Caffe Strada is one of my favorite cafes in Berkeley — not necessarily for its coffee abilities, but instead for the aesthetic of the establishment, with its canopy trees shading the individuals who occupy its patio. Deciding to get some work done before heading home, I sprawled out at a table, laying out all of the materials I need to study for my upcoming Chemistry 3B midterm.
Out of my periphery, all I noticed was black, and a lot of it. I looked up for a brief instant to see a hooded man running at me. I tried to get a look at him, bewildered at what on earth was going on, and before I knew it, his hand reached out and grabbed the right corner of my laptop screen. As he clenched on to it and headed for the street in a dash, the music I had playing over Bluetooth abruptly stopped, and I just sat there, unable to do anything, as I saw the four individuals pile into a car and drive off.
Soon, an individual came looking for me — I assumed he was security of some sort from his earpiece. He asked me to check if I could find the laptop’s location through Apple’s “Find My Mac” service. I was disheartened to see the location of my laptop: “Offline.” So again, I waited, staring at my phone screen.
All of a sudden, a green dot appeared, and I sprang up, looking for the security individual who spoke with me earlier. I showed him the location of my laptop — several blocks down College Avenue. He relayed the information using a walkie-talkie, and again, I sat there, waiting. The green dot showing that my device was “Online” turned gray once again, and my heart sank a little.
The security man came back, asking me specifics about my laptop — the make and any distinguishing feature. I mentioned the sky-blue color of the case as well as the prominent Colorado sticker I had on the front. Soon, the man told me they might have my laptop and that they had stopped some individuals on College Avenue. He said an officer will come pick me up and take me to where they are.
Soon, the officer arrived — a big burly man with kind eyes. We loaded up into his vehicle and headed down College Avenue. We approached the location where my tracker had previously stated my laptop was. The officer I’m in the car with explained that they they were going to do a lineup of the individuals they had stopped; they were wondering if I would be able to identify any of them that were involved.
Thoughts and recollections of stories of false imprisonment because of the inaccuracies of lineup identification cases were rushing to my consciousness. I was scared to point out someone based off the nonexistent hunch that I had. As the officer highlighted each individual with the floodlight sequentially down the line, each man squinting as the blinding light put him on show, all I could feel was something equivalent to sympathy.
Where did society let these people down? Was it the lack of access to an enriching and comprehensive education? Was it the way that welfare is established as a temporary solution? Was it a lack of role models and mentorship in their community? Was it lack of employment opportunities for young individuals?
Or it very well could possibly be that these people resorted to theft because they could get away with it. I came to the realization that I would never know these individuals’ exact motivations for why they did what they did. But there was something about society and how crime comes to be that festered in the back of my mind.
My big, burly officer escort then told me that we were going to take a look at the inside of the car they had stopped. When we arrived at the car, the back seat door was wide open. And there it was: my laptop, with its sky blue case and Colorado sticker pried off, sitting there idle in the back seat.
All in all, despite the traumatic nature of this event, I am not traumatized. I’m incredibly lucky to have managed to get my device back, and my sentiments go out to the individuals who could do nothing about some random person taking a laptop while they were using it. We read all of this advice online about how to avoid theft, such as by not leaving devices unattended, but the one true piece of advice I can offer is to remain vigilant and have trackers enabled on all of your devices. The split seconds when I was able to locate my computer changed the entire outcome of this story.
People don’t really acknowledge the things that went right in a event like this, but I want to extend the greatest gratitude for the diligence and helpfulness of the Berkeley Police Department, specifically the undercover cop who helped me from the moment of the theft, as well as my police escort.
But the one thing I take from this situation were the sentiments I contemplated during the lineup — what leads a normal individual to crime? What aspect of society has let them down? How can institutions break the systematic discrimination and oppression of populations from fulfilling economic opportunities? Crime is a public health issue, and this whole predicament has got me thinking about ways this issues and problems can be addressed to improve society in the future.
Rohini Dasan is a campus sophomore and a public health major.