It’s 18,669 and counting. No, that’s not the number of times I’ve complained about the last seven sitting governments that I’ve covered in the media (although it could be close to that) — it’s something else entirely, and something worth thinking about.
For the last 18,669 consecutive days and nights, I have not been the victim of any form of violent crime. I have not been robbed at knifepoint or been the subject of a home invasion. I have not been punched in the face outside a downtown bar, or had someone jab me with a potentially infected needle.
Now, things have happened. Someone skilfully detached, and fled with, a whole window-box filled with flowers from the front of the house several years ago, and another fine upstanding citizen climbed into my unlocked car and left with a handful of personal items. So, property crimes, yes.
But, knock on wood, I haven’t been assaulted or had a shed torched.
And it’s not from living in
some blissful universe chemically detached from reality, either. I think about crime often. I’m almost pathological about checking to see that the doors are locked before I go to bed — it’s easier for me to check three times than to try and fall asleep wondering if I’ve actually checked them. Heck, I’m even sitting here wondering if I’m not tempting fate by pointing out my own good fortune.
But sometimes, I’ve gotten up in the morning and found that the house has somehow accidently spent the night unlocked, and even then, hasn’t been pillaged.
This isn’t to discount the legitimate feelings of those who have had precious items stolen or worse — certainly, there is crime in the province, especially in St. John’s, and it’s fair to say that the capital has a growing drug problem and the associated crime issues that grow with it.
And perhaps that string of 18,669 consecutive nights will end tonight; there is sufficient randomness in the land of crimes and opportunity that anything can happen any time. It’s no different than the daily lottery we enter every day by doing something as simple as getting behind the wheel of a car to drive somewhere.
But the thing that I find truly surprising is that, if I were basing my relative good fortune against what the media brings to my door every day, I would feel very lucky indeed.
Perhaps it’s because the twin pillars of the media are weather and crime: no matter what kind of news week you’re having — whether it’s summer or winter or spring (fall is always busy enough in news-land anyway) — you can count on crime and weather to fill the most crucial of spots.
Look at television news: CBC and NTV have virtually no established and consistent “beats” for journalists, areas where they cover just one issue, day in and day out — except for courts, politics and the weather.
Newspapers? Well, the Thursday Telegram had four crime stories in its first 12 pages; Wednesday had two in the same number of pages, and that was a light day.
I covered the crime beat for a while and there were a couple things that became apparent right away. One was that there was a nucleus of “regulars” getting charged. (That still happens — if someone is charged with a crime, and then also with five or six breaches of their release conditions, chances are they aren’t newbies.)
The other thing was that, in a city like our city, the vast majority of violent crimes occur between people who already know each other. It almost suggests that you’re more likely to get punched in the face by your brother or your spouse than you are by anyone else.
And that, frankly, can happen no matter how many police officers there are and how long court sentences become.
Sure, this is not the Newfoundland of the ’60s or even the ’80s — report a break-and-enter and you’ll feel like you’re taking a number at a garage and waiting to be served during the annual first-snowfall snowtire free-for-all.
But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: because crime and punishment are so consistently available in the news — and have become such consistent bandwagons for politicians to attach themselves to — we have a disproportionate sense of just how dangerous our world actually is.
Go through court dockets across this country and you’ll see that drunk-driving cases still outnumber almost everything else combined — clearly not everyone has gotten it through their thick heads yet just how dangerous driving drunk can be.
I’ve got plenty of reasons to stay awake worrying at night. We all do. But on at least one front, I’ve got 18,669 reasons not to.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached
by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.