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The Scourge of Vandalism

June 5, 2011

Vandals Sacking Rome by Heinrich LeutemannIn 455 A.D., an East Germanic tribe called the Vandals sacked Rome.  While they were probably no more destructive than other invaders of the time (for example, the Goths), the Vandals were summarily blamed by Renaissance and Early Modern writers for Rome’s destruction.

In 1794, Henri Grégoire, Bishop of Blois, coined the term vandalisme to describe the destruction of artwork that took place after the French Revolution; the term was soon adopted across Europe, further reinforcing the notion that the Vandals had been a barbaric group who’d loved nothing more than to destroy things.

Trashed Public PavillionToday we define vandalism as ‘action(s) involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property,’  and while no single ethnic group is considered to be responsible for these acts in the 21st century, vandalism is usually committed by adolescent boys between the ages of 10 and 19 (almost half of all teenage arrests are for vandalism).  It is the largest unreported crime in Canada, costs approximately $100 million a year (in Canada; in the U.S., the cost is significantly higher at $650 million), and hurts both the people and the communities in which it takes place – economically, psychologically, culturally, and politically …and FOR NO GOOD REASON!

I’m willing to bet you know someone who has had their house, their car, their property, or their possessions vandalized at some point or other (most vandalism offenses fall under the category of property damage or mischief, and while these are punishable offenses, most perpetrators are never caught; those that are may be fined, required to pay retribution, or sentenced to ‘community service’; the parents of children under 16 can be held liable for their children’s actions). 

Tagging Is VandalismThe most common types of vandalism include destruction of property, wilful damage to buildings (including the ever-popular ‘tagging’ and graffiti), damage to vehicles, religious destruction, arson, and roadway damage.  Most vandalism occurs at night when no one is around to see who is causing it; it is a crime that can result in fear and anger among its victims; it often makes a neighbourhood feel like a dangerous or scary place to live.  I know – I was victimized just this past weekend. 

Smashed FlowerpotsI take a great deal of pride in my yard, and I always add some extra colourful ‘flourishes’ – several pots of bright geraniums – at the edge of the street to enhance the view and experience of people (or vehicles) passing by.  Sometime between dusk on Friday evening and early morning Saturday, ‘someone’ decided to smash the pots of flowers on the road – not just kick them over, or  dump them, but smash them to smithereens, so that there was nothing recoverable when they were done.  My husband discovered the mess on Saturday morning and cleaned it up but, needless to say, I was both upset and discouraged.  Yes, it’s ‘only’ a few pots of flowers (worth maybe $50) but it was the total disregard for MY property and MY money and MY time that truly galls me.  What do vandals ‘get’ out of these acts?  Why do they actually think it’s OKAY to do these sorts of things?  And where does that attitude come from?   

I suppose there have always been – and always will be – a segment of society that shows little or no regard for the property of others.  Perhaps they are jealous, perhaps they are heartless, perhaps they are just ignorant – who knows? But it seems to me that instances of vandalism are on the rise. Graffiti seems to be everywhere in towns and cities (not to mention the ‘rolling stock’ of railway cars), and attempts to clean it up, cover it up, and stop it appear futile.  Everywhere I drive, I see mailboxes, newspaper boxes, signs, and pretty much anything not nailed down toppled over, pushed aside, or damaged.  Empty buildings are almost guaranteed to have their windows smashed; schools, churches, and cemeteries appear to be particular targets of groups seeking to wantonly destroy something meaningful; the newspaper has at least an article or two a week detailing various acts of vandalism in our city.  What gives?

Misbehaving ChildI can’t help but wonder if the new ‘liberal’ attitudes towards children and their ‘right and responsibilities’ doesn’t have something to do with this upswing in malicious acts.  From a very early age, we (‘we’ being a general term for ‘most adults’ and/or ‘society’ in general) mistakenly give children the idea that much of what happens to them is not their fault – that there is always someone or something else to blame.  For example, when a child is learning to walk and trips and falls, we say ‘Bad floor’; if they stumble and hit their head on the table, it’s clearly the table’s fault!  As they grow, they are rarely disciplined for acting up or engaging in inappropriate behaviour (particularly in public – just listen to the number of screaming, demanding, crying children in the malls, restaurants, or theme parks if you don’t believe me).  When they get to school, teachers are not allowed to raise their voices to demand attention, put a hand on a shoulder to calm an unruly child, or to ‘criticize’ poor behaviour for fear of retribution (or charges of abuse).  The big ‘fear’ seems to be damaging the precious little darlings’ self esteem (which is generally quite exaggerated because they’re always being told how wonderful they are; they never, ever have their shortcomings and mistakes pointed out to them). 

