Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Another retirement challenge: keeping fear of crime in perspective

This week someone broke into my home and stole my laptop. I was upstairs at the time and had stupidly left the back door open. I’ve been careless about this for many years and have been lucky. We’ve only had one robbery in the past 20 years—-someone broke into our garage and stole a power mower.

Breaking into your garage is real different from having somebody break into your home. The sense of violation is hard to shake and especially so when you’ve come face to face with the robbers. I went downstairs and into our small sunroom which opens into our back yard and found the door wide open. Then I noticed the missing laptop and the disconnected phone. I locked the door to the sunroom, went back to the kitchen to get a functioning phone and then walked back to the sunroom and saw 3 teenagers at my back door. Obviously they had come back for more, no doubt hoping the door would still be open. I screamed and they ran away. But the image of the three of them ready to break in is something I can’t shake. I really wish I hadn’t seen their faces.

I think 20 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago I’d have had an easier time putting it in perspective. I’d tell myself—it was just a lap top. I wasn’t beaten up, they didn’t get my pocket book with all my credit cards, they didn’t go on a rampage and destroy the house. I would have taken more precautions and eventually forgotten about it.

But now that I’m in my 60’s I’m feeling more vulnerable. I spend a lot of time working in my garden and have never worried about personal safety, but then at this stage in my life I can’t run all that fast and I am certainly in no shape to fend off any teenage attackers. My garden is my refuge and now I’m not so sure I want to be out there when my husband is not home. And the days of going out in the garden and leaving the back door open are over.

And then there is the issue of fear of young back men. I don’t like that feeling and I know of course that the vast majority of young black men are not criminals. But as I live in a majority black neighborhood, the young men who break into my house are most likely to be black. If I lived in neighborhood adjacent to a poor white neighborhood my fears of young men wouldn’t be so focused on young black men. Since our neighborhood is just not rich enough to attract sophisticated career burglars, the people likely to break into my house will be teenagers and probably black teenagers. I want to resist looking at any young black man who comes to my front door with suspicion. When I was younger, I had a much easier time resisting those stereotypes. Now that I’m old and more vulnerable, that suspicious response is harder to resist. This feeling is just as unsettling as the sense of violation. I really wish I hadn’t seen their faces.

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