Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jumping To Conclusions

Last night at around 10:50 or so Jobina and I were watching TV in our living room. Actually I was blogging and she was watching TV. Suddenly, we heard knocking on our back door. Jobina screamed "There's a man outside our window!" Our drapes were open and we could a teenage boy in the dim light outside. He was a dark skinned guy with short hair, a peach fuzz moustache, and was wearing an oversized hoodie. I started to get up to answer the door but Jobina told me in no uncertain terms that this would be a bad idea! I thought to myself, maybe she's right. I shouted to the boy through our 1970's cheap and thin windows "Hello?"

"Could I borrow a shovel?" he yelled back, "I'm stuck." Smelling a rat I asked him back "Where's your car?" He pointed and said "Around the corner." I told him that we had a shovel in our front yard he could borrow." I watched him go around our house, to the front and grab the shovel. He went to to the back again and we saw him break into a run when he got out into the back alley. Hmmm . . .

"Not sure if we'll get that shovel back," said Jobina quietly. I was secretly thinking the same thing. Jobina and I were a little on edge after that. Jobina told me that one of our neighbors had had something similar happen to them and within a day or two they had been robbed. Had this guy been casing out our house? I'm a pretty optimistic person, but even I had to admit this was possible. And there was his story about being stuck. It hasn't snowed for several days! We closed our drapes and waited.

After 40 minutes the guy still hadn't come back. I decided to walk around the block and see if I could see anything. Jobina wasn't happy about this, but she let me go. I told her I should be back in about 10 minutes. I was going to tell her what to do if I didn't return, but thought that she probably couldn't handle it. I went around the block and started to approach the general area when the guy had pointed. As I got closer I could see the back of a car, parked in the middle of the road, lights on and engine running. I could make out somone in the back smoking. I didn't get too close because I didn't want them to see me. Wow, maybe they really were casing our house (or others on the block)! I crept back to the house. A much relieved Jobina opened the door and I explained the situation. I told her that maybe we should call the police - suspicious behavior after all. First though I wanted to get a license plate number. Jobina warned me not to get myself killed!

I went back out but as I was approaching the car (still there) I saw a van come up behind it. Instead of bolting the car just stayed right where it was. The van actually bumped the car, spun it's tires for a moment, and then a man got out and when to talk to the people in the car. Hmmm . . maybe the car had been stuck I thought. I went back to our house and went out to our back yard. Peering over the fence I could hear the unmistakable sound of spinning tires. Doh, somebody was stuck there! I told Jobina sheepishly that it appeared the car was really stuck and that I walked out to investigate. Sure enough the poor guys had got stuck by taking the corner too sharply and getting hung up on a snow bank. The person in the van was just trying to help them. They hadn't returned my shovel because they were trying to use it every now and then to free the car. I tried to help them but eventually they gave up and called a tow truck.

Can you see the errors in judgement that Jobina and I made? A boy knocks at our back door and we start jumping to conclusions. The boys age and darker skin, combined with the time of night and the way he came to our back door (through our yard) made us jumpy and predisposed us to think negatively. When Jobina told me the story of someone being cased and then robbed we started to come up with a hypothesis about what was happening. We then saw everything through our hypothesis - we thought the boy ran because he was making a quick getaway - actually it was because it was an extremely cold night and he was totally underdressed! When I saw the parked car, I was primed to see it as a get-a-way car of some kind and so that's what I saw. Jobina's initial fear spread to me. When I asked her if she was imaginging terrible things happening to me after I first left, she said yes. So many cognitive errors happened. I felt quite ashamed of myself afterwards, yet it is difficult to suspend my perception biases long enough to find out the truth.

Would you have come up with a different interpretation of events?


Elayne said...

I would have done the same thing minus go out looking for these guys!
It's OK to be cautious. No, it's smart to be cautious. He should have used your front door to properly "declare" himself I think.
I don't think you really have to feel too bad about what you did.
Having said that, we do need to check our biases occasionally and really see the person beyond the skin, clothes, behaviour etc.

Anonymous said...

Why would you be ashamed?? You did the smart thing by playing it safe! Imagine if you had believed him and been wrong....

Most profiling ( racial, age, etc ) is their for a reason so don't let "political correctness" get in the way of common sense. Yes there are alot of exceptions and you don't want to be spreading gossip, rumors, etc without facts BUT your safety has priority over being politically correct.

Their you go, now you don't have to feel bad about the incident! :)

Keith F.

Mark said...

Thanks for the votes of confidence folks, but I still don't feel "OK" about what happened. I want to act out of a "innocent until proven guilty" mindset and I definitely wasn't that night. Understandable? Yes. Admirable? Not really.