Whose Rights Are Right?Children are taught that they have ‘rights’ from a very early age (parents and teachers ‘rights’ have subsequently disappeared), and learn that there are few (if any) consequences for poor decisions or irresponsible behaviour.  Here in my neck of the woods, high school students who refuse to do homework or hand in projects get ‘amnesty days’ at the end of each term, whereby they are allowed to hand in overdue homework – and the teachers HAVE TO MARK IT!  Is it any wonder that by the time they reach college they are regularly late for (or miss) classes, inattentive, rude, disruptive, disrespectful, and malcontent?  (And then consider it their right to complain about instruction, expectations, and grades when they fail a course!)  We’ve raised a generation (or two) of young people who clearly have no concept of responsibility, accountability, or what they are really ‘entitled’ to.  We’ve bred a bunch of potential vandals (yes, I know not all ‘young people’ fall into this category, but there are certainly far more than there were in my day) who don’t respect others, or their property.  When caught, they counter with one of two all-too-common phrases: “It’s not my fault”, and “It’s not fair”. 

VioletsWhen I was about five, my sister and I picked a bouquet of violets for our mother – from the neighbour’s garden.  My mother knew immediately where we’d gotten them, and sent us over to apologize to Mrs. Cote.  We also had to help her weed her extensive gardens the following weekend.  In the sixties and seventies, ‘kids’ who were caught defacing or damaging someone else’s property were always reported to their parents, required to pay for the damage, and/or ‘take their lumps’ in whatever way was deemed appropriate; it wasn’t unusual for teenage offenders to spend a night in jail.  Now, most parents would defend their child and argue that they were being victimized by the accuser or the police (because, after all, little Johnnie or Susie can do no wrong!)  Thus, the ‘kids’ of today seem to think that they can do whatever they want, to whoever they want, however they want – with absolutely no guilt and no consequences.  What a disgrace!  (In Singapore, vandals can get up to three years in prison and/or a caning; in the United Kingdom, vandalism is considered to be an environmental crime and perpetrators may be served with an anti-social behaviour order; here in Canada, it’s more likely they’ll get no more than a slap on the wrist and a warning).

I have replaced my geraniums and put fresh pots back out by the road.  I’m hoping what happened the other night was a one time occurrence.  If not, I’ll stop trying to improve the appearance of my neighbourhood, because I quite honestly can’t take the disappointment of having someone destroy something I put care and money and effort into.  Vandalism isn’t a ‘nuisance’ crime (as some have called it); it’s a serious problem and one I will never understand, even as my life extends past … the other side of 55.

Stamp Out Vandalism

  1. JSD permalink
    June 10, 2011 10:50 pm

    Such an unfortunate…and too common…incident. I totally agree with what you said about how today’s younger generations have been and are being raised with no accountability for their actions. How do we turn this around? Or can we?

    • June 11, 2011 8:29 am

      Can we turn this around? I doubt it . I think the “I don’t care and you can’t make me” attitude is already too ingrained in the (majority of the) younger generations. I can’t tell you how often I’ve despaired of the situtation (having taught college for almost 30 years – and experienced the decline in attitudes, particularly since 2000 – firsthand). I suppose all we can hope is that the 20% or so of young people who DO take responsibility for their actions, will prevail – or that the next generation will be so disgusted with their parents lack of responsibility (good lord – can you imagine what kind of parents they’ll be?!?!?) and reverse the downward slide. In the meantime, we’ll just have to keep cleaning up after them!


  2. Debra Hartery permalink
    June 7, 2011 9:11 am

    Enjoyed the article. Feel much the same way. Thanks for typing it.

  3. June 5, 2011 6:58 pm

    So sorry this happened. In December, my husband and I have to take in part of our Christmas decorations nightly and bring them back out in the yard the next day to protect our display. It does take effort, but we really want to avoid the “poison” of how the potential offense would make us feel…stealing our joy.
    We do so because other homes have suffered the disrespect you have described. Sad.

    • June 5, 2011 7:21 pm

      Isn’t it a shame that we have to ‘go the extra mile’ to ensure our property isn’t damaged, or destroyed? Such a shame! When people say things weren’t ‘better’ in ‘the good old days’, they don’t know what they’re talking about!


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