Window on a Crime 1: “Non-Violent Crime”
I’d like to tell you a story about a recent crime in 3 different ways – I think about it as 3 windows looking into the same room. Oh, and there’s a 4th one at the end, but that one’s a trap door for escaping.
I’m a single mum of two sons, 17 and 12. The older one’s girlfriend, also 17, pretty much lives here too. I’m Indigenous and my kids’ fathers are both Black. We live right downtown in a 3-bedroom townhouse in a public housing complex. I pay market rent and am just now interrogating myself about why I had to tell you that last point. I think it has to do with how, when rotten things happen to us, we worry about how people will see us.
For the first time since the pandemic began, I went out of town for a weekend without my children, to a beautiful cottage up north, and they stayed in town with one of their fathers. On the Sunday evening, we were all to converge at home. The kids beat me, as the southbound traffic on the 400 was predictably awful, and in the car on the way there, I got a phone call.
The kids were hysterical: we’d been spectacularly robbed. They called 911 and I called a neighbour to go over; one father then the other went too. It was agony to be in traffic with the little one texting Are you close mummy we need you come home. Finally I arrived. Everything, and I mean everything, of monetary value in our home was… gone. All the computers, their PS4, a guitar on loan from our church, all jewelry, the brand name kicks, jackets, my fancy boots, my chef’s knives, and so much else, along with a jar of peanut butter and a can of whipped cream (?). The older kids do online school on their machines, and mine, well, my computer was mesmerizingly powerful, important as I teach online every single day. It also had the specialized platforms on which I do my job as an editor, and everything I’d written for the schooling I’d recently started. My grades suffered and I was let go from one of my magazines – publication deadlines can’t care that you had a good reason.
My home was a mess, but it was a crime scene. The police instructed me not to clean, torture for someone who struggles with anxiety and whose number one strategy when spinning upwards is to clean house. I am a hopeless mummy’s girl; I could not reach for her support. I couldn’t post about it on Facebook, the space of my aunties who would surely tell her. It’s a long and it’s another story, but hearing about this could quite literally kill her. No. way.
Here’s the first window, one way of seeing the impact of this crime.
When your reality is slashed – as with a Big Death or a severe violation – it becomes the point from which you mark time. It’s been two days since… it’s been a week since… At first you vibrate like a train’s thundering around your ankles; a few days later, still buzzing, you experience brief moments of forgetting about it. Time picks up its pace, and moments of stillness or joy sometimes elbow the pain aside, then eventually sometimes becomes often.
A hallmark of any given privilege is not having to notice certain things, things that structure the very reality of people without that privilege. I had never noticed how absurd the label “non-violent crime” is when affixed to major residential robbery.
I never used to lock my door either. I was never one to whip around at a noise outside my window. A dog suddenly barking beside me as I write this would never have made me jump out of my skin right NOW! The children are jumpy too, hypervigilant, double checking that we’ve locked up properly for the night, that the cat’s inside. They demand confirmation that I’ve closed the downstairs windows as they drift off to sleep, and as I creep down to look for a third time, a windchime ravages my frayed startle reflex once more.
None of us have ever felt anything like this. After all, we live in a community that filled me with constant gratitude for my home in the early days of the pandemic. I live in paradise, my mantra every couple hours. High density, shared green common, community garden, 5 minutes from the lake. For 8 years I’ve loved and shared with my neighbours, my house a welcoming space for hungry children and adults; I didn’t realize what bedrock all that was to my wellness until it was unceremoniously ripped away.
Violence against human beings is anything that treats a person like an object. We use objects; we ignore, weaponize, and discard them. They are not real and complicated in the way that we are real and complicated. Mainly, though, objects are a means to an end. In the case of a robbery, property owners are objects rather than human beings, just a means to get money. If only I could have left 7 grand for them in my mailbox, and escaped with my personhood.
The robbers had rifled through the drawers in my bedroom too, an intensely visceral sight that compromised my capacity to sleep. Bleary, on the second day, I’m standing in the kitchen: Remember even your own father didn’t love you. Yo, why would you say that right now?! To remind you, idiot. You do not have a home. You belong nowhere.
It’s so clear that our experiences of violence reanimate mean old ghosts and reactivate old patterns – even for those of us who strive to practice self-compassion and intentional awareness. This is why it’s inadequate to limit our attention to the one acute crime, thinking that we could ever move past “it”. It’s not a singularity; it’s a mess. This jumpy, bitter woman inside that mess could snarl: hope my stuff fetched the price you needed to get high, assholes. And on it would go, rippling out.
I am not participating. I will spend my last molecule of energy interrupting such chain reactions, and even though granted, I look (okay, glare) at pawn shops differently now, I’ll never give in to that anger. But nor will I ever again be silent when people designate this crime “non-violent”.