To the man who robbed my house during a quarantine:
I can only imagine your dire circumstances. Stealing during any normal time is a dangerous move. You risk setting off an alarm; encountering lingering inhabitants; getting caught by the cops. It takes desperate circumstances to resort to such a hazardous decision.
But Mr. Robber, this is no normal time. You faced many more risks than your average burglar. You risked encountering an invisible enemy inside of my home that could ruin your life with a dry cough. This enemy could make prison seem easy, reducing your life to a ventilator or a hole in the ground. Knowing that my housemates and I also feared this invisible menace, you were more likely to find me inside my home, hiding from those who bore it. And with fewer people on the streets, with fewer potential subjects in the area, you could more easily be identified by law enforcement. Others have decided to put off crime for a later date, but you risked it all and have succeeded thus far. So Mr. Robber, I am impressed by your courage and determination. Despite all of the associated risks, you overcame the challenges and succeeded.
To do so, you are probably in a tough spot. I imagine you are a man, because roughly 85 percent of major property crimes are conducted by men. Perhaps you have recently lost your job, resorting to stealing as a way to put food on the table. While I empathize with any challenging circumstances you are facing, I vehemently oppose your tactics to address them.
However, I doubt I will be the last to be robbed during the pandemic. In the short term, your decision to steal is actually somewhat prescient — felony and misdemeanor arrests fell more than 40 percent each in Rhode Island from February to March of this year, a nearly overnight revolution partially explained by the Rhode Island State Police’s shift from proactive to reactive policing. The department has chosen to only focus on “the most serious of offenses,” letting minor offenses slip by.
But in the long run, with unprecedented levels of unemployment and millions more who have next to nothing in savings to cushion the blow, many people may be pushed to alternative and likely illegal ways of making up for lost income. Crime rates rose during previous economic downturns, which many at the time suspected to be the direct result of more difficult economic conditions. Without serious economic interventions and a quickly rebounding economy, there will likely be a drastic increase in crime rates both in Rhode Island and across the country. I hope, for your sake and mine, that the state of Rhode Island will be able to continue providing resources to those hard hit by the virus, despite its own tough financial position.
My neighborhood has always had a problem with crime. But now, in Providence’s East Side, rising crime rates will mean that many more will be victims of break-ins and minor felonies in the coming months without local or national help. Local law enforcement, from the Providence Police Department to Brown’s Department of Public Safety, need to remain vigilant in their duty to protect the surrounding community in this period. Already, DPS has reported a string of car break-ins along Lloyd Avenue in an April 15 announcement in Today@Brown. I hope that similar community notifications and subsequent investigations will deter others from hurting our neighborhood.
Robberies during this time can take away one of the few ways to maintain one’s cool during the pandemic. I have no way of knowing why you did what you did, and what pressures may have driven you to it. But when you came in and stole thousands of dollars of loot while we were out shopping for groceries, you took away our singular refuge, the one place we can feel secure while the outside world falls apart. My housemates and I have come to rely on our faulty stovetop, our splintered floors and our tight kitchen now more than ever. Like billions around the world, our home has been our most essential place during this unpredictable time.
Yet now, your unwelcomed entry into our home has made us uneasy to cook, work and relax in the place we are forced to remain in for the coming weeks. We second-guess leaving for a short walk or to replenish our food supply, the few chances we get to forget about the unfolding chaos. We can no longer rely on the four walls around us to protect us from the outside world. We constantly wonder if you will return for more — a thought that is hard to ignore. Your action has taken away our security, and there is little we can do to bring it back.
If you did break in because you are struggling, please, think about making use of community resources — from mortgage hardship forbearance to food banks or unemployment insurance — before you resort to distressing others during what is already a hard time.
Despite being shaken, we are determined to savor our final weeks in Providence before we graduate, however different they may be from what we hoped for. We will keep working on our cooking, which has gone from microwaved mac and cheese to homemade gnocchi and salmon. We will continue our movie marathons, blasting through every Harry Potter and dozens more to come.
Writing from the same place that you stood just a few days ago, I can’t help but wonder what you are doing with our previous belongings. I hope you are enjoying my friend’s playstation, taking Zoom calls on his laptop. I hope you smell good when you wear my cologne and listen to great music on my headphones. But most importantly, I hope you are using my friend’s oversized container of Purell diligently. Even robbers must stay healthy in the middle of a pandemic.
Jonathan Douglas ’20 (and his housemates) just want their belongings back. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org
To the man who robbed my house during a quarantine: