Aren’t we all victims, in the end?

Ah, crime in Southside. When I was but a wee Q-tip of 15, it was the reason I was given for not being allowed to hang out with my friends at the 5 Points fountain. It’s been the source of concern from family and friends at various points over the years. And now, it’s hurting my wallet.

Sadly, it’s not even the crime that’s hurting me the most, but the local media’s take on it. A perfect example is this week’s Black & White, and its cover stories about the rise of crime around Birmingham — specifically Ed Reynold’s piece on how violent crime is on the uptick around the 5 Points entertainment district (an area that happens to include the bar where I work). There’s one quote from that piece that really hits a number of levels for me:

“Here in Lakeview, it’s getting like Five Points South. If it wasn’t for valet parking, the nice restaurants would not exist at all,” said Cannon. “Now it’s personal. The thieves, when they see a golden opportunity walking down the street, they sit in the shadows and wait on some good victims. . . . Why break into the car when you’ve got them?”

What is the meaning of “getting like Five Points South,” I wonder? Is it that there are more and more homeless and vagrants in the Lakeview area? Not that I’ve seen. I would guess that he means the armed robberies and muggings are increasing over there — except that before Lakeview was the trendy place to be, it was close enough to enough shady areas that I was more cautious over there than I was in Southside proper. And last I checked, 5 Points has plenty of nice restaurants, including two of Frank Stitt’s.

Okay, here’s what’s really bothering me about the media’s spin on the crime. They report it, and it’s lurid and flashy and man I really hope they’re seeing an increase in circulation (because when stories you write help drive down the amount of business in a given area, you have to imagine that it’s going to affect how much advertising those businesses are going to send your way…). And it’s not that the facts are wrong, I think, or that they shouldn’t report on dangers to the public. I think that the general populace needs to be aware that there are douchebags with knives and guns waiting in the shadows for your money. I tell everyone I know that they need to be alert and aware when coming to see me at the bar, to keep their eyes open, to park and walk in well-lit areas, to travel in groups. Crime is a problem in Southside, and has been for the twenty years I’ve been coming down.

I’ve been a victim, too: every car I’ve ever owned has been broken into while in the 5 Points area. One was stolen (though later recovered). My apartment was broken into once, though I walked in on the middle of that and so nothing was lost except one unlucky window by the door. I’ve witnessed muggings.

I’m not unaffected, and I think that’s important to note, so that I don’t seem uninformed when I voice the rest of my opinion.

The police in Birmingham are woefully underpaid and understaffed. I wish that we were better protected, but I don’t blame that on the cops. All the cops that I’ve met in Southside are good folk, who work hard and aren’t compensated properly for it. Yes, the politicians need to pitch a hand there, and find some more funding. And yes, criminals tend to hit our area in waves — some years are better than others.

The newspapers like to point all this out, so you’ve probably heard it before. Maybe you’ve heard the “legitimate” business owners blame the problem on the bars, the tattoo parlors, the head shops (although if you’d get your heads out of your asses, you’d probably realize that you’re safer with all the “freaks” around than in a glitzy Republican strip mall, as the freaks are more apt to take care of their territory, in my experience). It’s the end of the civilized world as they know it, and they’re going to make sure everyone else hears.

Except, outside of bitching about politics, they offer no suggestions, other than an implicit suggestion to stay away from the bad areas. I know: it’s not the media’s responsibility to offer advise, just to report. But there’s a fine line between reporting and editorializing, and certain members of the B&W staff seem to have trouble recognizing that line (or perhaps they wouldn’t bother calling mislabeling their op-ed pieces as “journalism”; it’s entirely possible that I’m assuming too much). This is a really good example (read the first two paragraphs, specifically).

Okay, in a perfect world, we’d have all the cops we could ever want, and they’d be perfect, shining specimens of their career, protecting and serving without fail. They’d have access to every resource they could ever need or want. Streetlights would light up the night, destroying the shadows the bad guys use to stalk their prey. And the Justice League and the X-Men would swoop in for a beer at my bar between shifts. And I’d have a billion dollars instead of fifteen extra pounds and problems sleeping at night.

But it’s not a perfect world. I don’t say that the complaints should stop — only with raised voices will we ever be heard, and the politicians will stop giving themselves raises and instead direct the money where it could do the taxpayers some good. But while you’re bitching and moaning — and, yeah, hurting my business and taking money out of my pocket, and who will feed the kids, I ask? WHO? — try coming up with answers that will work in the world we’re stuck with. Like not parking in dark areas, or walking to your car alone dressed to the nines, a little drunk and maybe looking like you have something worth taking. Like being aware of your surroundings, traveling in groups, watching out for each other? Like not carrying your life’s savings, in case something does, gods forbid, happen to you? Like reporting suspicious activity to someone — if not a cop, then maybe your favorite bartender, who might care enough to do something?

No matter what you read, the crime in Birmingham — or anywhere, for that matter — is not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of our bar, or any of the other shops and restaurants and bars that are our neighbors. Nor is it bigger than you. Yes, it exists, and yes, you probably need to adjust your behavior to minimize your chance of becoming another statistic. No, that’s not fair.

Anyone that promised you a fair world, though, was either a fool or insane.

Currently listening to Fiona Apple’s wonderfully non-violent Criminal