Driving to Vineyard Haven one day I found myself behind a pickup truck with three bullet holes in the tailgate. My curiosity was piqued. How did they get there? This started me thinking about guns and crime in general. Now, I know there must be plenty of guns on the Island, but the only ones I’ve ever seen have been unnecessarily strapped to law enforcement officers. Crime on the Vineyard is as unique as the Island itself. Most people would say that the term Island crime is an oxymoron. Not so. We have our share–it’s just different than in the rest of the world.
We even have a prison. It’s not much of a prison as prisons go. More of a jail. More like high school detention. We occasionally get off-Island cons who are shipped down because it’s the only safe place for them to be. Guys who would be seriously harassed in a regular prison. You know, Arab princes and such. One guy, after serving his time, ran away with the sheriff’s wife. Ahh. Sweet revenge. A local fellow found his incarceration so confining that he would escape through a window after lights out to spend a few hours with his girlfriend. He was always back for breakfast which, incidentally, was prepared by a gourmet chef also doing time.
If you’re looking for murder, that most heinous of all crimes, you’ll have to find it in the pages of Cynthia Riggs’s and Philip Craig’s books. No, Vineyard crime is of a more benign nature. It can be split up into season and off-season varieties. The seasonal type does resemble off -Island crime, and is usually perpetrated by off-Island criminals. Hence our need for a police force. Off-season crime falls more into the category of mischief, and can frequently be punished by firm parenting or community service.
The worst crime wave I can remember was a few years ago when there was a rash of street sign thefts. This, of course, resulted in a flurry of angry letters to the editor (the usual result of Vineyard crime . . . and just about anything else that can draw comment). Turns out, the signs were decorating the dorm rooms of homesick UMass freshmen. Maybe at graduation they should hand out a street sign or two along with the diplomas. Just a thought. I’m all for preventing crime.
Mailbox bashing is another serious problem here. This one really bothers me since innocent mailboxes can’t fight back. I guess it’s too much of a temptation for teens with new driver’s licenses. The kid riding shotgun has nothing to do. Seems to me this is energy that could be channeled. Maybe we wouldn’t need the wind farm in Nantucket Sound.
Poaching out of hunting season is another biggie. I guess we need laws to protect the world’s poor beasts from the superior brain (?) and firepower of man, but when the animals start to outnumber the locals I can’t get excited about an illegal turkey shoot.
Car theft is not an issue here. Without a ferry ticke,t where would you go? Old Islanders, used to the lack of crime do not lock their doors. House or car. My friend Bob takes this one step further and also leaves his keys in the car. His reasoning is: life’s short and he doesn’t want to waste time looking for them. Now, Bob is friends with the local constabulary who constantly warn him about this habit. One day he parked in the lot next to Town Hall and went in to do some business. One of the local police officers strolled by, saw keys dangling from the ignition and drove the car around the block, parking it on School Street. When Bob inevitably called about his ‘lost’ vehicle, the officer drove him around town looking for it. Another officer, in cahoots, drove Bob’s car back to the Town Hall lot, where it sat waiting for him. Bob found this amusing, if time consuming, but continues his lifelong habit of leaving the keys in his car.
Most Island crime by far consists of running afoul of political entities. God forbid you put up a shed in your back yard without a building permit! It’ll take months for the letters to the editor to die down. Not to mention the fines and lawsuits flying back and forth.
Yes, Virginia, there is crime on Martha’s Vineyard. But like everything else, it’s kinder and gentler than over "there."
I pondered for weeks how those bullet holes got in that truck. Hunting accident? Angry wife? Jealous husband? If he had been escaping from a bank robbery (not likely–there’s still that ferry problem) I would have read about it in the Gazette and the Times.
I had a dinner party the other night. When I mentioned I had seen a bullet-ridden pick-up, my friend Phil said, “No, you didn’t.”
“I most certainly did,” I replied indignantly.
“Oh, no, no, no,” he said, guffawing heartily. “What you saw were decals.”
Decals. I felt duped, but Island crime being what it is, why should I have been surprised?