Transferring the Goods | No doubt the most difficult
aspect of pulling off an armed robbery involves managing the
transfer of goods. The difficulty inheres in the fact that
offenders must keep victims under strict control while, at
the same time, attempting to make sure that they have gotten
everything worth taking. What is more, all of this must be
accomplished as quickly as possible. The longer the stick-up
lasts, the more risk offenders run of being discovered by
police or passers-by.
The armed robbers we talked to used two different strategies
to manage the transfer of goods. The first involved simply
ordering victims to hand over their possessions.
I tell [my victims], "Man, if you don't want to die,
give me your money! If you want to survive, give me your
money! I'm not bullshitting!" So he will either go
in his back pocket and give me the wallet or the woman will
give me her purse. (aka Tony Brown)
By making victims responsible for the transfer of goods,
the offenders are able to devote their undivided attention
to watching for signs of danger.
I rather for [victims] to give [their valuables] to me
because I have to be alert. If they reach for something,
I'll have to shoot them. (aka K-Money)
There is, however, one serious drawback to giving victims
responsibility for the transfer; it is difficult to know whether
they really have turned over all of their valuables. Recognizing
this, many of the offenders employed tough talk and a fierce
demeanor to discourage victims from attempting to shortchange
You say, "Is that everything?" You can kinda
tell if they lyin' sometimes: "That's all I got, man,
that's all!" You'll say, "You're lyin', man, you
lyin'!" and just make them think that you're getting
pissed because he's lying to you. So basically you got this
gun [pointed] at they head, so sometimes it be like, "Okay,
I got some more." (aka Damon Jones)
A few of them went so far as to rough up their victims, especially
those who appeared confused or hesitant, to reinforce the
message that holding something back would be a risky proposition.
Well, if [the victim] hesitates like that, undecided,
you get a little aggressive and you push 'em. Let them know
you mean business. I might take [the] pistol and crack their
head with it. "Come on with that money and quit bullcrapping
or else you gonna get into some real trouble!" Normally
when they see you mean that kind of business they...come
on out with it. (aka Burle)
But most of the offenders who allowed victims to hand over
their own possessions simply accepted what was offered and
made good their escape. As one explained: "You just got
to be like, 'Well, it's cool right here what I got.' [W]hen
you get too greedy, that's when [bad] stuff starts to happen."
The second strategy used by the armed robbers to accomplish
the transfer of goods involved taking the victims' possessions
from them without waiting for what was offered.
I get [the victim's money] because everybody not gonna
give you all they got. They gonna find some kind of way
to keep from giving it all. (aka Richard L. Brown)
A number of the offenders who preferred this strategy were
reluctant to let victims empty their own pockets for fear
that they were carrying a concealed weapon.
I don't let nobody give me nothing. Cause if you let somebody
go in they pockets, they could pull out a gun, they could
pull out anything. You make sure they are where you can
see their hands at all times. (aka Cooper)
To outsiders, these offenders may appear to be greatly overestimating
the risk of encountering an armed victim. Such a perspective,
however, betrays a respectable, middle-class upbringing. In
the desperate inner-city neighborhoods in which almost all
of the armed robbers reside, and in which many of them ply
their trade, weapons are a ubiquitous feature of everyday
As already noted, all of the crime commission strategies
adopted by the offenders are intended, at least in part, to
minimize the possibility of victim resistance. Generally speaking,
these strategies work very well. Nevertheless, almost all
of the armed robbers we talked to said that they occasionally
encountered victims who steadfastly refused to comply with
[O]n the parking lot, if you grab somebody and say, "This
is a robbery, don't make it a murder!" I've had it
happen that [the victim just says], "Well, you got
to kill me then." (aka Richard L. Brown)
Faced with a recalcitrant victim, most of the offenders responded
with severe, but non-lethal, violence in the hope of convincing
the person to cooperate. Often this violence involved smacking
or beating the victim about the head with a pistol.
It's happened [that some of my victims initially refuse
to hand over their money, but] you would be surprised how
cooperative a person will be once he been smashed across
the face with a 357 Magnum. (aka Tony Wright)
Occasionally, however, a robbery involved shooting the victim
in the leg or some other spot unlikely to prove fatal.
[If the person refuses to do what I say] most of the time
I just grab my pistol, take the clip out and just slap 'em.
If I see [the victim] trying to get tough, then sometimes
I just straight out have to shoot somebody, just shoot 'em.
I ain't never shot nobody in the head or nothing, nowhere
that I know would kill 'em, just shoot them in they leg.
Just to let them know that I'm for real [and that they should]
just come up off the stuff. (aka Cooper)
While a majority of the armed robbers preferred to use non-lethal
violence to subdue resistant victims, several of them admitted
to having been involved in fatal encounters in the past. One
of the female offenders, for instance, described how she had
watched from the car while one of her male companions shot
and killed an uncooperative robbery victim.
We was in the car and, I didn't get out this time, one
of the dudes got out. The [victim], he wasn't gonna let
nobody rob him: "Nigger, you got to kill me! You got
to kill me!" And that's what happened to him. Just
shot him in the head. It was like, God!, I had never seen
that. When [my accomplice] shot him, it wasn't like he was
rushing to get away. He shot him, walked back to the car,
put the gun back up under the seat and just, you know, we
watched [the victim] when he fell, blood was coming out
of his mouth, he was shaking or something. (aka Ne-Ne)
Such incidents are rare; few of the offenders entered into
armed robberies intending to kill or seriously injure their
prey. Indeed, some admitted that they probably would abandon
an intended offense rather than use deadly force to subdue
an uncooperative victim.
