“What will it take to get our law enforcement to treat all victims of a crime with the same respect?”

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Photo by PoPville flickr user washingtonydc

“Dear PoPville,

I am a property manager and I manage a number of small condominiums all over the city including Georgetown, Anacostia, Columbia Heights, Eastern Market, etc.

On Tuesday night, 3/8/16, a resident/owner at one of my buildings in Anacostia – who we’ll call Paul – arrived home around 10:30pm to an apartment that had been robbed. While we are not entirely sure the order of events, based on what we know, the perpetrators most likely entered through his bedroom window and proceeded to steal his computer, TV, and PlayStation. It was most likely a group of kids, one of whom broke through the window, walked through the apartment, and let his/her accomplices in through the front door.

When the police arrived on site on the night of 3/8/16, as Paul explained to the police what happened, the police accused Paul of “staging” the break-in, asking Paul if there was “anything else he was leaving out of the story.”

When Paul – a member of our condo Board who happens to be black – and I were discussing this incident as we were reviewing camera footage the following afternoon, we did not explicitly discuss race being a factor in the way he was treated by the police, but I’m quite sure it was. I live in Columbia Heights with my girlfriend and we both happen to be white. If our apartment was ever broken into, I can’t imagine the police accusing us of “staging” a break-in. Yet, when Paul told me this story, he spoke as if this treatment was the norm.

What will it take to get our law enforcement to treat all victims of a crime with the same respect?”

37 Comment

  • You’re hypothesizing it’s about race when you have no evidence to support it. Maybe staging break-ins is a common scam and the cops were trying to rule it out. If you, as a white male, haven’t been in the same situation and been treated differently by the same cops, don’t extrapolate that the cops were racist. It does NOTHING to further the discussion on actual racism.

    • Uhhh. It actually does further the conversation. The poster was obviously sensing something else occurred that was abnormal than how he feels he’s been treated. By saying “he spoke as if this treatment is the norm,” OP was able to think back to his experiences and realize that it’s NOT the norm for him. Be smarter than that.

      • > If our apartment was ever broken into, I can’t imagine the police accusing us of “staging” a break-in.

        He didn’t think back to his experiences – he just imagined what he thought would have happened.

      • I am a white make. Two years ago my apartment was broken into through a window left open and a computer was stolen. The police arrived in 5 minutes when I called. No one suggested that it had been staged.

  • Doesn’t say- but was the OP there during the questioning of Paul? or is the knowledge of the questioning second hand info? But I do agree that ALL victims of crime should be treated equally.

    • OOps never mind. OP did mention the story was told to him by Paul. Other than saying- all victims should be treated fairly- I’m not going to rag on this case since it wasn’t witnessed by OP.

  • This breaks my heart. I don’t want to dismiss your feelings about the motivation of the officer, but I (white female, in late 20s at the time) had a break-in in Columbia Heights and the police tried to imply it must have been a friend or acquaintance who’d been to my home for a party. I was pretty taken aback that he would victim blame. Looks like the DCPD could use some sensitivity training on how to deal with people who’ve been the victim of a break-in.

    • This exact thing happened to me (white with white roommates) while living in Adam’s Morgan. Someone entered and robbed the house where I was living and broke a window to get in. One of the stolen credit cards was used in at a 7/11 in a neighborhood where none of our friends/guests lived. Still, the police refused to classify the crime as a break in and did zero follow up whatsoever (e.g. checking the security camera of the 7/11 where the stolen credit card was used).

      This is not to say that race was not a factor in the situation described by OP – none of us have any real way of knowing that – but MPD indifference/desire to fudge crime stats unfortunately impacts everyone in this city.

      • Yep – same thing happened to me years ago at 14th and T. Lived in a group house of white males and females, house was broken into via a 1st floor window, and MPD told us it was one of us that did it.

  • anonymouse_dianne

    I think it’s pretty common place to rule out that the victim staged or was an accomplice. Years ago my Honda Civic caught fire while I was driving it. The first thing MoCo fire did was to ask if I set the car on fire. Later I had to file an affidavit and get it notorized to that effect.

  • Another PoPville discussion on race, uhg. No thanks.

    • Tony’s totally post-race and sees life in technicolor. Good for you, Tony. Good for you.

      • I think the implication is just that it seems like we used to get one post a week or less designed to incite the “who’s more racist?” comment war, and now they seem much more frequent – not just on this blog, but on many others as well.

  • Hi. I’m white. Former apartments I’ve lived in have been robbed twice in DC. I was never accused of staging it. This isn’t absolute proof, but it does support the OP’s hypothesis. Also, the cops were kind, apologetic, gave me their contact information and checked up on me.

    • My experience as well. From 911 to the detective, everyone responded quickly, were concerned about my safety, and even once told me not to blame myself when I talked about how I was going to replace a security light *that night.* Detective followed up a few days later. Nothing came of it, but there was never any implication that I was “in on it” or that someone I knew would victimize me.
      .
      I’m really sorry for everyone here who was treated like that by the police. Hopefully the bad apples get rooted out quickly. Hopefully the OP can work with Paul to have his case taken seriously, and, if not taken seriously, make serious noise about why it was not.

  • That’s just police work; they rule out the victim first- it would be harassment if after he said he didnt do it, the police insisted he did it and kept painting him into a corner. My suspicion is that the Police Officer working the case, is familiar with insurance claim “Robberies”. As a white guy that had run ins with the police at various stages of my life it can be offputting but they are just doing their jobs when investigating.

