April 29, 2013

Why Theft Isn’t Just About Losing Money

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Crime is an unfortunate aspect of our society that has existed since the establishment of society itself. It has driven us to question the innate morality of humans and often seek who is blame for criminal behavior.  Is it the criminals themselves? Their parents? Circumstance? I don’t know if I can answer these questions, but because it is my last blog article of the semester, I will diverge from my usual political observations and detail my recent experience with crime.

On Wednesday night, I drove back from campus to eat dinner and finish my homework. When I walked into my apartment, I realized that I left my backpack in my car, but since I didn’t need it right away (and because I was dizzyingly hungry), I decided to retrieve it later.

At around 3:00am, I finally decided to get my backpack and a book I needed for my last assignment. I opened the door and noticed that the glove compartment was open and its contents were spilled across the floor. I thought to myself, “That’s weird, I must have left it open and everything just fell out.” I also noticed that the inside of the car was strangely dark. Once again, I naively thought “That’s weird, the light is supposed to turn on when I open the door”. Then I noticed that the console was wide open and my high school parking pass was laying on the driver’s seat. I pieced together these innocently strange occurrences and my heart sank. I hopelessly reached for my backpack in the back seat but I knew, of course, that it was gone, along with anything else of remote value.

My face and ears turned red hot in a mix of embarrassment, anger and loss as I turned on the light and inspected the mess of what remained. I rushed back to my apartment and anxiously scanned it for my backpack. I hoped I had made a mistake, that I had brought my backpack inside, and that I had only lost laundry quarters and an old GPS. After 30 minutes, I came to terms with what happened and called the Ithaca Police Department to report the theft. Of course, this was nothing more than a formality, because I knew that they wouldn’t be able to recover anything (especially my laptop).

After the officer left, I looked in my car once again and felt an uncomfortable sense of violation. All of my possessions were carelessly rummaged through, tossed aside or taken, without any second thought. My humble orange and gray backpack, with a semester’s worth of notes and documents, was stolen. The inanimate friend that I carried with me every single day for three years was gone.

The next day, I received an email from an incredibly helpful and caring member of the Cornell community. She told me that she found some items with my name on them strewn across the West Campus parking lot. I quickly replied to her, but to my disappointment, she said that she only found a bottle with my name on it and a discarded highlighter. Despite this, I hurried down to West Campus parking lot and picked up the bottle and highlighter in the grass. I started looking around for anything else, and in an incredible stroke of luck, I found my backpack discarded underneath a shrub. I scooped everything up and walked back up to class, happy to have recovered anything even if the objects of monetary value were long gone.

When I found my backpack under that bush, it looked dopey and sad. My unquestioned partner at Cornell University was carelessly tossed aside after anything of worth was plundered from it. It wasn’t even worth taking after it was stolen. Don’t let that confuse you though, I was incredibly ecstatic to have it (and its contents) back. Finding my backpack almost felt like an emotional reunion between a boy and his lost dog. I can even sheepishly admit that I wanted to give my backpack a hug. While I didn’t recover everything, it was a major consolation to have it safely in my possession once more.

Yet, the cruel manner in which it was discarded (unjustifiably) felt like a comment on my life; an intruder broke into my world, rummaged what he could find, and then tossed away what he deemed unworthy. This person was not some sort of mythological “noble thief” who returned my useless papers. He was not a Jean Valjean, a man down on his luck who ultimately cared about the common man. This person dumped my shit in a parking lot, where I would never have found it by myself.

People, as a whole, are not simply good or evil. I don’t believe that we can generalize the morality of the human race. Despite this, it would be naïve to say that some individuals are not “bad.” Yes, there are circumstances as to why people break laws and commit crimes, but ultimately, some people are rotten. And this is something we must accept. Whoever stole my possessions, whoever breaks crimes, whoever unjustly hurts their fellow man, knows exactly what they are doing. They have made a conscious decision to break the law and violate someone’s life.

We don’t need to overly “teach” people not to commit crimes. I certainly would not want some sort of grandiose campaign demanding and reminding people not to break into cars. It is not a lack of understanding that leads people to hurt others. Bad people exist, and while we should combat them at every possible step, we should also recognize that their actions are not always a result of some societal deficiency. Society may fail some people, but some people may also fail society.

What can we do to prevent the harm that criminals bring to the vast majority of upstanding citizens? We can understand the risks that exist in day-to-day life, adequately protect ourselves against them, and acknowledge that hedging against crime is not the same as blaming someone who is affected by it. And of course, we can be thankful for those who lift us back up, like the Cornell staff member who helped me. In an ideal world, we would not have locks on our doors, but the reality of humanity reminds us otherwise. To fully combat all aspects of crime, I believe we must strike a balance between protection, punishment, understanding, and reform.

Original Author: Kyle Ezzedine