On my way to school just a few days ago I witnessed a smash and grab raid on a jewellers in Norwich.
There were four lads, looking between 19 and 25 in the uniform of the eponymous ‘Hoodie’ bashing at the windows of a dealer in expensive timepieces with ball-peen hammers. In my outrage I thought: stupid gits, any half-assed criminal knows you need nothing less than a Hilti gun to crack armoured glass. Maybe they hadn’t been able to nick one.
They took much too long over the job. Long enough for people to come out of shops to see what was happening. Long enough for many to get out their phones and cameras and take photos and for a crowd to swell waiting in anticipation for the dénouement coming soon on YouTube.
It was all quite surreal. When the first smack on the glass got my attention, I looked up and thought I was seeing a glazier or some workmen up the road using the lazy way to remove a window. How odd that it was a shop with brightly lit displays and people nearby were screaming and shouting. When I realised it wasn’t some kind of theatrical intervention (which I’m always rather expectant of) I was dumbfounded for a moment. I was carrying a parcel of my photos and a rolled poster which I put down while I fumbled for the phone in my case.
By the time I’d got it out and powered the phone up and navigated to the camera, the gang seemed to have realised their task was futile. The staff inside the shop was taking out the trays of trinkets quicker than the glass was giving way. The crazed glass had begun to sag down like a plastic belly but it held its strength like chainmail cloth. One, two, three, in turn each lad tried to walk away but were held back at the boundary of the stage they had created in their common purposelessness. When at last a small hole opened up in a window, the most determined lad reached in his hand and grasped at the last remaining bauble. That was their cue to run away.
The imperative to make a decision crossed my mind; let them go or follow them, bearing in mind they might be armed with knives or even guns. I didn’t want to die from an infected gut shot. I knew they’d get away but as they turned the corner, I and some other people found ourselves taken up and running after them.
Being over 40 and overweight, I had no illusions about who was going to win this foot race. We ran down a cobbled alley that over the centuries must have echoed countless times with shouts to apprehend thieves. Their car was parked outside a cinema. They all piled in and drove off at speed.
The car came at me. It was frozen in a high-definition, slow-motion film of the potentially intersecting trajectories of a pedestrian and automobile.
I crossed the road. Something hit the panic synapse off. Now the car was beside me. I thought - slowing the car down again - as I turned around; at this moment I could do something heroic like lob my case into the windscreen but reason said it would be futile or cause a crash. So far nobody had been threatened or hurt. I chose to be the grass they could pass through rather than a tree they would have to cut down. Released from my synaptic hold, the car shot across the pedestrian crossing and merged into the traffic.
I had the car registration and a glimpse of their faces in my mind so I rang the police. Pacing with the adrenalin now, their switchboard was lighting up like street decorations hung at Christmas. I was put on hold and then cut off. Thirty seconds later a patrol car drove by the other way (having passed by them) and I and the other witnesses released our dam of information gathered in the last two minutes. Then I went to school. I had an appointment with a professor and I was five minutes late.
Around noon I had go to the stationers and it took me past the shop again. The shutters were down, the crime scene tape was up and the radio and press were there so I felt it was a professional courtesy to give my story to the radio reporter and then, as much I could remember, give exactly the same account to the press.
A detective rang me and came with another officer to my study in the school. There I related as much detail as I could. The script of the movie in my head ran to pages and pages. Faced with blank paper my memory of specific things was actually fragmentary. The visual narrative was disjointed, time-shifted. Where their shirts blue or grey? Which one had the one with the logos? The stripes on one, were they thick or thin? Were there four men or five? I’m not really sure. Reason wanted to spread logic filler into the gaps but integrity insisted that the story was told incomplete. Maybe the other people knew the rest but the detective said other people hadn't seen what I had. When I signed the statement, over two hours had passed and the narrative computer ran in my brain into the future. I can see where barristers might try to disassemble it to discredit my story and how conversely, the evidence for a magnitude of charges must lie with me. Truth is subjective I am afraid.
A photo has been published. As evidence it is fuzzy, furtive and indistinct. It makes a lie of the value of constant surveillance. Most of the witnesses' photos were seized as evidence. I doubt there's something outstanding amongst them to interest the media after the trial, if they catch them. On seeing one published I’m glad that was after I gave my statement as it validated the accuracy of my memory. I expect whomever gave their photo to the local paper felt pretty good about seeing it in print and they probably got £50 for it whereas I know a good set of a crime in progress can net ten grand from the red tops.
I had no energy left for a dissection of Pope and his definitions of creativity. I reflected on was I a witness to a crime or perhaps it was just my cue in the theatre of Karma? I was presented with a context framed by societal constructs on; violence, property, race and gender (amongst others) and I had realized today several artifacts in textural and spoken narrative media and improvised a kind of performance. These are small gestures perhaps as a artist but HM Govt. is likely to commission their exhibition at a Crown Court soon.
After being caught two months later in a random stop and found without insurance and a number of hammers in the boot of the car, three of the five men who had taken part were sentenced to between two years and three years for a long series of jewellery shop robberies.