The Archetypal Atlanta Crime (4)

Posts 1, 2 and 3 from last August detailed the story of Michael and Whitney Lash, whose westside home was robbed by four rocket scientists posing as stranded motorists. They got away with Ms. Lash’s phone after shooting and seriously wounding her husband and waving a gun at her while she was carrying a baby. Shortly thereafter, police released a sketch of the shooter, who chose not to cover the piercing between his eyebrows while he committed attempted murder and armed robbery. He and his three pals were caught almost immediately, and today, the shooter, Brandon Jerome Smith, pled guilty and was sentenced to life plus 25, while his pals all got 18 year sentences, which means they’ll serve ten. Per WSB:

His attorney revealed in court that Smith was high on cocaine at the time of the incident.

Get out.

Tequan Sutton, Veshawn Smith and Quindaris Slade, ages 15 and 16, admitted they were involved in the home invasion.

They were charged as adults, but since they did not fire the shots, the judge gave them 18 years in prison, with 10 to serve.

Let’s tote up the total cost here. Smith is 19, which means he’ll spend approximately 50 years behind bars. Plus thirty for the other three, that’s eighty total years. According to the ACLU, it costs $18k/year to house a prisoner. So that’s $1,440,000 total for these four clowns, plus the costs of investigation, pretrial detention, etc., none of which are trivial. Call it a million and a half. Back last August, I guessed $1.3M, which I thought was cynical at the time. Let’s imagine what else we could do with that amount of money.

The Lashes said they are trying to put the incident behind them.

“It was just an emotional day, but we’re thankful that it’s over, and that they can move on with their lives, and we can move on and hope that they can come out of it as better men,” Whitney Lash said.

That’s kind of mean, but I don’t blame her.

The Archetypal Atlanta Crime (3)

Short update: unsurprisingly, the young man with the piercing between his eyes was captured not long after running from Michael and Whitney Lash’s home, where Michael Lash was shot and seriously wounded. Again, let’s look at that sketch:

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I speculated at the time that this guy would get caught quickly, and he did. Brandon Jerome Smith, welcome to the Big House. At least you got caught first, and get to dime out your pals for a reduced sentence. But let’s give kudos to the Atlanta Police for getting this guy quickly: the two grand you spent on the reward hotline was well worth it. We’ll leave you with the police chief’s words:

“He was 18, young and dumb… If I can be as crass as that,” said Chief Turner. “I mean where was he going to go?”

The arrest comes a couple of days after police released surveillance video and a sketch of one suspect in Monday’s home invasion on Sumter Street.

The Archetypal Atlanta Crime (2)

Previous post here.

Today, the AJC released a police sketch of one of the robbers in the big local crime story this week. Michael and Whitney Lash, homeowners in a gentrifying neighborhood, came home from vacation, whereupon four young men showed up and tried to rob them, shooting Mr. Lash and wounding him seriously, and waving a gun at Ms. Lash, who was holding the baby. At the time, I bemoaned how difficult this sort of thing is when it comes to writing crime fiction, because the criminals are usually really, really dumb. Let’s take a look at this guy:

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Look carefully. The guy has a piercing in the middle of his forehead. Now, I’m no criminal mastermind, but I’d like to think that if I were going to shoot people in the femur and wave a gun at a baby, I’d either wear a mask or take the dang thing out. I’m not trying to belittle the Lashes’ suffering, which is real and considerable, nor the structural economic and racial issues that underlie this sort of crime. But this? It just can’t be turned into fiction.

It also kills another potential way to write a story about the situation. We might, when writing a piece of fiction, have it be one of the spouses (note: fictional spouses, not the Lashes) hire some local thugs to kill the other for… insurance money, or one of the usual motivations in such cases. But the spouses would have bought a house and gone on vacation, which means they can breathe without being reminded to, which means neither of them would be stupid enough to hire this guy. Who, we should keep in mind, we the taxpayers of Georgia are going to spend at least half a million dollars dealing with, once we add in investigation, trial and incarceration.

So if this is going to become a piece of crime fiction, it needs to step back from the specifics and look at the general situation. How does our society keep managing to create people like this man? Why can’t we stop them before they shoot a guy? What, other than sheer stupidity, makes them do something like this? Keep in mind that gentrifier types pay for everything with cards, not cash, and that the typical return on stolen items to the thief is about ten percent. Robbing people is at best a minimum-wage job.

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?