Nothing's Black & White

What do we know about why crimes are committed?
Today my little brother, who has been in prison for 10 years, gets his freedom. 

Personally I think he paid too much for his crimes, but that's a policy conversation for another day. 

Because of my bias, I wanted to get another perspective - from a robbery victim's point of view. 

A childhood friend, coincidentally, was the victim of a crime (similar to my brother's offenses) when we were in high school nearly 20 years ago. 

I decided to interview my friend - a father & educator - via email, since I have never asked him about the details of the robbery. Somewhat surprisingly, it turned into a conversation about healing & race.

Names have been changed & edited for time. 

Tampa Do-Gooder: What it was like to be robbed?  

Friend: The surreal thing about being robbed was how calm I was during the robbery. I took a grim pride in that later. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself - I should set the scene, first. 

My brother, myself and a friend went to Wawa for snacks. Unfortunately, we finished shopping at different times and I came out to the car before they did. 

Little did I know that we were being watched the entire time. Maybe if we had all left the store at the same time and taken off together, none of this would have happened. 

Anyway, one of the robbers knocked on my window and asked something inaudible. I rolled down the window and he jammed something inside, pointed at my crotch. In horror, they stuck around while my brother and his friend eventually made their way back to the car. 

All in all, they probably didn't get more than $20 from the three of us.

After they had taken our stuff, they hung around for a while and I remember the guy with his arm in the car hesitated for a while, maybe wondering if he should actually pull the trigger or not. 

They suddenly saw a cop car across the intersection and took off. Of course, the cop car had nothing to do with the robbery - it was just a lucky stroke. 

After the robbery, I melted down quick. I remember the adrenaline wearing off all at once and just getting random shakes. To this day, I don't know if there was a gun or not. 

It's too painful to think of me being that scared of just a finger and a ruse. But on the other hand, if it had been a gun, it's also painful to think of how gullible I was and how that might have led to my brother and his friend getting hurt. 

TDG: What was the aftermath & recovery like for you?

F: I didn't think much about it directly afterwards, and I never got any counseling for it. In fact, I don't think my parents ever found out until much later. 

The robbery kind of just became a part of my back story, but I didn't really healthily reflect on it until much later. 

TDG: What are your views on forgiveness? Did it change before & after this experience? 

F: I think I've always been a big proponent of forgiveness, both before and after the robbery. I might have felt differently if I had been injured or if my brother or his friend had. I often play out these gruesome scenarios in my mind of being killed or seriously wounded/disfigured and these imaginings often take a dark turn where forgiveness is not too prominent. 

More so than forgiveness, I'm more worried about what this has meant for any implicit racial attitudes I may or may not have. Granted, my assailants could have just as easily been white in a different scenario or maybe they would have robbed me even if I was black, but much of what happened in Willingboro took on a racial component. 

After that, I would find myself avoiding clusters of black teenagers, maybe even crossing over to the other side of the street or turning the other way. I remember a few months after the incident, driving with my brother in the car. 

A black teenager approached the car and asked for the time. My brother started to roll down the window, but I sped off blindly into traffic, not really looking where I was going and luckily not hurting anyone. 

My brother seemed annoyed that I had sped off, but I yelled at him, "YOU DON'T OWE HIM ANYTHING! HOW COULD YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN SO QUICKLY?" 

We drove in silence for the rest of that trip. And I'm not sure I necessarily would have taken the same precautions for a group of white teenagers (although now that I'm an adult, I find myself avoiding teenagers altogether). 

At the moment, I think I associate myself with black culture much moreso than white culture, in terms of the music I mostly listen to, my political sensibilities, etc. I find myself relating to my black students a lot easier than many of my white students. 

That being said, this is a wary identification; I'm always careful to not overdo it or to think that I could "blend in" to black culture. I guess my identification with black culture is an attempt to understand the people of my youth (both my robbers and those who I went to school with), even though I don't think I fit in. 

TDG: How do you view it now in retrospect? 

F: I think I'm fairly reflective about it at this current point in my life. 

I don't feel much hostility towards my assailants - I realize that kids do stupid things. A lot of it is simply brain development - people before the age of 25 just don't have the cognitive development or maturity to see the consequences of their actions. 

That is kind of terrifying, to think that the fluke of the cop car driving by might have saved my life or my body. I found that it has given me a respect for how quickly things can turn bad and the necessity of thinking through grim possibilities in advance. 

It might be morbid to think about what I would do if my plane went down or if a creeper accosted my kid. But I can't stop myself from thinking about things like that and I think it's probably for the best. 

Studies have shown that survivors of disasters are often the people that have thought through a plan of action in advance. So overall, it's made me more wary and cautious, perhaps a bit morbid, but maybe better off in the long run. 

In terms of racial attitudes, it's still something I grapple with and feel guilty about. I remember sheepishly telling the office coordinator for the Obama campaign that I didn't want to canvass in any neighborhoods "that I wouldn't normally go to." 

Turns out, I went anyway, but probably won't in the future. I get annoyed at both feeling like a racist for avoiding parts of town, but then getting pressured into going there, anyway. Either way, I would feel like shit and I'm not sure the best way to resolve that.

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