by Verity Justice-Warrior
New research says up to 70% of British cyclists have taken steps in their everyday lives to guard against bike theft. From chains and padlocks to D-locks and even removing handlebars as a precaution – the idea that the onus is on us is writ large. Part of our new “Bad things shouldn’t happen, so why should I act like they do?” season, inspired by the Guardian.
Scrolling through my Amazon recommended product list this morning, I came across a picture of a large, D-shaped piece of metal, intertwined with metal cable. It was being recommended as the perfect product for bicycle owners. The idea – according to Kryptonite Bike Locks, the company behind the D-lock and Kryptoflex Cable Lock – is that “it is a convenient, comfortable, effective way for cyclists to defend their bikes, if the unthinkable should happen when they are shopping or working”.
Convenient? That a product intended as a precaution to warn off property theft can be described as “convenient and comfortable” crystallises just how blasé we have become about the idea that constant vigilance is a routine part of a person’s reality. In 2016, it is quite normal to come across products like this. Mortis locks. Burglar alarms. Car alarms. Wallet chains. Anti-theft iPhone apps. Anything to remind me to step up, open my wallet and pay the price for “safety” as a non-thief in a thief’s world.
The idea that I need reminding to take extra precautions to try to protect myself is laughable. People do this every day, in hundreds of tiny ways. For most of us, it is automatic. When you’ve been looked at, talked to, followed, and made to feel afraid for your safety by muggers in the street literally a million times a day, responses such as crossing the street, doubling back, avoiding darker routes, clenching your fists, walking faster, and countless others, happen instinctively. It still doesn’t stop us from being harassed, assaulted and mugged.
The reality of how heavily the threat of bike theft hangs over cyclist’s daily lives was laid bare today in new data from the government that shows, shockingly, nearly 400,000 bikes are stolen the UK PER YEAR. That’s a nearly 800 MILLION bikes stolen since they were invented in 1817. Think about that. A recent poll of 1000 people revealed that over 50% of British cyclists have experienced some form of bike theft, and only just over 2% were ever recovered.
These are shocking statistics. But the looming cloud of theft doesn’t just hang over your everyday cyclist, even more dispiriting is the finding that nearly 70% of cars in Britain are fitted with alarms, and over 99% of all British houses now have doors that lock. Property theft doesn’t only impact people’s lives in the moment of an assault or an incident of bike theft. It affects us every day, influencing our behaviour, our travel plans and our peace of mind.
The poll listed 10 different strategies people use to try to avoid theft, from locking their doors or windows to installing a burglar alarm, not putting valuables on display in their parked cars, or even avoiding dark alleys late at night. A quarter of the people polled had changed their travel route and 28% had prepared to use an everyday object, such as keys or an umbrella, as a weapon in the event of a mugging.
What is worse is that society encourages people to do these things. It regularly reinforces the message that it is human’s responsibility to keep themselves safe, not thieves’ responsibility not to mug or assault them. We see it in newspaper articles that emphasise a theft victim’s lack of secure door locks, implying the attack might never have happened if only they had taken more precautions. We see it in celebrity “warnings” to young people to avoid leaving their phones and wallets unattended. Because, the assumption goes, theft is a shadowy, inevitable force out there waiting for silly people who walk into its path, not the deliberate act of an individual criminal. We see it in police campaigns that tell people to avoid “becoming a victim of theft” by doing things that are legal, instead of telling people not to become thieves by breaking the law.
This International Day for the Elimination of Stealing, we must confront the idea that it is acceptable, normal even, to live in a world where people disrupt their lives to avoid theft and violence on a daily basis. We must recognise the absurdity and horror of a person posting a review on the Amazon page for the “bike lock” that reads: “Got 2 of these after having my brand new bike stolen, (the thieves snipped through the security cable)”
Yes, I of course understand, but don’t wish to mention, that statistics on people taking precautions have no bearing on the crime rate whatsoever. I know, but will never volunteer, that encouraging precautions is NOT the same as condoning criminal behaviour. I’m educated enough to realise, but will never admit (even to myself), that the marketing of crime-prevention devices is nothing but a predictable, inevitable side-effect of a corporate-media machine (of which I am a willing and well-rewarded part) designed to turn everyone in the world into blind consumers, paralysed with fear and festering on their own petty grievances as a fenced off minority. Hating their neighbours on one side, and being terrified of them on the other.
Some people might even question my role in all this. What sort of person, you might ask, writes columns about the scary pro-theft culture we live in, and then complains when people buy anti-theft devices? You may even wonder, “Is this column ACTUALLY just a back-handed advert for the Kryptonite bike locks?” After all, I write about bike theft statistics a LOT, and now I’m describing a anti-bike theft device, telling you where it’s sold and quoting a good review.
These are the kinds of complex analyses that have no place in modern newspapers, or any purveyors of simplified, angry identity politics. It is not my job to be intellectual, it is my job to be angry, and I for one won’t stop writing hysterical, outraged blogs until the world has changed to fit my incredibly simplistic and short-sighted world view.
As a bike owner it is my demand, nay my natural and unshakeable right, to barrel along through life oblivious to the fact I may come to harm at the hands of the criminal minority. That I should have to worry about my bike being stolen is an act of oppression, and one that won’t change unless everyone shares this column on Facebook and ups this ailing publications ad revenues.
It is 2016, why are we still living in a world in which people have to conceive of, and even prepare for, the statistically very unlikely event that they will be the victim of a crime? Why don’t we finally start teaching our children that they shouldn’t steal things or hit people? When will YOU, the vast swathe of humanity I have decided to blame, finally take responsibility for the problems I invent so I have something to write about?
Verity Justice-Warrior is an oppressed, upper-middle class Oxbridge graduate, who finds everyday life offensive so you don’t have to. Her latest book “My problems: Why won’t YOU solve them?” didn’t sell well but is quoted on tumblr quite a lot. She believes strongly in identity politics because “they’re easier”, and is a four-time winner of the prestigious Tortured Logic Prize at the annual Clickbait Awards.