	committed the crime, so you should not feel
 	compelled to make an identification. It is
 	just as important to clear innocent people
 	as it is to identify possible perpetrators.
 	Whether or not you identify someone, the police
 	will continue to investigate . . . Focus on the
 	event: the place, view, lighting, your frame of
 	mind, etc. Take as much time as you need.”
 I repeated my earlier descriptions, signed a form saying I
 understood the importance of clearing innocent people, got in
 the squad car and rode to where the 4 kids were linked up.
 I identified them from inside the car and from behind a bright
 light. The cops told me that the kids had been found walking back
 toward the original robbery location, with my cell phone & three
 fake guns, wearing the clothing I'd described. (Walmart's bargain
 In the bright light and from a position of safety, they were even
 smaller than I remembered. The police report says 3 males and 1 
 female, 2 adult (16+ years) and 2 juveniles  were arrested within 
 90 minutes of the original robbery and charged with "Armed 
 Robbery while Masked"
 I am not a lawyer and Google is not law library, but in 
 Massachusetts the minimum penalty for a first offense of "masked 
 armed robbery" is 5 years in prison. That is a long time for a 16 
 year old.
 For several days, I've muttered,
 	 "How could they be so stupid?
 ...keeping my phone, returning to the crime area, wearing the
 same clothing, keeping the masks on, using fake guns, risking
 death and prison.  All this risk for $3 and a 4 year old phone?
 Sometimes, it helps to put yourself in somebody else's place.
 Some years ago, my carelessness left me stranded in the Port
 Authority. Before that day, I saw people begging for bus fare as 
 lazy scammers. After 4 hours of begging, I had $2. I was a 
 desperate and humiliated begger. Even if the people routinely 
 asking for money feel a fraction of that desperation and 
 humiliation, I don't grudge them the change in my pocket.
  From the agencies we ( provide services to, I
 know there are children in Lowell have grim, grim lives. Shoes 
 with holes in the winter slush is a cliche. Cliched or not feet 
 are still numb.
 I don't know if the kids that robbed me were hungry, bored, or
 just wanted a 2nd Sony play station. It is mostly from
 books that I know lives ugly enough to motivate armed robbery. I
 like to think I would need to be close to starvation to think of it.
 I don't know what think of this whole thing.. I am baffled as to
 why any remotely rational person, (amoral or not) would do
 something this stupid. I wish I'd thought to ask when I had the
 I'm a pretty conflicted and guilt ridden guy. The waste and 
 misery of children in prison frustrates and confuses me. However, 
 sending these kids to prison is probably a good idea.
 If we have to have mugging victims, I'm a good one. I am not
 emotionally attached to the $3 in my wallet. I don't have
 porous calcium deficient bones. Until the whistle blew, I was
 pretty happy to for the chance to hurt other high school football 
 players.  After a 18 months of regular gym time, I chest
 press (almost) my own weight now. Being beaten unconscious is no
 fun, but it isn't an unknown terror for me.
 I doubt that the kids were looking for durable victims.
 Threatening strangers and taking their money is crossing
 a big boundary.
  From the police report, it turns out the "fake" guns were BB
 guns. Googling on: (with quotes) "shot in face with BB gun" is
 reassuring. Googling on: "BB gun eye" is not reassuring. If I 
 lose my left eye, I'm blind.
 I was robbed near senior housing. Tug of war with a feisty or 
 senile old person on slippery ground would break a hip.
 My careful conclusion that prison is a reasonable and likely 
 outcome for criminals doesn't reduce my confusion and 
 frustration. I don't feel powerless because I was robbed and 
 might be robbed again in the next 11 years.
 I feel powerless because the odds are very, very good that "the 
 system" is as much a part of these kids misery and waste as their 
 own actions. 10 percent of the this country owns 76% of its 
 wealth. The richest 76 thousand people own more than poorest 96 
 million people.  As near as I can tell, the rich, or even the 
 moderately well off, are not often tempted by crimes of desperation.
 I feel powerless because I've spent a big chuck of my adult life 
 trying to improve "the system". Rationally, I know that getting 
 robbed doesn't make the my work useless, but I'm not yet the 
 For some days, I was tempted to do make even a small dramatic 
 gesture. I thought of accepting the Acre Youth Center's low key 
 offer to mentor a (hopefully) college bound kid. I thought to not 
 not charge UTEC even the fraction of market rate we are now 
 charging for custom work.
 I discarded these and other possible gestures because I'm already 
 behind on the CSL commitments I've made. It is my hope that 
 eventually after some more years of effort that these commitments 
 will be part of a better system.
 Software and more generally information is wealth. Free software 
 is a way to redistribute wealth without killing the rich.
 While I'm not one of the 76,000, I am rich relative to the world 
 and big parts of Lowell. I'm all in favor of not killing or 
 robbing the rich.
 	# Lowell Sun Police Notes newspaper story
 	# of robbery will require payment
 	# in a week or so.
 	# paper arguing that "tough on crime" laws
 	# hurt victims by hding more likely threats
 	# contact info for Acre Youth Center
 	# global rich list