In the past three weeks two reporters for The Baltic Times have been mugged on the streets of Riga.
Both attacks were frighteningly violent: one was cracked on the head with a baseball bat-like object and the other was kicked repeatedly in the face after being knocked on the ground. One lay on the ground for an hour before coming to, and the other managed to get to a hospital to get stitched up. Thankfully, both managed to pull out of it.
But grave concern remains. We do not hold any illusions that these attacks occurred because of the victims' profession or any material the paper has printed; frankly, our publication lacks that kind of caliber. These crimes were committed purely on a materialistic basis: for the sake of a cell phone and a wallet.
We do, however, have no doubt whatsoever that the two TBT employees - both male - were mugged because they were foreigners. As if to confirm this theory, in the interim between the two instances involving our employees, another foreigner - this one a Canadian-Latvian - was also attacked in the same area - by four men at once. One held him from behind while the others beat him; once he was nearly unconscious they took the bounty.
To be sure, these awful things can happen anywhere in the civilized world, be it Riga, Copenhagen, London or San Francisco, especially late at night, when all the three aforementioned attacks took place. What is disturbing about this recent bout in Riga is that it appears a few gangs have stepped up their attacks against foreigners/tourists.
From a crook's standpoint, it makes sense: foreigners are easy targets. They can be naive, foolhardy and often plain stupid. They're easy to pick out of a crowd, they usually carry a bit more cash (and lot more credit cards), and perhaps most important for these particularly brutal thieves, foreigners don't bother reporting the crime. For sundry reasons - apathy, ignorance, language barrier, fear - they don't make the trip to the station. As a result, the crime stays off the books and the robbers on the streets.
What should be done? Obviously we don't expect the Interior Ministry to issue a personal bodyguard to each and every foreigner who decides to walk home late at night from the Old Town bars. All we can expect - no, demand - is that the police crack down on this category of crime, just as they would do with any spike in criminal activity in any part of the city. If not, it's only a matter of time before some tourist gets knocked into a coma by some fiend hiding behind a tree in Esplanade Park with a crowbar in his hand.
And if that happens, The Baltic Times will have no choice but to do everything it can to let potential tourists know that they should avoid Riga at all costs.