Last Sunday, my apartment was burgled while I was asleep. The thief took my bag, along with my wallets, my keys and my car keys. That night (or should I say early morning) three other units in my building were burgled.
As a sociologist in risk governance and a victim of crime I feel like I should somehow be able to rise above the fear, anger and frustration of the event. I have in the last five days thought about what I would do or say to the boy who broke into my apartment and my car. I am filled with a deep sense of anger, frustration and disdain towards him (indeed her). As the stories start to emerge from my neighbours and friends who also had their houses burgled and their cars stolen, the picture I am getting is that of a bunch of young kids – between the ages 13 and 19 – just bored, looking for thrills. They are not violent people, and they are not always interested in money. Sometimes they just want to go for a joy ride, trash up a car and walk away with no consequence.
My first reaction to these stories is – the damn fuckers. But my next question is why are they not in school? Where are their parents? What kind of family background do they come from? Are they doing this because their family needs the money? Do they not realise they are gambling with their future? Why do they not consider this a morally wrong thing to do? What does this say about the moral compass of society in this little city?
The police have reported the spate of break-ins as the fault of residents for not locking up their properties. But they miss the point. That is – or should I say was – the beauty of our area that people trusted each other enough to leave their doors unlocked at night. That trust is now lost – and it’s the most valuable thing that these young thieves took – social trust.
When I think about how this trust might be restored, my thoughts go back to these young burglars. As a sociologist, I am compelled to see beyond the individual and look to the wider social context in which he/she exists. Somewhere along the life of this young individual, society failed him/her. Perhaps, he was not taught to respect private property; perhaps his own personal space has been violated many times in life that he no longer sees it necessary to accord the same respect to others. Perhaps he has done poorly in school and teachers unintentionally make him feel worthless, and therefore he must prove himself in other ways. Perhaps he comes from an abusive family and this is how he gets relieve from the anger inside him.
There are a myriad of possibilities, multiple pathways that lead up to the choice that he/she made to be a burglar. But one thing is clear, burglars are not born, they become one. And somewhere along the life of this young person, he chose the path of crime over a path of education, gainful employment and a future that is meaningful. I have always been inclined to believe that even if one chose a wrong path at some point in life, there will always be one back to the right one. We all make mistakes and bad choices in life, and if society is kind enough to not define us by those bad choices, then I must return the favour.
So if I meet the kid who burgled my house, I will not be angry. I might, in fact, sponsor his/her education, be his/her tutor, give him/her options other than that of crime. Maybe that is the only way social trust may be restored. For sure he/she is just one person, but I'm saving him and his children and his children’s children from generations of crime. In the longer scheme of things, that’s not such a bad achievement.