Mind your own business.

A boy sits at the back of a pizza shop. It’s lunch time and the cavernous place is almost empty. He is sobbing, his blue eyes wet with fear. He is a short lad with sandy coloured hair and wears a hat, army fatigues and a soft backpack. I sit down to have a chat with him, hoping to allay his fear, to gain his confidence and offer some maternal consolation. He is only 13 years old and has wagged school to hang out with his 15-year-old sister who he rarely sees. The cops have been called as his mate nicked the tip jar of coins from the front counter of the pizza shop. His mate ran off  with the money but he was caught standing there, an accessory to the crime. He claims he has done nothing wrong. Maybe that’s so, maybe it isn’t. The cops are on their way. I ask for his mother’s phone number. He says he doesn’t know the number because he is not good at remembering those sorts of things. He just wants to be with his sister as she has his Myki travel card. He continues to sob.

I meet two policemen outside. They have arrived in full combat gear, with padded vests, ready to deal with an armed gunman or terrorist. They say they will be taking him to the station. I ask it I could sit with the boy while they interview him at the pizza shop, as his mother won’t be home. Their response is aggressive. While the words  ‘Fuck off Lady’ are not uttered directly, their comments about being an independent third party were delivered with some malevolence.

This little bloke is perhaps a petty thief and a school avoider. A year ago he was in primary school. His voice hasn’t broken. The police will frighten the living daylights out of him, but something tells me this will make matters worse. Something tells me that his treatment today will not be fair or just.

Wall art, Hosier Lane, Melbourne
Wall art, Hosier Lane, Melbourne

36 thoughts on “Mind your own business.”

  1. I don’t think the police should treat innocent bystanders with such a gruff manner. Maybe they need more Public Relations training. It’s not a good look and alienates each other.

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  2. Wow, it’s hard beyond instinctive compassion for the boy to know what to think or say. At 13 no matter what he has or hasn’t been up to, he’s still a kid. Difficult to fathom the police attitude, I’m sure they’ve seen it all before but that’s their job. At least you were there to provide a few moments of care, and kind words.

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    1. I have a feeling that its not the job of the police to treat minors, children, in a heavy handed manner at all. Lets hope that when he got back to the station, he may have met some other types of police- those who deal with children.

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  3. He was 13, surely not beyond redemption. I guess it’s a fine line for the police of wanting to scare him out of that behaviour but compassion and understanding surely have to be there as well? Maybe your kind attentions today will make him think in the future.

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  4. this is so cool – first – your words and story match the wall art – the conflicting feels and energy is in sync. well done with that. and I like the way you gave us a feel for this boy – with objectivity and social insight – and sadly, they will probably come down so hard on him – that it does aggravate his issues more – hmmmm

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  5. This is a bad story – bad on the part of the cops – I’m sorry to hear about it as it could so easily only make things worse for the boy. So many situations today just show that for some cops pure power has overtaken public service and law enforcement in their heads.

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    1. The police seemed heavy handed but, who knows, maybe he received better treatment at the station- maybe there was someone to look after him since he is an under age lad and has committed such a petty offence. One can only hope. The incident tore at my heart.

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  6. Oh so sadly I deal with such heart wrenching kids a few times a week. Fortunately we are still lucky to be ‘hicksville’ enough that the police are on side and welcome caring approaches. More of a concern is that they really do need those suits. My SIL is a local cop and 95% cases are domestic violence, drug abuse and welfare of youth. Trying to stay positive is sometimes testing.

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    1. I know they need those suits- but when called to a pizza shop to see one 13 year old petty thief? A child? And why not have ( if need be in a big heavy suit) a counsellor cop as well? Sounds like your police are a caring bunch and I can only hope that when the little bloke arrived at the police station, things went ok for him.

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  7. A very thought provoking piece, Francesca. Only a few days ago I was observing children behaving wildly with little parental supervision and wondered how it is we have gotten to this place? I despair for their future, and in turn for our future as a society. We pass on what we know, and if we don’t learn kindness, compassion and restraint from our parents, it is very hard to learn it later in life, whether we are lost boys or policemen.

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  8. It is indeed. When I wrote this post, I was wondering about my intervening role and have made a decision – to intervene more often. Our national mindset has always been ‘ to mind your own business’ or to stay out of things that don’t concern you. I now feel this approach is misguided. I think we should lend a hand when we can to total strangers who are troubled, especially young ones- in the hope that 30 minutes of care offered by me or someone else – may have a tiny effect.
    For every lost boy, grown up thug, or wayward teenager, there are a thousand others from caring environments. Think about the amazing turnaround learnt later in life by Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan in prison. We must always hope!

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    1. I suspect, Rach, that you have met a few troubled young year 7s like this in your role as a secondary teacher. This makes you more inclined to reach out to try and help. This old teacher too!

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  9. Francesca, I worry that a bad experience in these circumstances may lead this young man to go down ‘the wrong path’ whereas if it had been a positive experience he may take another, who knows?

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  10. I do think the way the police dress should match the call-out. If it’s a terrorism attack, go dressed in all the protective and combative gear possible but if there’s a 13-year old accomplice to the theft of a tip jar that probably contained a few dirty coins, then just wear the traditional blues. Or doesn’t the blue uniform exist any more? It does seem that so many minor and insignificant events are blown out of all proportion while major and serious and shocking crimes are given so much more leniency. There was no need to take the poor boy down to the police station – a cautioning would have been sufficient xx

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