Earlier this week, police in Austintown, Ohio, noticed a pickup truck without taillights cruising through the city’s streets in the dark. The driver was an 89-year old man, gaunt of frame, with a horseshoe of wispy white hair encircling his tender, liver-spotted scalp, and a pair of thick bifocals that framed nearly half his face.
The dreaded Silver Burglar was nabbed. Despite shuffling feebly into his arraignment in a neck brace and providing police with the address of a rundown house sporting building permit in the window in the rustbelt steel industry ghost town of Youngstown as his place of residence, Kermit Gabel isn’t quite the sweet, pitiful, old, innocent man he at first appears to be.
Authorities report that Kermit has been on a continuous crime spree (from the 1940s through 2019; interrupted only by long stays in prison) since many of our grandparents were young. He’s spent nearly two decades in jails and prisons, and he’s on lifelong parole for a variety of crimes that include: burglary; theft of silver flatware, furs, and jewelry; aiding and abetting; forgery of bonds and securities; mail fraud; and various parole violations. In fact, as one judge noted, Kermit has only ever made a living stealing the possessions of other people (especially in the communities surrounding Tyler, Texas, and Cleveland, Ohio).
The notion of the aged career criminal is not currently inconceivable, nor even entirely unpalatable, to us. It’s the basis for multiple fictional movies, and we tend to gobble up romanticized theories that true famous escaped criminals like D. B. Cooper may be living out their days quietly in the vast and forgiving midwestern plains. There’s something about the novel juxtaposition of the peaceful, harmless senior image with the edgy rebellious life of the criminal fugitive that appeals to us.
It’s because it’s an anomaly that we find it so intriguing. At a certain point, a single senior citizen stops seeming like a viable threat to society, and it has traditionally happened so infrequently that we’ve been able to afford to be wrong. But the tide of elderly people has begun to rise. The wave of the Boomer is cresting, and it’s about to crash.
Modern medicine and a better understanding of healthy long-term life practices have had the effect of allowing the Baby Boom generation to live longer, more active senior lives. They’ll spend more time as functional independent citizens than any generation ever has. Add to that the fact that they are a truly massive population. It’s not necessarily just that Boomers are statistically more prone to criminal behavior (although they have been) than their predecessors, it’s that they’re around longer and there are many more of them.
Propensity for crime among almost all populations does tend to dwindle with age after we reach adulthood. However, a certain percentage of any population just never “goes straight”. Kermit Gabel is a good example. He’s not a Boomer, but he is a person who has been involved in criminal activity all his life and apparently has no plans of changing that as he closes in on 90 years old. What happens when there are many, many more of him?
Negative behavior and attitudes don’t have to manifest as criminal activity to be noticed. There’s already a heated atmosphere of venomous tension rising between the Baby Boomers (who are just entering their senior years) and the Millenials (who are just reaching their adult years). Former tendencies to forgivingly turn our cheeks to the bad behaviors of our elders simply due to their age and experiences is transitioning into a trend of less tolerant judgement and criticism.
That may not be entirely unwarranted. Few would argue that the Baby Boomer generation has not been more problematic, over the course of their existence, than the Greatest Generation that aged before them. And, while enjoying longer, more active lives does allow Boomers to contribute to society longer, it also permits them to be more capable of problematic behavior later on in life.
In general, we can expect our society’s views on and attitudes toward senior citizens to change. Individual misbehaving elders may not seem as amusing, romantic, or lovable to us in the near future. To many, this shift will probably seem harsh, as change often does. Still, society can only afford to kind-heartedly shrug off so many “Kermit Gabel”s at one time.