Saturday, October 20, 2012

UChicago Crime Report: Young women rob students at gunpoint (and more)

The three robberies in this post happened a few days ago. One of them was so outrageous that it made the Tribune front page, at least for about an hour and a half. I apologize for not posting about these incidents sooner; I had a post started on Tuesday during the day, but neglected class readings got the better of me.

Incident Location Date/Time Occurred Comment
Robbery 5200 S. Greenwood 10/17/12 12:40 PM Unknown male took messenger bag from woman walking on the sidewalk off campus / Suspect fled in a waiting van
Armed Robbery Blackstone between 56th & 57th 10/16/12 12:10 AM Three females, one armed with a handgun, took property from a man and woman walking on the sidewalk off campus / Arrest by UCPD
Robbery 5000 S. East End 10/16/12 1:00 PM Two unknown males forcibly took a cell phone and backpack from a man walking on the sidewalk off campus

A number of you may have heard about the "Armed Robbery" incident earlier this week. It appeared in both my EveryBlock feed and on the Tribune website. The article is still there, but it is no longer linked from the homepage. Too bad really; it has some great deals about the crime that the brief Incident Report entry doesn't touch.

This is one of the rare instances where we have a fairly coherent and detailed narrative of a robbery. We have an opportunity to learn from those details and draw some self-defense conclusions.

As a quick preliminary note, I apologize in advance for criticizing the decisions made by the victims. Under stress and pressure, no one makes smart choices. The two students are not at fault, persay, for any of their actions. In general, victims should never be blamed for decisions made under fire. That being said, whenever we look back and debrief on an event, it pays to be critical and honest about what went right and what went wrong, even if it might offend.

Let's walk through the narrative.
The two students were walking down the street at 12:15 a.m. Monday in the 5600 block of South Blackstone Avenue when the 14-year-old, who is not being identified because she is a juvenile, and Simpson [one of the other attackers] confronted them and said: “Give me your bags,” according to a preliminary police report.
The 5600 block of Blackstone (Between 56th and 57th street) is a quiet boulevard with stately manors and ancient trees. That makes it a lovely place for an afternoon stroll. It also makes it a terrible walking route at midnight. The street is dark and shadowy. There are too many places to hide, whether behind cars, bushes, garbage cans, or fences. To make matters worse, the block is populated by professional adults and families, not students. No one is awake at 12:15 AM to call the police or intervene. Don't take shortcuts down potentially dangerous streets. Maybe you walk that route 99 times out of 100 without getting attacked. But that one time is all it takes.

Normally, I would be aghast that any UChicago students let a group of young people get so close to them at night. But in this case, everyone in the group was female. That is not to say that young women don't commit crimes. In Chicago, however, the vast majority of offenders are young men of color, not women. If I had been in this position, I might not have veered off course from a small group of 2-3 girls. Clever robbery tactic, but a dangerous situation for even the most vigilant pedestrian. Even if one were to identify them as attackers, it would be difficult to strike and engage a group of little girls (even little girls with gun).
The 22-year-old man handed over his brown North Face book bag with his laptop inside, but when the female student refused to give up her bag, the 14-year-old hit her several times in the head with the gun, causing it to discharge, according to the report. 
The male student did exactly what you should do in a robbery. He relinquished his property without question or struggle. There was no immediate danger to his life and he assessed (probably correctly) that the girls just wanted his belongings. If ever you doubt what to do in a robbery, this is a good reaction.

Unfortunately, the female student was not so compliant. Even if you intend on defending yourself and neutralizing a threat (an avenue that you should not take without reason and training), you at least want to deescalate the situation and try to calm the attacker. Your robber is probably just as stressed as you are. Their adrenaline is pumping hard, their heart rate is elevated, and they are boring in on their target. Anything you can do to relax their guard makes it easier for you to strike or escape. By refusing to give up her bag, the female student threatened the robber's plan and authority. Even a 14 year old (in fact, especially a 14 year old) is going to lash out when challenged. That effect is even more pronounced when the young person is in front of friends and accomplices. They have to save face and gain group credibility.

There is a case to be made for fighting in this situation. Perhaps you are worried that the inexperienced young girl is too triggerhappy. Maybe her demeanor makes you fear for your life even if you give up your stuff. I was not there so I don't know. But if you choose to fight, you need to try and relax your attacker beforehand. A little soothing goes a long way towards improving your survival odds.
Michelle Jones, 17, of the 12200 block of South Elizabeth Street, Nataya Collins, 16, of 1200 block of West 74th Place, and Kenyadrea Simpson, 15, of the 500 block of West 125th Place each were charged as adults with armed robbery, according to Cook County state’s attorney’s office spokesman Andy Conklin.
For most UChicago students, those neighborhoods south of 63rd street are a bedtime myth used to frighten first years. Even for those who do know about Woodlawn and South Shore (myself included, for a time), the mythical "Wild 100s" of the far South Side might as well be in Indiana, for all the traveling we do down there. Two of the alleged perpetrators in this case are from as far south as 125th street, an impressive 60+ blocks south of the actual crime.

What brought these robbers to our campus? Without talking to them, we don't know for sure. But if I had to venture a guess, it is because Hyde Park has a lot of vulnerable targets. I do not want to imply that Chicago's robbers communicate as part of some extensive fraternity of muggers. But word does travel, and we do have a lot of robbers that come from out of the area. This idea certainly has precedent; a number of South Side teens went downtown over the summer just to rob and cause trouble. (Not ALL South Side teens. Just those who were arrested for actually attacking people).

Some might allege that the three girls go to school around here. This seems unlikely. The only schools in the area that are worth traveling 65 blocks to get to (UChicago Woodlawn Charter, Gary Comer Prep, Lab School, etc.) are also schools that tend to screen out students who stick up graduate students at midnight. Admittedly, there is another reason that the girls would be attending school so far out of area; gang troubles in their neighborhood. This too is improbable; young men, not women, are much more likely to have trouble with a gang that forces them to leave a community.

Unless proven otherwise, I hypothesize that these young women did what many other robbers do. They came to Hyde Park because they know there are easy targets who don't fight back and who often have valuables on their person.

Looking back on this incident, two conclusions are clear. This is not to criticize the victims. Rather, it is to inform potential victims about unsafe behavior.
  1. Take smart routes
    Blackstone (like nearby Dorchester) is far too dark to walk down at night. There are no other pedestrians around, and there are too many hiding places. 
  2. Be decisive
    If you are going to submit to a robber's demands, do so immediately. If you are going to defend yourself (which you generally shouldn't do), relax the attacker before you escalate.
Already 2 dead and 7 wounded for the weekend, and temperatures are in the 40s and 50s. Stay aware and be cautious. 

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