The last thing we expected when we got to our car following an Atlanta Hawks basketball game was a broken window.
My son and I parked on a surface lot on Marietta Street downtown, which is not where we usually park. But we were running late and traffic was terrible, so we pulled into the lot and walked the rest of the way.
As we approached the car, a group of people were looking at it. That’s when we noticed the glass on the pavement. The back window was shattered.
I was baffled. I am careful not to leave valuables in my car. My first thought was some bozo broke it just to be a jerk.
Then it dawned on me. I worked out that morning. In our rush to get to the arena for the game and frustrated by the standstill traffic, I forgot about the gym bag on the back seat.
Some wretch risked going to jail over dirty workout clothes and an old pair of sneakers. That’s what I thought as I called the police. I told my son the clothes and shoes were probably nearby if he wanted to look for them. Frustrated, the criminal would have dropped them rather than get caught walking around with a stolen bag.
My other thought was it was my fault. I know better than to leave a bag on the back seat of my car. People steal stuff, and if you present them with an opportunity, nine times out of 10, they are going to take it. Whoever stole my bag thought they were getting a computer to hock or something better.
Granted, this wasn’t in Buckhead, but crime has been a major topic of conversation for about two years now. Feb. 28, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Police Chief Erica Shields addressed an over-capacity crowd at the Atlanta History Center about public safety.
Crime is up in Zone 2, which includes Buckhead. The statistics are online, and there have been year-to-date increases in aggravated assaults, car thefts and thefts, mostly from cars. Those numbers were up the year prior as well.
We live around the corner from one of the hot spots, the intersection of West Paces Ferry Road and Northside Parkway. In December, armed men robbed three people at one of the gas stations on that corner. We are inundated weekly with reports of car break-ins and suspicious persons thanks to social media sites like NextDoor.com.
This stuff is scary, but most of the time we feel safe. So safe, in fact, our daughter and her friends regularly walk to the West Paces Ferry shopping center and the Chick-fil-A.
Our feelings are different from some. After I gave a talk on Buckhead history recently, the first question from the audience was about gang activity. The questioner said there were 5,000 gang members in Buckhead. There are 90,000 people here, so that would be statistically significant — more than 5% of Buckhead is in a gang.
I’m not sure that is correct, but people are genuinely terrified.
The rise in crime is reflected throughout Atlanta. Many of those communities have been trying to draw attention to the danger for decades. Now that it has reached Buckhead, it’s front-page news.
That is not to minimize the reality. I was mugged when I was a teenager in New York City. On a parents’ weekend from school, I snuck out of our hotel late at night and went to a local park to smoke. It was dumb, and I was lucky that the hoodlums just took my wallet and cigarettes. But it scarred me for life and makes me hyper-aware to this day.
When I was a kid, we didn’t lock the doors to our house at night. We often left the keys in the cars in the driveway. Then one was stolen. We started locking our doors.
Leaving a bag on the back seat, or leaving the keys in the car, is asking for trouble. I don’t want to excuse criminal behavior. Stealing is wrong. Breaking into a car or a house is wrong. And sometimes, despite our best efforts, crime happens even when people have done all of the right things.
Statistically speaking, though, a lot of it is preventable. It’s as easy as moving a gym bag to the trunk before heading to the game.