Announcing the Crime | By announcing a stick-up, armed
robbers commit themselves irrevocably to the offense. Any
semblance of normality has been shattered; from this point
onward, the victim will act and react in the knowledge that
a robbery is being committed. The offenders we interviewed
saw this as the "make or break" moment. The challenge
for them was "to dramatize with unarguable clarity that
the situation ha[d] suddenly and irreversibly been transformed
into a crime" (Katz, 1988:176). In effecting this transformation,
they seek to establish dominance over their intended prey,
thereby placing themselves in a position to dictate the terms
of the unfolding interaction.
When I first come up on [my victims], I might scare them,
but then I calm them down. It's a control thing. If you
can get a person to listen to you, you can get them to do
just about anything...That's the way the world is made.
(aka Tony Wright)
Most of the offenders said that they typically open their
armed robberies with a demand that the would-be victim stop
and listen to them.
I say [to the victim], "Look here, hey, just hold
up right where you at! Don't move! Don't say nothing!"
(aka James Minor)
They often couple this demand with an unambiguous declaration
of their predatory intentions.
[I tell my victims], "It's a robbery! Don't nobody
move!" (aka John Lee)
That declaration, in turn, usually is backed by a warning
about the dire consequences of failing to do as they instruct.
[I say to the victim], "This is a robbery, don't
make it a murder! It's a robbery, don't make it a murder!"
(aka Wallie Cleaver)
All of the above pronouncements are intended to "soften
up" victims; to inform them that they are about to be
robbed and to convince them that they are not in a position
Having seized initial control of the interaction, offenders
then must let victims know what is expected of them. As one
armed robber reminded us: "You have to talk to victims
to get them to cooperate...They don't know what to do, whether
to lay down, jump over the counter, dance, or whatever."
This information typically is communicated to victims in the
form of short, sharp orders laced with profanity and, often,
[I say to victims], "Hey motherfucker, give me your
shit! Move slow and take everything out of your pockets!"
(aka James Love)
[I grab my victims and say], "Take it off girl! Nigger,
come up off of it!" (aka Libbie Jones)
The "expressive economy" with which the offenders
issue instructions can in part be accounted for by a desire
to keep victims off balance by demonstrating an ominous insensitivity
to their precarious emotional state (see Katz, 1988:177).
Clearly, the swearing and racial putdowns help to reinforce
Almost all of the offenders typically used a gun to announce
their stick-ups. They recognized that displaying a firearm
usually obviated the need to do much talking. One put it this
way: "A gun kinda speaks for itself." Most of them
believed that "big, ugly guns" such as 9MMs or 45s
were the best weapons for inducing cooperation.
[The 9MM] got that look about it like it gonna kill you.
It talk for itself: "I'm gonna kill you." Looking
at a 9 pointed at you, that's what goes through your head:
"He gonna kill me if I don't give him this money."
In practice, however, many of the armed robbers actually
carried somewhat smaller firearms because they were more easily
concealed and simpler to handle.
I like the 32 because it's like a 38, small, easy and
accessible. And it will knock [the victim] down if you have
to use it. (aka Bob Jones)
A few offenders maintained that very small calibre pistols
(e.g., 22s, 25s) made poor robbery weapons because many potential
victims were not afraid of them.
[With] 22s or 25s people gonna be like, "Man, he
using this little gun. I ain't worried." A 22 is real
little, they gonna be, "Man, that ain't gonna do nothing
but hurt me. Give me a little sting." (aka Syco)
That said, the majority of respondents felt that even the
smallest handguns were big enough to intimidate most people.
As one observed: "A person's gonna fear any kind of gun
you put in their face. So it don't matter [what you use].
If it's a gun, it's gonna put fear in you."
The dilemma faced by offenders in relying on a gun to induce
fear is that the strategy might work too well. Jack Katz (1988)
has noted that the display of a firearm can easily be misinterpreted
by victims as the precursor to an offense far more serious
than robbery (e.g., rape, kidnapping, murder). Offenders are
keen to avoid such misinterpretations because they can stun
victims into a state of incomprehension or convince them that
determined resistance represents their only chance of survival.
When armed offenders warn victims -- "This is a robbery,
don't make it a murder!" -- they are doing more than
issuing a credible death threat. Paradoxically, they also
are seeking to reassure the victims that submission will not
put their lives in jeopardy.
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