  • HaileUnlikely

    From the original post and nothing else, it is not my understanding that the police actively accused Paul of staging the break-in and burglary. It is my understanding that they asked him if there was anything else that he left out of the story, and that, to the best of my ability to fill in the blanks (which is a dangerous and error-prone process), he inferred from that question (and/or other details omitted from OP’s account) that the police were accusing him of staging it.
    .
    I am not saying that I do not believe that the police were biased against the victim – I do believe that they often are – however, absolutely nothing about the account provided by the OP suggests to me that they were.

  • My friend’s apartment was broken into in college. I was both crashing on the couch at the time the police came and was the lead suspect for about an hour. I wasnt crashing on the couch during the robbery – just shortly after. Hard to explain the situation – but it was college. Anyway, the police were convinced that I did it, or my friends staged it. As it so happens, someone did break in. The police’s first instincts arent always right.

    We’re all white and from reasonably privileged backgrounds and this was a number of years ago.

  • My roommate and I had a similar experience a few years ago. We are both white.

  • My apartment’s been robbed. Never accused of staging it but the cops could not have cared less and did near nothing to look into the situation. I’m white the cops were black. Were they being racist?

  • My optimistic side says this was professionalism/standard police work my cynical side calls BS. That is the unfortunately reality when decades of policing in all parts of the US have been shown to be less than color blind. Clearly the victim and his experiences made him feel the cops didn’t care or suspected that he was lying.

    I would hazard a guess some cops ask/hint about staging a crime while others don’t. Race likely plays a part in for some cops and doesn’t for others. Without being there and outright asking (or possibly calling them out on it) we are only going on our feelings, and you can see from earlier comments, those vary just as much as cops question/assumptions would likely vary from officer to officer.

  • Between (1) cheering the installation of spikes meant to drive away the destitute and (2) expressing skepticism that a cop would ever treat a black man differently, this has been a banner day so far for the Popville commentariat. All we need now is a post about a triple murder in Carver-Langston getting zero comments and we’ll have the trifecta.

    • Your comments do NOTHING to further the discussion on actual destitution and racism.

    • Oh, come on. Reasonable, thoughtful people could disagree on both posts. No one is “expressing skepticism that a cop would treat a black man differently.” Some people are expressing skepticism that these cops treated this black man differently on these particular circumstances. Your generalizations are no better than those of whom you criticize.

  • Could it be that the police are looking to not classify as a robbery, to keep crime statistics down? like how metro police say crime is down on metro even though increase in violence reported in the media.

  • Racism and discrimination does exist, folks. And yes people often are treated differently based on appearance, gender and location.

    • And also, salt is salty and fire is hot. No one is debating that racism, discrimination and gender inequality exist– people are just trying to make the point that it’s not the cause of every problem. The reason we can’t have a civilized discussion about discrimination is because you’re trying to prove something we all agree on instead of looking at the nuance of a situation objectively and discussing the myriad factors that contribute to each outcome. If all you have is a hammer, all you see are nails. Could the problem in this instance be that DC cops are overworked/trying to keep crime counts down/lazy? Just because two actors in a situation are different races does not automatically make one of them racist.

  • So race seems like a possibility, but this could be any number of things. Income is probably the biggest factor.
    .
    I’d be interested to know the extent to which fake break ins actually happen. If so that definitely makes it difficult for the police as well. Yet another way in which crime has the highest cost on low income and minority communities. The real enemy here is people out robbing and/or staging robberies. The police are doing the best they can.

  • The cops always make me feel like it’s my fault if I’ve been a victim of a crime and rarely offer solutions/help. That’s my experience in ward 4.

  • This is “Paul. ” After reading the comments posted to this OP (thank you to my Property Manager for posting it) I wanted to provide some clarity. The officer in question did not imply I staged the robbery, he outright said “One of two things happened, either you staged this or you left someone in your condo and allowed them to take your property.” Is it possible race was a factor, Yes. But I’m more so disgusted and taken aback because I was more than cooperative with the officer, persisted on having a visible hand print lifted from wall ( which I was later told could not be lifted because the surface was not smooth; the wall is smooth and painted with a flat paint) and requested a crime scene collection team the following day. Even still those meant to protect and serve more so assumed and judged in this situation. I don’t pay taxes as and work for the District to be treated as a second class citizen. White or black I would not condone this treatment of anyone, by any officer, white or black. If the officer were black I would still be as offended as I am now. My issue isn’t with black or white, it’s with blue. In the end citizens are sought after by officers to assist with solving crimes based on what we may see during a crime in progress. That mutual trust must be fostered. Speaking to me as a criminal before you have done any due diligence is not right. Asking question to rule me is one thing. Offering your clear but erroneous point of view is completely another.

    • +1,000,000,000,000

      To answer the OP’s question, we’ll finally get to the point where all crime victims are treated with respect when we can finally get to the point of owning up to the fact that America has a race problem. All the time. Every time. Maybe race is not the *only* factor at play, but it is a compounding factor all the time. And it must be nice to be able to take this clinical (and ahistorical) approach to an experience that one has never lived or made a honest effort to understand — but this country was and is based on a racial caste system. It is who we are. To our core. It affects and infects everything, so much so that what most folks regard as normalcy is itself just an entrenchment of white supremacy. I think we need to own up to these things. To realize that racists arent just the folks wearing bedsheets and burning crosses. To realize that no one is immune from the crippling legacy of race-consciousness, built around constructs that assault the humanity of folks on both sides of the dividing color line. To get to point where each of us confronts our own biases forthrightly and with some integrity for a change, so that enough progress is made on an individual level that we can see collective shift in race relations across the country.

  • interesting how some people usually get the benefit of the doubt but not others. i wonder if there’s a pattern here, maybe based on… nahhh can’t be, can it?

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