My family has been touched- bludgeoned in fact-by violent crime many times. What you should know immediately is that I come from a very average, upper-middle class background. These are not poor urban stories. They are “average man” tales.
My grandfather, Charles Dorsey Berger, poor by anyone’s standards, drove a delivery truck, picking up soiled linens from hotels and replacing them with clean bundles. A week or so before he was to retire, a man jumped aboard his truck demanding money. My grandfather had no money to steal, which angered the thief so the thief shot my grandfather repeatedly. Granddaddy didn’t die right away. He lingered in that limbo land, long enough to forever change the make up of my family. I didn’t just lose a grandfather that day: I lost a huge chunk of my mother and my cousins lost pieces of their parents, my five uncles and aunts, my granddaddy’s children.
My great grandmother, well into in her 80s, was attacked and beaten with brass knuckles as she strolled through what was then a nice, family park. If it had happened today, it wouldn’t surprise anyone. Then it was unheard of in that section of town. Then families slept with windows open or even in the park to take advantage of any semblance of a breeze on a warm, summer night in Baltimore. My great grandmother lingered in a vegetative state for a few years. I only have vague stories about her, her beating being the one that lingers as her legacy for me.
A close family friend walked through his fairly well-to-do neighborhood and was accosted by a mugger. Mr. Tom was only walking to his car, so when the thief demanded money, Mr. Tom pulled out a $20 bill, the only money he had in his pocket. As with my grandfather’s case, the mugger was angered that for his efforts he’d only get $20. The mugger shot Mr. Tom. The bullets ricocheted around his body, hitting one major organ after another. He lived, but not the life he had lived before. Body trauma aside, the man had fear where he once had peace.
Now, all of that that said, I know this type of crime is not the norm. I am a journalist. I’ve spent most of my life writing for and about law enforcement and criminals. While we hear the shocking tales of crimes against innocents, that’s not the standard. It’s why cops continue to do their jobs. They fight to stop that one innocent from being touched needlessly by crime. If they can just contain it to those who start the street wars, they’ve had a good day.
Studies have shown over and over again that when it comes to the majority of crime, the victim does not have clean hands in the matter. Often, it’s just the opposite. Dirty attracts dirty. Violent attracts violence.
I’ll draw on my family once more. I have one branch of my family that seems to have gone completely amok. Drugs are the driving force in these tales.
My cousin Ray, not more than 30 at the time, was shot in the head and rolled out of a van and onto a Baltimore street many years ago. I never saw a single line written about it in the newspaper. Most of us didn’t speak much about it within the family. I think we all knew it would have this type of ending eventually.
Ray was a crack addict. He had turned his mother’s house into a crack den. My aunt was an invalid, having lost her legs to amputation, piece by piece, over the years. As she lay in her bed, dying slowly, Ray and his friends partied in her home.
My mom and Aunt Mary would go by to clean for their sister Edna and try to bring the ailing woman food. My mom found needles, guns, spoons and all sorts of drug paraphernalia while cleaning. The food they brought rarely made it to their sister. Ray shared it with his degenerate friends.
Rumor has it that Ray was shot looking for his sister, a girl who as a child was like a sister to me. We were told that she was working the streets, deep in a drug habit herself. Whether that’s true, we’ll never know. Whether Ray died in the midst of one of only a handful of unselfish acts in his life, we’ll also never know.
That same sister had a child of her own at age 15. He too, grew up in the drug culture. He was imprisoned at age 18. We were told it was a drug offense, but as it was a long-term sentence, it seems highly unlikely that he went down for a possession charge.
Shortly after being released from prison, the man/child, Danny, was found dead. At first it looked like some sort of hemorrhaging, but that only told part of the story. When the story panned out, it was believed that he was beaten to death which caused internal bleeding. He was beaten in a way not to leave marks, a sign of a crime committed on a criminal by someone else with a criminal history.
The point is, although you read about sensational crime stories, they don’t tell the “big picture” story on the nature of crime-the relationship between criminal and victim. Victims of brutal crimes are most often in the wrong place at the wrong time. That much is true. The other part of that scenario is that they tend to OFTEN be in the wrong place at the wrong time because of their own life choices. It’s not as haphazard as it seems. It’s just much more interesting to tell tales of innocents being accosted by the boogeyman as opposed to telling stories of those whose bad life choices have finally caught up with them.