Opinion

The uncertain criminal mind | Editorial

Last week provided one of the greatest contrast of outcomes due to pro-active citizens I’ve ever seen.

On Tuesday, a man tried to steal Laura Bingle’s handbag out of her car in the Maple Valley Fred Meyer parking lot. Bingle could have simply called for help and not tried to stop him herself. Instead, she gave chase and managed to get other citizens involved in the pursuit. People driving by helped cut the man off on the road, and one of them, Ron Read, got out of his car and tackled the man before he could flee into the woods.

All of Bingle’s belongings were recovered. No one was hurt. Even the Sheriff’s Office spokesperson admitted, on the record, that she would have chased after him herself.

It was a happy ending for everyone — except the thief.

The next day, a similar incident occurred. A man attempted to steal a car from a woman in Seattle. Like Bingle, the woman also tried to stop the man.

Unlike the thief, however, the man, Ian L. Stawicki, who had already shot and killed three people, pulled out a gun and shot her before he drove away in her car. Eventually he killed himself.

The similarities and stark differences in these incidents didn’t occur to me until I read a very thoughtful comment someone posted on the story I wrote about Bingle, which I feel is worth quoting here.

“While this story’s outcome was so rewarding we never know who we are dealing with in these situations,” Judy Williams posted to the Reporter website.

After reading it, I realized how things might have turned out for the worse in Bingle’s case. The thief might have been armed and, like it is now believed about Stawicki, mentally unstable. He could have either shot her as she chased after him or as the helpful motorist who jumped out of his truck on his way home from work went to tackle him. From there, it could have gotten worse.

At the same time, the situation in Seattle could have mirrored that of Maple Valley.

But it didn’t. And we really never know who we’re dealing with until it’s too late to change course. When a person is in the process of being victimized, they can either choose to let it happen or fight back.

In certain jobs I worked at, we were taught that if we were robbed we were not to try and stop the robber ourselves, but wait until they left before calling the police. The logic was that trying to stop them would only lead to greater confrontation and a higher possibility for violence.

Around that time, a bank teller in Seattle was fired for chasing down a would-be bank robber, which had the same rules. I can’t help but wonder if someone contemplating a bank robbery wouldn’t be more likely to choose a bank like that instead of one where the tellers are permitted to take some initiative.

This leaves us with a very troubling conundrum. Do we as a society encourage people to stand up for themselves and fight back when they're the victim of a non-violent crime, even if there is a potential risk of being hurt? Or do we consider it too great a risk?

At what point are people putting themselves in unnecessary danger and should leave it to the police, or, the opposite, enabling criminals who know that when they break the law no one will oppose them out of fear for their own bodily safety?

Whatever the answer may be, it’s not something that the government or law enforcement should take an official stance on. Promoting either side would most likely lead to one extreme or the other.

It would lead to the type of environment where people are murdered in broad daylight and others simply passively watch with indifference, or one in which undisciplined posses and vigilantes take the law into their own hands like Patrick Drum, who just this Sunday was arrested for allegedly killing two convicted sex offenders.

I think it’s a decision everyone has to make for themselves as individuals when that moments happens to them.

But ultimately it’s a choice we all have about how we respond, and with that choice comes responsibility and consequences.

There’s always the risk that the choice is the wrong one.

 

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Aug 27 edition online now. Browse the archives.