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Jewish World Review June 20, 2003 / 20 Sivan, 5763

Tom Purcell

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Consumer Reports

Crime Etiquette in Washington, D.C. | While the rest of the nation is gloating over declining crime rates, residents of Washington, D.C. have little to celebrate about. Crime data released by the FBI last week shows that Washington has seen an overall increase in all crime and suffers more murders, per capita, than any American city.

People here are so used to crime, in fact, an etiquette has evolved between muggers and their victims. I learned about this while I walked with my friend and his wife from a D.C. pub to their home six blocks from the Hill.

"When you get mugged, there are certain rules you must follow," said my friend's wife, walking at a fast gait.

"WHEN I get mugged?" I said, trying to keep up with her.

"She's right," chimed in my friend. "Muggers are polite when you follow their instructions, but they get surly when you are rude."

"How can you be rude to a mugger?"

"Ignoring the mugger is considered rude," said my friend. "This will give him license to strike you with a blunt object."

"Huh?" I said.

"Making eye contact is also rude," said my friend's wife. "During the mugging transaction, it is only appropriate to look at the mugger's feet."

"I guess running would be out of the question?" I said.

"Running is very bad," said my friend. "This might affect the mugger's esteem, which is already suffering because he is probably out of work. This gives him little recourse but to chase you down and club you with a blunt object."

"OK," I said. "Then tell me exactly what I should do when we get mugged."

"You should always make an offering of some kind," said my friend's wife. "The mugger must walk away with something of perceived value."

"Like jewelry or a watch?" I said. My friends laughed.

"You don't wear jewelry or a watch in this city!" said my friend's wife. "No, you give up your wallet."

"But I need my wallet," I said. "It contains my license, credit cards and other vital information."

"You don't hand over your REAL wallet," said my friend, looking at his wife like I was an idiot. "You give up a dummy wallet. You carry your real wallet in your sock or your underwear."

"I keep my license and credit cards in my bra," said my friend's wife.

"What if the mugger asks to look in your sock?" I said.

"Muggers never do that," she continued. "They are very busy here. They're eager to complete their transaction, so they can move on to their next mugging."

"Can't you carry mace or a gun?" I said.

"Concealed guns aren't legal here," said my friend, laughing. "And if a mugger catches you reaching for the mace, that gives him license to --"

"Strike me with a blunt object," I said.

"Precisely," said my friend.

"Can't you call for a policeman?"

"Ha!" said my friend's wife. "The police here are more afraid of the criminals than we are! And who can blame them? They know what the law breakers are capable of doing."

"But I thought that beat cops and community crime-prevention programs were reducing crime in cities everywhere?" I said.

"That is true," said my friend's wife.

"And aren't crime statistics way down throughout the country?" I said. "In 2002, overall crime decreased by 0.2% across the country."

"Absolutely," said my friend.

"Then what are you so worried about?" I said.

"Well, while overall crime decreased across the country, it increased in Washington by nearly 1%. Did you know there are more than five times as many robberies now than there were in 1960?"

"There are?" I said.

"In 1960," she continued, "there were 100,000 robberies nation wide. Now there are more than 500,000!"

"I didn't know that," I said.

"Our neighborhood crime reports confirm it," said my friend. "People get mugged right in front of our house on a daily basis!"

As we approached their house, my friend's wife sprinted to the door. While she unlocked it, my friend scanned the bushes looking for any suspicious movement. We rushed inside and slammed the door shut.

"We made it," said my friend's wife.

"That was a close one!" said my friend.

"You two sure know how to prevent getting mugged in this city," I said. "How long have you lived here now?"

"We moved in last Friday," said my friend.

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© 2002, Tom Purcell