Life of Crime

Among the many pleasures of living in a big city, one of them is definitely not coming home and having police cars parked in your driveway, crime scene tape lining the street, and medical examiner vehicles parked nearby.

A suspicious death in a nearby home had brought out San Francisco’s finest, and we’ve gotten to know them a bit better in the ensuing week as they collected evidence, handed out flyers, interviewed all of us in the neighborhood. The good news is that the police officers have impressed me with their speed, politeness and seriousness. The bad news is that, as of press time, the crime has not yet been solved.

I’ll omit the details here, because it was just one of the deaths – presumably a murder – that you’ve read about in the City this year. But I do find myself becoming interested in how this crime against someone I didn’t even know has affected my and my neighbors’ lives. Those who never had home security are now replacing locks and calling ADT. People who show up asking odd questions are reported to the police. Our nearest neighbors have joined us in a kind of buddy system to share information and speak a new
language. (“The cable company’s home security costs $10 a month less than ADT.” “Do they provide the same window sensors?”) And neighbors we’ve never met before are introducing themselves and saying things like, “I’ve lived here 30 years and there’s never been anything like this. It’s a really
safe neighborhood.”

Suspicion doesn’t come naturally to me, but caution does. I’ve always been puzzled by people who recount “the good ol’ days” when people left their doors unlocked. I grew up in very safe Midwestern towns, and we never left a door unlocked. Nor do I understand why that would be considered a desirable or smart thing to do in any community.

Nonetheless, these days I not only make sure doors and windows are shut and locked, but I find myself pausing and looking at our garage, at common areas, nearby parks, sidewalks – making myself try to see things that one normally passes by without a second thought. Were those people standing over there waiting for a bus? Was that sound someone at the front door or a tree branch blowing against the wall?

I am happy to be able to say that I have not been the victim of a really bad crime in my lifetime. But I can remember every time a crime has been committed against me: my winter jacket stolen from my childhood church, bikes stolen from my garage, graffiti on our building, my Manhattan apartment burglarized. Each of these relatively minor crimes bothered me, annoyed me, made me extra-careful about checking locks. However, none of them were terrible crimes.

It turns out that the crime that has affected me the most is the one that had nothing to do with me.

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