Too much value placed on cell phones
In the wake of two daytime, armed robberies on campus, an air of anxiety has replaced the smog of apathy that typically hangs over UH.
Police said the victims of the two reported incidents were held at gunpoint until they handed their cell phones to the gunmen.
A fear that random threats of violence could happen to anyone at anytime has permeated the atmosphere on campus and many students have expressed contempt toward University police and anxiety in response to the circumstances of the crimes, which they regard as extraordinary.
To many, the crimes’ curious similarities indicate a pressing need for increased surveillance and an extension of UH Police power to create a more secure campus; however, sober analysis shows that these incidents signal no significant boost in crime and were hardly out of the ordinary.
First, the statistics: according to the 2008 UHDPS Annual Report, the department saw nine instances of robbery in 2008, 15 in 2007 and only seven in 2006.
The Department has yet to release its report for 2009, but the standard based on the years for which we do have statistics suggests two robberies in two months, as the incidents happened, is no cause for concern.
What’s more, these stats aren’t even comparable to those at other urban campuses.
The University of Chicago, a campus located in the notoriously crime-ridden neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago, Ill., reported 294 cases of robbery in its university police’s jurisdiction.
Second, the crimes appear extraordinary because they took place in the afternoon, in broad daylight. Plus, both aggressors allegedly held their victims at gunpoint.
A crime is a crime is a crime, no matter the time of day.
Had the incidents occurred at night, the crime would nonetheless remain. The only difference is people would have been less likely to care, as most people are on campus in the daytime and leave before nightfall.
Thus, this claim of abnormality does not reflect a sound concern for some perceived irregularity of the crime but rather alarm that such a crime could happen to whoever is making the claim, provided that person has a cell phone (and it’s probable most people on campus do).
As for the gun aspect of the crimes, there actually is a bizarre element here.
The surprise is not, though, that guns were used by the aggressors: robberies involving firearms are not aberrations. Instead, it is that in both cases, the suspects appeared concerned with only the phones.
One of the victims’ car keys were also stolen, but the report says nothing about a stolen car. According to the reports, there was no money, purse or wallet stolen in either incident; nothing effectively stolen save a set of keys and the phones.
It is astonishing, then, that the suspects apparently held their victims at gunpoint solely for cell phones.
This has generated a haze of worry.
The extraordinary aspect of the incidents — and of the response they have provoked — lies in the obsession with what was stolen, evident in all involved, even the victims.
One of the victims offered the particular kind of cell phone stolen (an iPhone 3G), as if that model were so rare that particular detail might help distinguish the suspect and so help police’s efforts to identify him. And as this victim was, according to the report, asked by the suspect if he could use the victim’s iPhone, the victim must have had the phone on display despite not talking on it.
The other victim, who did not specify his phone’s model, was reportedly going to meet the suspect because of the phone that was stolen — the two had arranged via Craigslist a deal for the phone.
The thought that a student might be randomly accosted and mugged at some point on the way to a daytime class is undoubtedly unnerving. But in this case, the fear is rooted not in considerations of the self and its security but in a surprising, selfless craze for the safety of something outside standard, reasonable concerns involving self-preservation, an invented self: the (cell ph)one.
The cell phone has replaced the self as our main safety concern, and in this instance, replaced cash as the muggers’ target.
Until we can reconnect with ourselves and define each other in terms outside the language of SMS and mobile technology, we will continue to see selfless crimes such as these.
Kalani Man is a history senior and may be reached at [email protected]