The blank black and criminality


Having been burgled soon after I moved into a new house in Melville last year, I am appreciative of (dependent upon?) the services of a security company. They rush over when the alarm goes off and I’m not there, and they say they’d rush over in the middle of the night if I was being robbed or murdered and managed to hit the red button in time. Of course, I pay them for this service, so my appreciation is that of a customer and not a charity case.

But I’m beginning to wonder about the efficacy of Beagle Watch, the company in question. Something called Beagle Watch Intel Hub sends out informative WhatsApp messages to clients. 

One graphic explained, or sort-of explained, how criminals gain access to one’s property. This was very interesting: in 65% percent of cases in which they gained access despite the existence of an electric fence, the fence was “dysfunctional” (I thought that only applied to humans; objects “malfunction”) or are not switched on. At least that’s what I think the number means.

A more recent communiqué from Beagle was even more confusing. Headed “Suspect Identification Tips”, it told the eager student of crime what “to look out for and remember when describing a suspicious-looking person” (I insert the hyphen, out of the goodness of my non-criminal heart).

Now presumably the image that goes with this infographic is meant to guide the crime victim seeking to identify a perpetrator with a convenient visual outline of what to look for in a criminal, but it may be just too generic to be of much use.

First, the person in the picture is black. The words don’t say so (they just indicate “skin tone” as something to note), but the guy in the picture is definitely black, even if that’s represented as two-toned brown. So, clearly, criminals are always black. Got it.

But he has no facial features. He’s just a blank as far as the face goes — a blank black. What does that mean? Do criminals get their faces removed, as they do their fingerprints? Most confusing.

The figure in the image looks pretty much like any young urban black man. (In the rural areas, as we all know, young black men wear animal skins.) Thus, the potential criminal-identifier has to look more carefully for clues.

The man is wearing a T-shirt labelled “branded clothing” — a sure sign of criminality. Anyone in branded clothing should be arrested immediately, pre-emptively.

He’s wearing long shorts with those extra cargo pockets, an obvious give-away (unless he’s a DIY guy wearing such pants to keep screws and nails handy).

This pictured criminal also has tattoos, it says, though they aren’t visible in the image, and he is said to possess “jewellery”, though all I can see is a watch. Must be a Breitling.

But he does have scars on his left leg. That’s a big help, particularly if he’s wearing cargo shorts so that the scars are visible.

South African criminals are so obliging.

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Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

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