This past Sunday, I found myself spending the evening in a Steers in Seapoint. This followed a pretty routine weekly walk accompanied by my father and friends. We’ve been having these walks for years now in a variety of locations. Due to the heat, this week we opted for a relaxing beach walk at Camp’s Bay and then decided to get dinner in Sea Point.
It was a pleasant walk, following a pretty fun MTG Commander event in the morning. All in all, I was happy.
Soon after entering, we stood examining the large glowing overhead menu. As we did so, I felt a bump as a man stumbled into me. My hands were in my jean pockets and after he smiled, I presumed he was just drunk. Then he bumped into my father, apologised then left.
We shared a quizzical look and then my dad checked his pockets. His phone was gone.
In a split second, we were outside of the Steers and confronting the guy. He claimed that he didn’t know what we were talking about. My dad shoved him and the phone dropped out of his hand (screen cracking).
The pickpocket started fighting us. In response to my dad’s: “You took my phone.” He answered, “It’s mine now.”
After a scuffle, he ran off and then stopped. He started walking back as he had dropped his bag of stolen goods. As I picked it up, he started swearing at me: “That’s my stuff.” To which I dumbly replied: “No it’s not.”
Despite the thrashing we could/did possibly give him, he came striding back. He claimed that the phone was now his and that the packet of stolen shoes was also his. He followed us right into the Steers where I told the cashiers to phone the cops and keep the stolen goods behind the till.
All this time, a group of men taller and bulkier than the pickpocket surrounded him – and did nothing. They knew that he was a thief. They were capable of restraining him. They didn’t.
When the arrogant criminal realised we weren’t going to give him “his” stuff back, he walked away. We couldn’t stop him. There were only two of us and the group of five men seemed more likely to just smile and nod than do anything.
The night went on and I arrived home. Despite not being hurt and being able to screw over a criminal, I was shaken. Shaken that things like this happen at all.
I posted about it on Facebook and was met by a few of the usual ‘hope you’re safe’ and ‘hope he dies’ comments but some struck me.
In the post, I detailed how my father and I managed to get the phone back and scare away the robber. The comment alluding to this that struck me the most was one accusing me of being proud of my actions. The tone was unmistakably negatively accusatory.
This guy was basically saying that I beat up an undeniable thief and should feel guilty about doing so.
This wasn’t the only flak my father and I received. Our own family, who only arrived back from a trip the following day, were angry/disappointed/distressed by the fact that we stood up for ourselves and defended our property.
They accused our ‘attack’ on the pickpocket as morally reprehensible and our motivation as barbaric and testosterone driven. They condemned our going after the pickpocket but even more the fact that we won.
In an earlier incident, weeks before. Two men broke into our house. My sister witnessed the men and it was her shouting that brought me out, katana and gun at the ready – swearing like the undercover cop from GTA IV.
I chased them away and then stood guard to make sure that my family was safe. The cops (obviously) came much later and not after a lot of screwing around where they wanted every detail of my sister’s identity before they would agree to send a squad car. Before they arrived, my father and mother were able to leave their separate work locations (much farther away from us than the police station) and arrive home.
Police incompetence is not the topic of this article, however. What concerns me was not the lateness of the cops (as I expected it) but rather the fact that my sister, despite being distraught by the robbers, condemned how I handled the situation.
This is not new. My father and I have been condemned by our family and friends on a multitude of occasions – not so much for putting ourselves in harm’s way but more that we shouldn’t get in the way as crime is going to happen anyway.
After Sunday, I’m still a little shaken. What truly fills me with despair, however, is not the crime itself or even the arrogance and entitlement that the thief felt – but rather how nobody but my father and I gave a stuff about it.
Some might state that it was our phone and therefore nobody else’s business. That hasn’t stopped us in the past. Whenever there’s a break-in or assault in the neighbourhood. It is myself and my dad who pursue. It is us who stand up to the tide of lawlessness in our suburbs.
We face the hordes of chaos and corruption and we receive no thanks. We are condemned by those who stood by while a man who beat up a woman got away – all because we chose to kick in his teeth. We are condemned because we chose to chase a thief rather than just buying a new phone. We are condemned because we waste our own petrol chasing and searching for burglars – trying to save other people’s stuff.
Countless failures to administer justice hurts us, the apathy of those around us burns us but what truly kills us is the fact that we are called the monster.
The thing is, I’m not going to stop. When a woman is attacked, I will defend her. When a phone, wallet or even just some shoes are stolen – I will not let that criminal get away. I will be willing to risk being hurt to defend my family and those I love.
I don’t ask for admiration or even acceptance – but as someone who sacrifices so much so you don’t have to, I would appreciate that you withhold your holier than thou ethics.