Updated: June 23, 2014 3:27PM
It was not the worst weekend in recent memory. Only two men were killed and 26 others wounded in shootings in Chicago from Friday night to Sunday night.
The last time I had cause to write about shooting sprees in my hometown was a month ago when 36 people were shot in 36 hours.
So the shooting of 26 plus the killing of two is no longer the stuff of back-fence conversation. (Unless, of course, your back fence is in one of the neighborhoods where people are being shot like ducks in a shooting gallery — though maybe a back fence would not be the wisest place to hang out.)
What really caught my interest was a different kind of crime story that happened over the same weekend: On Saturday, on the South Side, two men in their 50s were arrested for stealing fire hydrants at 11:30 in the morning.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported: “The two men already had one fire hydrant loaded in the back of their 1997 Ford F-150 pickup truck and were attempting to place the second hydrant — which was damaged when the men removed it — in the back when police arrived, according to the report. Authorities didn’t talk about the motive in the alleged theft.”
Let’s forget about motive for a moment and talk about means. Do you know how much a fire hydrant weighs? Neither did I. So I put my crack research staff (Google) on the question.
According to Quality Hydrant Co., which specializes in repair, a fire hydrant weighs “a minimum of 500 pounds” and can be both difficult and dangerous to get out of the ground.
Think about it. You see fire hydrants every day. Do you think they are just sitting there waiting for someone to lug them off? Take a close look at them. I think you will find them bolted in place.
But here were two middle-aged men, one 50 and one 51, who had the skill, strength and gumption to load two hydrants into the back of a pickup truck.
These men, however, are not to be admired. What they allegedly did was not only felonious but socially irresponsible. They deprived a community of two fire hydrants, putting residents at risk should a fire have broken out.
That is not the only problem I have with them, however. And it is a problem I learned about when I was a cub reporter covering the Criminal Court Building, an unlovely behemoth on the Southwest Side, considered by some to be the busiest courthouse in America, dispensing justice — or a reasonable facsimile thereof — in 21,000 cases per year.
I forget the details of the particular case, but some sad individual had been caught stealing cars — a common crime, though in this case he had been caught stealing them from a police station parking lot.
Why would he do something so stupid? I asked the cop who had testified at the trial.
The cop snorted. “We catch the stupid ones first,” he said. “The smarter ones take a little longer.”
So consider the accused fireplug felons. They are accused not only of boosting large, heavy objects but of boosting them at 11:30 on a Saturday morning!
Did the phrase “under the cover of darkness” not occur to them as an option?
I know what some of you are saying: The two are obviously drug addicts who were looking for something they could sell for a quick fix.
But even assuming there is a huge market for stolen fireplugs, wouldn’t it have been easier to sell the 1997 Ford F-150 pickup truck they were driving?
I have checked the Internet for prices on used fireplugs and on scrap metal, and the whole operation makes little sense to me. I don’t know whether either of the accused has a criminal record, but even without one, they both face more than a year in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors are sure to argue that fireplug theft is a “gateway” crime. Today you steal a Chicago fireplug; tomorrow you steal the Picasso statue or the John Hancock Center.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, facing re-election next year with low approval ratings and shocking spasms of crime, could make the two an example.
I can see the 30-second ad now — Rahm hugging a fireplug, his voice breaking with emotion as he says: “I saved our fireplugs. Now let me save our city.”
The judge is likely to throw the book at these two. So let this be a lesson:
No matter how you look at it, the most you can get out of stealing a fireplug is a hernia.