Posted by: piratecoasting | 18 November 2009


I was extremely surprised this morning when I sent an email to one of my colleagues in the DC office and she replied saying, hey, I saw something on the news about an incident at the TJ Maxx in Venice.  What?  Huh?  What could possibly have happened in VENICE that would be major enough to make the news in DC?  DC has REAL news.   Things happen there, important things.  DC has international politics and urban blight.  DC has Barack Obama.  Venice has nice weather and costume contests at the Senior Friendship Center.

Turns out, last night two armed gunmen wearing masks entered our local TJ Maxx, intending to rob the store.  Instead, they managed to take nearly a dozen employees and customers hostage.  No one was killed or seriously injured, thank God, but it took four hours to get all of the hostages out of the store.  And despite the presence of SWAT teams and police galore, the gunmen managed to escape.

This is highly unusual, to say the least.   This is not a high-crime area.   What crime there is tends to be property crimes, not violent ones.  Teenagers stealing things out of unlocked cars, that sort of thing.  Last weekend, just for laughs, I read the police blotter in the Venice newspaper, which consisted of six items.  Four were DUI-related, and one was a charge of falsely reporting a crime.

This is quite different from the crime we experienced living in DC.   In DC, we heard gunshots regularly, at least once a week.  (My husband got quite good at determining the caliber of the weapon based on the pitch of the noise.)  Even in our nice neighborhood, I was constantly reading reports about people being viciously mugged or just plain beaten as they walked to and from the Metro.  Our house was broken into (by someone who wasn’t afraid of rottweilers, I assume) and our housemate’s car was badly vandalized.  Bad children from the nearby elementary school would stand in the alley and throw rocks at our windows, or, even worse, at our dog.  We had two lawnmowers and a garden hose stolen, and my mother, who lived a few blocks away from us, had all of the Christmas decorations stolen from her yard.   All of my friends had at least an item or two stolen from their porches: strollers, bikes, toys, potted plants, UPS packages.  Most shockingly, one night a pedestrian at the corner of our block shot a driver in the head as the driver blew past the stop sign.  He died immediately, but the car rolled for an additional two blocks before crashing into someone’s yard.  And oh, I almost forgot!  There was one FANTASTIC afternoon when my son’s school was put on lockdown because a fugitive shot a cop in the face right in front of the school.  There is no joy like getting a phone call telling you that your kindergartner is locked into his school under police guard, and you aren’t allowed within a 2 block radius of the school, and you don’t have any idea when, or even if, you’ll be able to retrieve your child.

I was used to it – I was a city girl, you know.  I always looked twice before getting out of my car, to make sure no one was lurking in the shadows.  I walked quickly and confidently, with my purse tucked snugly under my arm, and I never blocked my senses by wearing earphones.  I tried not to walk alone at night, and always insisted that someone drive over to pick me up at the station if I was coming home on the Metro after dark.  I had a big scary-looking dog with a big scary-sounding bark.  I never EVER left the house or car unlocked.  I was used to it, I accepted it, and I wasn’t going to let it get me down… and yet oh, the relief when I moved here.  No more gunshots in the dark.  I can take a walk at twilight and encounter only smiling retired couples walking together, enjoying the cool of the evening.  The post office, convenience stores and carry-outs just have counters, with no bullet-proof glass walls.  Admittedly, I need to keep a sharp eye out for wildlife — some of those turtles are MEAN — and I haven’t stopped locking the car, but the absence of violent crime here allowed me to let out a breath I’d been holding for years.

So this TJ Maxx incident surprises me.  It doesn’t shock me, because I know that the economy in this area was struggling even before the recession hit, and a lot of people are getting desperate.  I suspect that the gunmen are not professional armed robbers; if they were, they would have gotten the money and gotten out, I think, instead of bungling it into a drawn-out hostage situation.  It sounds like they didn’t even get the money, even though they did succeed in getting away.  It doesn’t scare me particularly (and nothing is going to keep me away from that TJ Maxx, not when I’ve found $10 designer jeans there) but I want it to remain a fluke.  I might laugh at the lack of real news in the newspaper, but honestly, it’s really nice to have the front page articles be about the menace of raccoons who scavenge from trash cans at the picnic pavilion at the beach.


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