Protecting Criminals Instead of Citizens?

Last week, my boyfriend received an email from our apartment complex. It stated that there had been a home invasion the week before. Around 11 p.m. one night, someone knocked on a neighbor’s door claiming to be a sheriff. Startled, the resident opened the door and the man then forced himself into the apartment. I don’t know what happened next, but this was enough to put me in a state of high alert.

As a child, I had many negative experiences with crime in Trinidad. My parents owned a business that was located directly behind our home on the same property. There were several occasions in which my stepfather woke up in the morning, went to work, and came back to the house to report to my mother that we had been burglarized3628914665_f562a6b722_m yet again. This left me shaken as only a few feet and a door separated my home from this building.

On one occasion, I woke up to find my mom shaken. She had gone out for a walk early that morning. As she returned, she found the back door ajar. She was about to enter when a man emerged from our house. He simply walked past her on his way out as she stood in fear and stunned silence. My brothers, sister, and I were asleep inside the whole time. Luckily, he had left us all asleep and unharmed, but it was quite unsettling to think of all the other scenarios that could have played out.

I can recount several other scary criminal incidents that took place in my home, but one stands out as the most disturbing. My younger brother and I were at home and my parents went out to brunch with friends. For some reason, we both woke up and went back to sleep in their room when they left. I will always be thankful that we did.

When I woke up, I found that the rest of the house had been ransacked. Items were strewn about the living room. My hidden savings and the gold nameplate necklace I had received for my sixteenth birthday were gone. This was before the time of cell phones, so my brother and I just sat in the living room together and waited for my parents to return home. This was the most violating experience of them all. I shuddered to think what could have happened if I had been asleep alone in my bedroom at the time. It was of no comfort to me that things could have been worse because I feared it was only a matter of time before someone was hurt, raped, or killed.

When I was ready for college, my family moved to the suburbs of Kendall in Miami. I remember going to bed one night and feeling safe. Only then did I realize how unsafe I had felt in my childhood home. It’s like a weight was lifted off me that I wasn’t even aware I was carrying. The hypervigilance inside me was subdued, but it never really went away. It probably never will.

I still lock my front door even if I am just going to the car or mailbox. If the door will be out of my sight, I lock it. I triple check the locks before I go to bed. I don’t go jogging before sunrise or after dusk, and it makes me really nervous that some of my friends do.

I feel extremely fortunate to live in a safe community, but I know that no community is immune to crime. I feel blessed that the crimes that plagued my home as a child were limited to stolen property and never escalated to physical harm, but I know that many are not that lucky. You can imagine the memories and fears that flooded me when I heard of a home invasion in my gated and guarded apartment complex. The next day, I went to the leasing office for more information. 3435027358_06a8a80331_m

Talking to the associate there was like talking to a brick wall.

“We only know it was a home invasion,” she said in response to my inquiry.

“But what exactly does that mean?” I pressed further. I wanted to know more. Was it an armed robbery? Was anyone hurt or killed?

“It was just a home invasion,” she stated again. Clearly, she had been trained to give this robotic answer and I wasn’t going to get anywhere.

Later that evening, I recounted the exchange to my boyfriend, John, when he got home from work. I felt my anger growing the more I talked about it. I had a right to know exactly what happened so I could protect myself accordingly. My first instinct was to march back into the office and demand more information, but I decided to try some other avenues first.

The following day, I Googled the non-emergency police hotline in my area. I called and told the dispatcher I wanted more information about a crime that had taken place in my apartment complex. She said it was up to the apartment complex to disclose the details as they saw fit. I was floored.

“Isn’t that public record?” I asked. “I’m a concerned resident and I think I have the right to know for my own safety.”

She then gave me the number for my local police department and told me I could try asking them for more details. The response there was pretty much the same. The dispatcher said she couldn’t reveal the specifics of this particular crime, but she could give me crime statistics for the apartment complex.

“That would be perfect!” I replied too soon.

She went on to tell me that there would be a fee for this report.

“How much?” I inquired, but she explained that she couldn’t tell me until the report was processed. It boggled me that I was expected to order something without knowing how much it would cost me. What if it was $500? This was like shopping on Amazon and then getting the mystery bill after the merch had already shipped. Who would chance that? I asked her to email me the order form anyway and provided her with my email address. That was a week ago and I’m still waiting.

12324690745_f45a07b3dc_mI can’t put my finger on exactly what bothers me, but I smell a rat, a really stinky one! This scenario reminds me of the way child abuse is handled in dysfunctional families. The family is afraid of looking bad so everyone covers it up and doesn’t address it. The victims continue to get victimized and the only one who is protected is the perpetrator.

The boogieman in this nightmare is real. He gets to know his rights and he gets to know everything about me. He gets to know where I live and that I am defenseless. He is even more powerful now because I don’t get to know anything about him and what he is capable of. Why is it so hard for me to get vital information about my own neighborhood? Information that is important for me to keep my neighbors and myself safe? Who benefits from this veil of secrecy? As I triple check my locks each night and fear every unusual noise, I know that it’s certainly not me.

Photos: Flickr/Alyssa L. MillerYumi Kimura, and david pacey

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