I really ain't gonna shoot nobody. I think a lot of people
are like that. I wouldn't shoot nobody myself; if they gave
me too much of a problem, I might just take off. (aka Mike
That said, it must be noted that armed robbers typically
are acting under intense emotional pressure to generate some
fast cash by any means necessary in an interactional environment
shot through with uncertainty and danger. Is it any wonder
that the slightest hint of victim resistance may provoke some
of them to respond with potentially deadly force? As one observed:
"When you're doing stuff like this, you just real edgy;
you'll pull the trigger at anything, at the first thing that
Making an Escape | Once offenders have accomplished
the transfer of goods, it only remains for them to make their
getaway. Doing that, however, is more difficult than it might
appear. Up to this point, the offenders have managed to keep
victims in check by creating a convincing illusion of impending
death. But the maintenance of that illusion becomes increasingly
more difficult as the time comes for offenders to make good
their escape. How can they continue to control victims who
are becoming physically more distant from them?
In broad terms, the offenders can effect a getaway in one
of two ways; they can leave the scene themselves or they can
stay put and force the victim to flee. Other things being
equal, most of them preferred to be the ones to depart. Before
doing so, however, they had to make sure that the victim would
not attempt to follow them or to raise the alarm. A majority
of the offenders responded to this need by using verbal threats
designed to extend the illusion of impending death just long
enough for them to escape unobserved.
I done left people in gangways and alleys and I've told
them, "If you come out of this alley, I'm gonna hurt
you. Just give me 5 or 10 minutes to get away. If you come
out of this alley in 3 or 4 minutes, I'm gonna shoot the
shit out of you!" (aka Bennie Simmons)
A few offenders, however, attempted to prolong this illusion
indefinitely by threatening to kill their victims if they
ever mentioned the stick-up to anyone.
I done actually took [the victim's] ID and told them,
"If you call the police, I got your address and everything.
I know where you stay at and, if you call the police, I'm
gonna come back and kill you!" (aka Melvin Walker)
Some of the armed robbers were uncomfortable relying on verbal
threats to dissuade their prey from pursuing them. Instead,
they took steps to make it difficult or impossible for victims
to leave the crime scene by tying them up or incapacitating
them through injury.
[I hit my victims before I escape so as to] give them
less time to call for the police. Especially if it's somebody
else's neighborhood [and] we don't know how to get out.
You hit them with a bat just to slow his pace. If you hit
him in the leg with a bat, he can't walk for a minute; he
gonna be limping, gonna try to limp to a payphone. By then
it be 15 or 20 minutes, we be hitting the highway and on
our way back to the southside where our neighborhood is.
(aka Antwon Wright)
While most of the offenders wanted to be the first to leave
the crime scene, a number of them preferred to order the victim
to flee instead. This allowed the offenders to depart in a
calm, leisurely manner, thereby reducing the chances of drawing
attention to themselves.
I try not to have to run away. A very important thing
that I have learned is that when you run away, too many
things can happen running away. Police could just be cruising
by and see you running down the street. I just prefer to
be able to walk away, which is one of the reasons why I
tend, rather than to make an exit, I tell the victim to
walk and don't look back: "Walk away, and walk fast!"
When they walk, I can make my exit walking. (aka Slick Going)
What is more, forcing the victim to leave first permitted
the offenders to escape without worrying about being attacked
from behind--a crucial consideration for those unwilling or
unable to incapacitate their prey prior to departure.
[Afterward,] I will tell [the victim] to run. You wouldn't
just get the stuff and run because he may have a gun and
shoot you while you are turning around running or something
like that. (aka Damon Jones)
Beyond such instrumental concerns, several of the armed robbers
indicated that they forced the victim to flee for expressive
reasons as well; it demonstrated their continuing ability
to dominate and control the situation. The clearest example
of this involved an offender who routinely taunted his victims
by ordering them to leave the scene in humiliating circumstances:
"I like laughing at what I do, like, I told...one dude
to take off his clothes. I just do a whole bunch of stuff.
Sometimes I'll make a dude crawl away. I'll tell him to crawl
all the way up the street. And I'll sit there in the alley
watching him crawl and crack up laughing."
In short, the active armed robbers we interviewed typically
compel the cooperation of intended victims through the creation
of a convincing illusion of impending death. They create this
illusion by catching would-be victims off guard, and then
using tough talk, a fierce demeanor, and the display of a
deadly weapon to scare them into a state of unquestioning
compliance. The goal is to maintain the illusion for as long
as possible without having to make good on the threat. This
is easier said than done. Armed robbery is an interactive
event and, for any number of reasons, victims may fail to
behave in the expected fashion. When this happens, the offenders
usually respond with severe, but non-lethal, violence, relying
on brute force to bring victims' behavior back into line with
their expectations. Very few of them want to kill their victims,
although some clearly are prepared to resort to deadly force
if need be.
Katz, Jack. 1988. Seductions of Crime. New York: Basic Books.
Luckenbill, David. 1981. "Generating Compliance: The
Case of Robbery." Urban Life 10:25-46.
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