Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

The nightmare of protecting yourself and your property


It was closing time in my flower shop, and I had just locked the door and turned out the lights. At least that's the way it happened in this strange dream I had.

Suddenly, there was a loud crash, and several young men came leaping through the front window.

"I'm sorry," I said, "but store hours are over. We open at 9 tomorrow morning, and our Father's Day sale will continue. Three flowers for the price of two. Come back then."

One of the young men said, "You don't understand. We are not here to buy. We are here to loot."

And with that they began biting the bulbs and buds off tulips and roses.

"Excuse me," I said, "but why are you eating my flowers?"

"Idiot," one responded. "Don't you know that the Bulls have won the championship?"

"Ah, so this is a victory celebration."

"Absolutely. We are elated at the great victory. Now, where is your money?"

"Are you planning on eating my money, too?"

"No, we will spend it. And let's have the wristwatch and the ring."

"If I give you my belongings, will you go away?"

"Sure, after we destroy your store and burn down this building with you in it."

"Aha. This is quite a victory celebration."

"Yes, but how many teams repeat? And when they repeat, we will burn your house and your family. After we remove the TV and stereo, of course."

"Of course. Waste not, want not. But I'm afraid that I can't cooperate, and I must ask you to leave."

"You don't seem to understand. We are making a social statement. In fact, we are making several social statements."

"Couldn't you just fax them to me instead?"

"No, because a fax would not convey our sense of isolation, frustration and deprivation, which is why we must burn your store. Nor would it reflect our need for male bonding, which we are engaging in. So we regret to say that you must die. Actually, we don't regret it. It's kind of fun."

"I'm sorry, but I must disappoint you. As you can see, I am now holding in my hand a large, automatic, fully loaded, repeating weapon, with which I will now mow you down, thus protecting my life, limb, flowers and considerable investment."

"We are appalled at your insensitivity. And we will bring your attitude to the attention of the proper authorities."

"Tattletales," I said.

There followed a series of loud gunshots. And when the smoke cleared, the young men were lying in a lifeless heap.

Then, a man in a tweed jacket stepped through the window and sternly said: "Shame on you. What have you done?"

"Who are you?"

"Don't you read newspapers or watch your TV? I am Professor Horace Manure, urban scientist and noted expert on this sort of thing. Here's my card. Sound bites and one-paragraph quotes available at all hours, seven days a week. Now, why have you shot these lads?"

"Because they were going to burn my place and kill me."

"That's no excuse. They were going to kill you as a social statement, which means they were merely trying to vent their frustrations and anguish."

"And I was just trying to defend life and limb."

"A likely story. What you have done is stifle their efforts at self-expression. You have deprived them of their right to free speech. I explained it all in my book: 'The Tyranny of Dialing 911.' "

Just then, three men in business suits and carrying briefcases stepped in.

"What have you done to our clients?" they said.

"Who are you?"

"We are from the Law Office of the People, and you are in big trouble. Do you wish to make an immediate cash settlement, or will you force us to drag you through the federal court, state court, the municipal court and the basketball court?"

"But I was merely defending life and limb."

"That's what they all say. Did you offer them a chance to use your gun to shoot you first?"

"It didn't occur to me."

"See? Clear violation of Chapter 128, Paragraph 42b. And by locking your door, did you consider that by forcing them to break your window, you placed them in clear danger of cutting themselves on the glass?"

"But I always lock my door."

"Aha -- an admitted repeat offender. Here, sign this paper, and we will seize your assets in the morning."

Just then, the police arrived.

"Officers, thank goodness you are here."

They looked at the heap of stiffs.

"Now you've done it," one of the cops said.

"Yes, I defended life and limb."

"You are under arrest."

"For what?"

"For violating the curfew against being in your own place of business during postgame celebrations, thereby provoking a nasty incident and making a terrible scene."

They were leading me to the police car, when I saw him. It was. . . . Suddenly my wife was shaking me awake and saying: "You are screaming in your sleep. What were you dreaming about?"

In a cold sweat, I said: "Jesse had just arrived."

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