About those "don't carry any cash" warnings

Realistic precautions for life in the inner city

A friend confided to me once that he never carried any cash when going to Mount Pleasant Street, because he was afraid of being robbed. (He's never been robbed. Nor have I, in 36 years here. But he's certain that our commercial area is crawling with would-be robbers.)

What good does that do? I asked. Does the possibility of losing twenty or thirty dollars trouble you that much? No, his theory is that, if you're not carrying cash, well, you won't be robbed. As if the street robbers have magical powers, and can know at a distance that you don't have any cash on you. The police, too, insist on this warning -- don't carry cash! -- without any explanation for "why not". Is this to save a few dollars, or to avoid being robbed in the first place?

It should be obvious that the guys planning to rob you have no way of knowing that you're not carrying any cash. They do try to pick on victims thought to be carrying cash, one reason why Latinos are favored victims these days. If they pick you as their target, you can be certain that they think you've got cash on you -- whether you do or not.

Here's the problem. Suppose you are confronted by a pack of robbers, demanding your cash. Sorry, you say, you don't have any cash on you. What do the young hoodlums (they're almost always teenagers) do then? Apologize for bothering you, tell you to have a nice day, and move on? Not very likely, that. A more likely outcome is that the robbers figure that you're lying to them, and decide to take aggressive action to force you to cooperate. No way are they going to take your word for it, and leave you alone.

One group of researchers undertook a study of "active robbers" -- not convicts in jail, but men on the street actively plying this vicious trade -- and reported this:

"Few robbers expressed a specific interest in hurting their victims. But almost all of them indicated a willingness to do so if they thought it was necessary to induce cooperation. . . . Most of the offenders we spoke to said that they typically responded to any indication of victim resistance with severe violence; a few even admitted to involvement in the killing of one or more recalcitrant victims." Robbers on Robbery: Prevention and the Offender, Richard Wright ; Scott H. Decker, Department of Justice Document No. 193800 (2002).

Well, so if you claim that you don't have any cash, what happens next? Here's an example (Washington Post, Robbers Stalk Hispanic Immigrants, Seeing Ideal Prey, October 26, 2007):

[Victor] Hernandez, 59, a legal immigrant from Honduras who works at two restaurants on Rockville Pike, was attacked within blocks of his home shortly after midnight Aug. 23. The teenagers approached and asked him for money. He said he had none and kept walking.

"They ganged up on me, throwing punches," he said in an interview. Curled up on the ground, Hernandez was kicked repeatedly in the face and lost consciousness. The teenagers made off with about $160 . . ."

Now I ask you: wouldn't it be worth fifty or a hundred dollars to avoid being hammered to the ground and "kicked repeatedly in the face"? And isn't that just what you're asking for if you carry no cash?

People accustomed to life in the inner city know better. One writer had this to say: "We used to live in an iffy neighborhood where the hold-up minimum was twenty dollars. I made sure I left the house with enough cash to buy off potential killers."

"Hold-up minimum"? Yes, that's the minimum amount that is expected to satisfy a robber, and persuade him to go away without harming you.

That was Florida, 2009, which must be a low-rent area, because word of mouth here is that the minimum is sixty dollars, not twenty. Again, you don't want these young toughs thinking that you're holding out on them, lying to them, trying to avoid giving up the cash you've got hidden in a back pocket.

As for "enough cash to buy off potential killers" -- this is not an exaggeration. On September 17, 2005, a Mount Pleasant resident, Gregory Shipe, was shot dead as he walked his dog on Irving Street. "A robbery gone bad," is the assumption. What happened? Did he resist? Did he have no cash on him? Would he be alive today if he had been able to hand over enough cash that his juvenile attackers would have gone away, content with their loot? How else, other than the victim's failing to hand over the desired cash, does a robbery turn into a homicide?

How much is it worth to you to stay alive?

The District of Columbia Metropolitan Police continue to issue advice which I consider suicidally stupid: "Runners and Joggers -- Don't wear jewelry or carry cash." Jewelry, sure. (Who wears jewelry while running?) But "don't carry cash" -- well, why not? Do the police think that your carrying cash in a pocket or a pouch will somehow magnetically attract robbers to you? How are the robbers to know that you've got cash, and therefore decide to attack? How are robbers to know in advance that you don't have any cash on you?

The robbers, obviously, do not know whether you've got cash or not. So the only point to not carrying cash is to avoid losing it to a robber, but that comes at the expense of risking a vicious assault.

Better to carry that "hold-up minimum" along, on the off chance that you will be attacked, and money which might come in handy, should you find yourself needing some cash, e.g., for an emergency cab ride back home. At worst, you lose that sum of cash. But just possibly, you avoid becoming the victim of a brutal beating.

Worth every penny, I say.

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Page created March 30, 2010