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"Thieves in Low Places"

Jim Hightower, progressive activist and author, who, like Molly Ivins, writes in Texan, wrote a book two years ago called, THIEVES IN HIGH PLACES. He documents what's been going on, at Enron and Halliburton and high places in the government, and gives explanations which the main-stream media pussy-foot around: The giant corporate scandals are about the theft of the pension funds of the workers, and the investments of the investors. The war in Iraq is about the intended theft of oil and the ongoing theft of the "reconstruction" contracts. The planned destruction of Social Security is not about "privatization" and "ownership," but rather about the theft of a huge pot of money which the thieves have had their eyes on for decades, which pot should belong to workers, not Wall Street brokers.

This month, I've decided to rant about matters closer to home, and let those concerned about all that theft in high places fend without me for a little while. This is about thieves in low places, namely the homes and backyards of people right here in Albuquerque's South Valley.

March 30, 2005. On the way home from my early morning therapeutic walk, I decided to gather up the weeds I had pulled the day before, but when I went for the wheelbarrow, I found that it was gone. Our neighbor Debbie's dogs had raised Cain the night before. We went out at the time, but found no one, but now we assume that was probably when someone stole the wheelbarrow. I called Debbie and told her.

I was furious, and Adela was badly depressed. I called the Sheriff's Department, my third call about petty theft in less than a month. Someone kept opening the shed door in the back yard -- once he wheeled the rototiller all the way to the back fence, but couldn't get it over the six-foot high barrier. The next time he broke the shed door itself to get past the lock I had put on it. The same deputy who had seen all that came to our place again, because of the wheelbarrow. He didn't think I was bothering him for nothing. "No," he said. "Call us every time."

We started through our day. Adela's son, Armando, came visiting. Debbie's mother, Marcie, who lives across the street and several doors up, called. Debbie had told her about the wheelbarrow. Marcie said she saw two guys with a wheelbarrow and big bags of cans, down at Allsup's. She had seen them before -- "they go up and down Isleta Boulevard, stealing things and then trying to sell them to me."

Armando and I took off for Allsup's, Armando driving. No sign of anybody with a wheelbarrow there. We poked around side streets, up one a ways and then back, out another, and there they were in the parking lot of Price Right, selling cans to a fellow in charge of a huge semi-truck -- and there was my wheelbarrow. We drove up, and the guy wanted to know if Armando was interested in buying a wheelbarrow. "Sure. How much?"

"Seven dollars."

"I'm interested. Wait here. I'll be right back." We drove around the parking lot to the other side of the store. Armando called C-O-P-S on his cell phone, and then I talked. I gave the description of the guy with the wheelbarrow, and the name of the officer who had come earlier that same morning. The dispatcher said officers would be there soon, and we were not to confront the thieves. I recognized the silent one -- he had asked for help previously and I had given him money.

Finally deputies came, four of them, in four cars, and more came later. By that time the ringleader had disappeared. Armando found him in the store. Three officers were ready to storm the store, when Armando cried out, "No -- here he comes!" -- and the fellow walked right up to us, cops and all. It was almost as if he wanted to get caught.

The deputies wanted ID from the two thieves -- that took quite a while. Meanwhile they told us we could take the wheelbarrow, so we came home for the truck. When we got back the silent one was gone, and the leader was in handcuffs. They wanted him, for an outstanding felony warrant. Later they said he was wanted for parole violations, and as a parting shot later, they told me he was wanted for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against a police officer.

So, Armando brought the wheelbarrow back, and I talked longer with the deputy who had come to the house that morning. He told me that 90% of his job is luck. I asked how we can convince this felon to stay out of our yard. The officer told me they were adding a trespass restraint on his record -- if I ever see him in my yard, he goes to jail.

April 18, 2005. We were watching TV in the evening in the living room, when I saw someone pass by the window in front of my desk. I went to the back and found the back security door standing open. I went out and through the open gate, and found the side security door standing open. I went to it and found a man standing in the stairway, leading to the basement.

I was furious and ordered him out. He said he was looking for his friend. I ordered him to go, shouting, "Go!" He asked to use the phone -- I yelled, "No! Go! Go now!" He reluctantly went out onto Isleta Boulevard. I recognized him as someone I had given money to when he asked for it, until I figured out he had become a full-time professional beggar, working the gas station customers down at Dead Man's Curve, before the recent construction project changed Isleta Boulevard. I hadn't seen him for several years.

I went in the house and downstairs. The radio/CD player had been moved from the bench to the floor. I went into the bedroom and saw three drawers of the desk standing open.

I called 9-1-1 and reported an intrusion, possibly a theft. A policewoman came very promptly and began to take her report, touring the basement. Another deputy came, male, and he spotted three of my hand power tools in the window well beside the driveway. The thief had taken them from the basement, and was coming back for more when I spotted him.

Suddenly the lady cop ran to her car, reacting to a radio message. She called back, "I think they got him!" In a few minutes she was back with the guy handcuffed in the back seat of her car. I had given the description: "slight, medium height, dark sunken eyes, wearing a big black trench coat, too heavy for this time of year." Two more police, with cars, came. They were the ones who had caught the thief on the ditch bank, carrying the coat. There was nothing in his pockets. He has a record a mile long, but no outstanding warrant. But he'll be in jail a while -- this is a felony.

I gave a written report of some length -- the police seemed so pleased to have caught one. I told them it was the second in two weeks. We'll get this place cleaned up yet.

Here's an old-fashioned math problem, for modern kids -- we used to call them "written problems": If a householder assists the police in catching a burglar every two weeks, how many months later will the sociological record-keepers be able to report a decline in the burglary rate?

I was saddened by my keen awareness that this young fellow was out of his head, almost certainly on some drug, and that our laws are such that drug addiction has been made into a crime that leads to other crimes of the kind that infuriate householders, instead of a medical condition that needs community attention. It became very clear that the thieves in high places have created the thieves in low places.

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Copyright © 2005 Harry Willson

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