The Archetypal Atlanta Crime (1)

This story is making its way through my outraged FB feed today.

According to Atlanta Police, Michael Lash, his wife Whitney, their 2-year-old son and infant daughter had just returned to their home on Sumter Street from a vacation when four men knocked on their front door.

“They pretended as if their vehicle had broken down and they were requesting a car jack of some sort from our victim at which point they brandished a weapon,” said Ofc. Ralph Woolfolk. The men asked Lash to borrow a car jack and then tried to force their way inside.

As Lash tried to close the door, the men shot him and entered the house. Lash was shot twice in the leg, one of the shots shattered his femur, according to relatives.

Everyone survived and the “men” got away, though Lash will clearly have a long road to recovery.

WSB, as usual, adds as much bathos as they can muster:

When Lash’s wife, Whitney, heard the shots, she grabbed their infant daughter and ran toward the back door. The home invaders fired two shots at her, but missed.

She was able to escape out the back door and run to a nearby home for help.

“He followed her and caught up with her at the gate and she turned around and said, ‘Please don’t shoot me, I have a little baby.’”

This caused the robber to only demand her cellphone. Police are looking for these “men”, by which they mean black guys in their teens and early twenties: here is the AJC’s take on it.

When Lash tried to close the door, he was shot by the teen in yellow, who had a short afro and tattoos and piercings on his face, Lash was able to tell witnesses and police… At least two neighbors called 911 to report the shooting Sunday evening, with one neighbor telling the operator she thought the suspects were about 15 or 16 years old.

Because people who commit crimes like this are two standard deviations below the mean on any measure of intelligence, as demonstrated by their committing crimes while having facial tattoos and piercings, the police will find them, soon, and I’ll do a follow-up then, and link to the mug shots of the four people the state of Georgia will now spend millions of dollars trying, convicting and incarcerating. The Lashes set up an online donation fund for their medical expenses.

This sort of crime is almost no longer news in Atlanta: only the lurid details make it stand out. I’ve written about the intersection of gentrification and crime many times: here, and here are examples. I’ll just quote myself:

Fundamentally, the conflict in these gentrifying neighborhoods is a class conflict: (white) people move in, with what to the locals is a lot of money, and they fix up the house they bought and start having cute little white kids. And while the white gentrifiers are usually superficially pleasant to their impoverished black neighbors, they’re generally not going to invite them in or expect to be invited in. And like gentrifiers everywhere, they have absurdly unrealistic expectations about how the neighborhood should change the minute they move in: the police, who have been regarded as a hostile occupying force for decades and who largely leave the poor to their own devices, are suddenly expected to keep the neighborhood as safe as the affluent district the gentrifiers moved from. And they certainly won’t send their kids to the local public schools, nor let them run wild with the other neighborhood kids.

There are cultural conflicts (life among functional urban poor blacks is usually centered around a strong Christian church; educated white people are militantly secular), economic conflicts, conflicts of taste and decorum (poor people tend to play music much more loudly in public spaces), etc. Just something as simple as the habit of gentrifiers of fencing in their front yard rather than just the back is a physical manifestation of a cultural conflict.

In no way am I attempting to blame the Lashes here: I’m sure they thought the house was a bargain, fixed it up, and were generally pleasant to their neighbors. This crime is an archetype because it’s so emblematic of Atlanta in the early 21st century. The motive of the robbers will turn out to be nothing more difficult to articulate than “they had stuff”, and for this Mr. Lash will suffer greatly, Ms. Lash had the scare of her life, and the taxpayers will spend millions incarcerating people with facial tattoos. Incarceration costs $21k per prisoner per year in Georgia; a university student would cost about two-thirds as much. Say these guys go down for 15 years on average: that’s about $1.3M, not counting the costs of trial and investigation. There has to be a better way, but nobody has the faintest idea what it is, other than spending WAY more money to intervene in the lives of the adolescent poor, somehow persuade them not to reproduce, and find them jobs. But that’s just not going to happen in Georgia, and not merely because of racism.

Of course, this is a crime fiction blog, so if this were to become a story, what would need to happen? The home invaders v. gentrifiers situation is so trite that it would be hard to do well. What if we have our couple—our fictional couple, that is, not the Lashes—being involved with these robbers somehow? Maybe they tried to help one of the young men; or maybe one of the couple tried to hire the men to kill their spouse, but the job was botched. How might we structure a story around that?

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  1. The Archetypal Atlanta Crime (2) | Julian Cage
  2. The Archetypal Atlanta Crime (3) | Julian Cage
  3. The Archetypal Atlanta Crime (4) | Julian Cage

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