Someone stole a lawn ornament from a front yard in Newark, California. It was not hard to describe to Officer Jeff Neithercutt: a simple whirligig depicting a pig on a bicycle with spinning rainbow wheels, transporting a basket of corn. (Such as you can see here.) It had been Jasmine’s favorite toy, a present from her grandfather to the autistic seven-year-old. Now it was GONE. Neithercutt patrols on a bicycle, so naturally this struck him with particular force. What kind of monster would…?
Newark snapped into action.
Police examined surveillance video of the relevant area of Dairy Avenue and got an image of a 23-year-old transient, known to them, snatching the helpless pig and its undefended vehicle (with maize payload).
They arrested Charles “Chucky Boukis and charged him with theft of the $45 cheer-generator. He admitted it, but said he’d already sold the kinetic device to a guy for $5. The fence he fingered was uncooperative. He “would not admit involvement, was not on searchable probation, would not consent to a search of his residence for the whirligig, and would not return it,” according to Neithercutt.
In fairness, this could describe many people, including me. I do not admit stealing the pig, I am not willing to let police search my property for the pig, and I certainly am not about to cough up the pig.
A Newark school board member donated a replacement pig/bike spinner. Jasmine was said to be thrilled. “I took a personal interest in this case because Jasmine was such a sweetheart and was so upset when her grandfather’s gift was taken,” said Neithercutt.
Officer Shannon Todd spoke to Boukis, who’s in county jail, having violated probation on earlier convictions. Todd arranged for Boukis to write a letter of apology to Jasmine’s family.
Maddeningly, the text of the apology has not been made public. For the purposes of analysis, let us suppose that is a short, decently worded apology. Should we consider it sincere? After all, Boukis is in jail, and the apology was demanded by the police. He’s likely to apologize whether he means it or not.
But it might really be sincere – when he grabbed the whirligig, he didn’t know it was Jasmine’s toy. And perhaps he had a motive other than wealth. He may have taken a dislike to the witlessly grinning porcine biker and felt he’d be doing everyone a favor to get it out of sight. Or he may have a grudge against cyclists. Now that he knows the thing’s significance to Jasmine, he might be truly sorry.
Or he might not. Does an insincere apology have value?
Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. (The phrase, “There, I apologized, NOW are you happy?” is a sign that you’re in the NO category.)
This apology has value if it brings a feeling of justice to the outraged child, and models good behavior for her.
Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and spinning rainbow cycle pigs are stolen. Sometimes silly people do bad things, and spinning rainbow cycle pigs and those who love them pay the price. And sometimes people realize they’ve been silly, and they say they’re sorry, and people feel better. Pedal on, perky porcine.