Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Urban drama...

OK… I’ve said that this blog is about a writer’s life in the city and the country, but I haven’t actually recorded much detail of my time in the city. I guess that’s because I spend most of my time chained to my desk or hanging out with family.

But yesterday I experienced some urban drama…

I live in the heart of Townsville, which is a growing city, getting busier and more beautiful every day. I have a coffee shop (great takeaway cappuccinos) across the road and a supermarket three hundred metres up the street. In the style of many inner city dwellers, I shop almost every day, just taking one bag and getting what I need in small batches. Apart from my early morning walk, it’s about the only exercise I get – a pleasant enough diversion.

Yesterday afternoon, we were planning for a family barbecue on the rooftop of our apartment block. Elliot had been out to buy beautiful fish and seafood to barbecue and it was my job to get the salad ingredients, plus grapes and chocolate for dessert.

Mission accomplished, I was walking back down the street, my mind in another country (thinking about my WIP). I was aware of a shadow behind me and I assumed the person would pass me, but no…

Without warning, my purse was snatched from my hand.

I confess, I screamed. Passers-by in the peak hour traffic saw what happened. I knew I didn’t have a hope of catching the tall, young male who was racing away in the opposite direction with my purse. And, of course, I thought immediately of all those cards I would have to replace – license, Visa Card, Medicare etc. Not the $50, which was what he wanted.

But those thoughts came and went in a flash. Two young men from Coles were already racing after the robber. A man told me that his wife’s handbag had been stolen by the same fellow an hour earlier. People jumped out of cars to offer witness statements. And two young police officers arrived (one male and one female.)

Long story short, I was very lucky. The guy was caught, I got my purse back. I thanked the young men from Coles who chased him. I gave the police the information they wanted and thanked them. The young man was arrested and driven away in a paddy wagon.

So then afterwards... I was left with a few things to think about. First, it was pointed out very gently by well meaning bystanders that I was partly to blame because I'd been holding my purse so casually in my hand, rather than tucking it away in my shopping bag. So yeah, a measure of guilt set in. And from there, it wasn’t such a great leap of the imagination to understand how other victims can be made to feel guilty, almost as if they invited the crime committed against them – especially women who are raped.

But I felt a degree of compassion for the perpetrator, too. I wondered about the young man. What had driven him to such a desperate act in broad daylight and in peak hour traffic? Two hundred years ago, our ancestors were sent to this country for something as trifling as stealing a loaf of bread.

I know what he did was wrong. Very wrong. And he might be a hardened criminal. And I know justice must be seen to be done…

But I felt sick watching that paddy wagon drive away.


2paw said...

Oh what a terrible experience, I am glad the community looked after you. Hope you are less shaken now and had a nice calming cup of tea and some spoiling.
I do agree about the victim being made to feel responsible. We live in a world where women (or anyone) should be able to walk down the street in the evening or just be in their homes- and be safe. Following the strange logic, it is my fault if my car is stolen because I left it parked on the street and it was too tempting. That's just ridiculous. I do sometimes wonder why people do what they do, what circumstances have brought them to the place where the steal, or hurt or even worse.
We can't live our lives fearful that something bad will happen. You have to learn to trust the world again, slowly and cautiously.
Circumstance and experience make us what we are, many people have terrible things happen to them but they are lucky enough to have love, support and the inner resources to cope.

Barb said...

Thanks Cindy. I don't think I was too shaken. Although I did jump yesterday when I was out walking and a cyclist, without a warning bell, snuck up from behind and suddenly whisked past on my left.

Nicola Marsh said...

OMG Barb, I can't believe this.
How truly, truly awful.
So glad you're ok and you got your purse back.

Anonymous said...

Barb - pleased that turned out ok for you but share your feelings about the whole incident. In a similar vein, Gary was at his Mum's last night. She usually has her place locked up like Fort Knox but because he was there the front door was unlocked. They were sitting chatting and heard the door, saw a shadow and when Gary leapt up to investigate, saw some young kids running away. Just what she did not need to maintain her confidence in independent living.

Liz Fielding said...

What at hideous experience, Barb, but how great that everyone pitched in and saved the day. So rare these days, especially when you never know whether the thief is holding a knife.

Hideous, too, that you should be made to feel responsible. The only person in the wrong here is the young man -- no matter how desperate his plight. And while you feel for him -- much to your credit -- remind yourself that you worked for what you have. He had the same choice, but decided snatching a purse of a woman was the easier option.