“GET DOWN! GET DOWN NOW! ON THE GROUND!”
I was minding my own business writing one of these columns on my couch when I heard this yelling nearby. It was a lot more nearby than I thought.
It was in my driveway.
I live in Amherst, a small suburb of Buffalo. As far as I’m concerned, it’s Buffalo. I mean the distance from the upper east side to midtown on New York City is how close Amherst is to Buffalo. Amherst, however, has been known as one of the safest places in America, repeatedly in the highest categories of standards of living in all of those magazine articles that I don’t read.
I lived here because it was the midpoint of the two UB Campuses, the guy next door does my landscaping (which I’m just God-awful at) and my house was relatively cheap and I liked it. It was a quiet neighborhood and I could walk the dog easily in it. It’s still only a 15 minute drive to Canisius, so I’m still loving that commute.
Seeing those cops reminded me of all of the times growing up where I wished a cop were around when I grew up in a rather hairy crime-ridden neighborhood. Where I feared the walk home and wondered if I was ever going to feel safe. I went to bed at night wondering if this was the night the people break in to steal, or worse.
I walked outside and said to one of the cops, “Um, since you’re in my driveway, I think I should know why.” The cop quickly said, “Shoplifter from Wal-Mart! We got this. You can relax.”
Easy for him to say. There’s not men with guns drawn in front of his house.
After it was all over, the man seemed to go quietly. Cuffed behind his back, lifting his unbelted pants up so they wouldn’t fall down. It seemed like a lot of work for someone who stole something. I wondered how scared the man on the ground was? How afraid the cop who drew his gun must have been? How scared my wife was when she heard the yelling? Fear seemed to be all around.
While it’s not right to steal, I wondered why this man did steal and what he might have stolen? I wondered what possessed him to steal, or motivated him? He was young, not a teen, but young. Why would he run over a petty theft?
It’s probably not good to be black and a thief in the suburbs. And that makes me a bit angry that he doesn’t feel safe in my neighborhood.
I also wondered why Wal-Mart seems to be such a target for thieves. Why would someone steal from a store that professes bargains? I don’t shop at WalMart for a million reasons, but I also wonder why there’s such a high incidence of crime there.
I like my house. I’ve worked hard to be a homeowner. I like living in a safe neighborhood and tease my wife at times when she worries about crime in the neighborhood, especially since I grew up in a neighborhood that was actually quite dangerous.
But now…fear creeps back in. Fear that we are never really safe anywhere. I’m glad the cops caught this guy, but also upset that someone thinks they need to steal. Fear doesn’t sit well with me.
So perhaps my prayer for today is for those who feel the need to steal. To not have the freedom to choose to pay for things that they desire. To steal because someone else put them up to it. To steal for kicks. To steal out of some kind of fear only to find fear looking at them again from the gravel of my driveway.
Let us pray to not be fearful, but to be brave enough to help the poor so that they need not steal. To be able to allow the police to keep us safe when they need to. And to be able to see the other as ourself and pray for them today.