Today, a court in Montgomery County, PA, ordered a defendant accused of multiple counts of robbery and other felonies to be tried as an adult. These charges stem from a series of armed robberies of pizza delivery drivers in Pottstown, PA. The accused, Khilil J. Montague, who was 17 at the time, along with another 17-year-old and another 18-year-old, allegedly placed orders from his cell phone, and when the drivers arrived, he pressed a silver BB gun to their heads or necks and stole their cash and cell phones. Three such robberies were committed spanning from March to June of 2013.
As someone who has been doing this job for 15 years, it scares me every day that something like this might happen. Many drivers have been murdered- yes, MURDERED on this job for a paltry amount of cash and a pizza. Delivering is a dangerous job in many ways, but the most deadly threat comes from those who see us as rolling piles of money and food.
It gets worse. Not only do we face the danger of being robbed and/or killed while delivering, but we often have our hands tied by the very stores we work for. Your Big 3 chain stores (Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Papa John’s) all forbid drivers to carry any weapons or defend themselves against would-be robbers. A few times a year a story will crop up about a driver who defied that policy and defended themselves only to be fired from their jobs. Public outcry be damned, most were not hired back. The stores don’t want lawsuits, so they encourage drivers in this situation to be passive and not to resist. That’s all fine and well until you’re ordered into the trunk of your car, driven to a secluded spot, and shot execution-style in the back of the head as you tearfully plead for your life.
Stores are often reluctant to red-zone areas for fear of public backlash. It is a sad truth that many high-crime areas happen to be low-income areas that have higher-than-average minority populations, but companies have been sued for racial discrimination despite the fact that drivers have been targeted for robbery in those areas. Because of this, many stores will not refuse delivery to high-crime neighborhoods because they don’t want the headache of dealing with negative press, boycotts and lawsuits. They would rather take the odds that a driver won’t be robbed, assaulted, or killed when they’re sent into an urban war zone with a brightly-lit car topper and a snazzy red shirt… you know, to hide the bloodstains.
But, robberies can happen anywhere, even in white, suburban upper-middle class areas where one would assume they are safe. Bandits will call in an order to a vacant house from a stolen cell phone and waylay the driver once he or she arrives. Oftentimes, disarmed and blissfully unaware drivers have no idea what to do, and by the time you find yourself face to face with an armed thief, it’s too late anyway.
Safety rules are written in blood. The blood of hundreds of drivers who died senselessly in this line of work. Family men and women who were trying to help bring in some cash in tough economic times. Drivers who lived and died on their tips and in too many cases, a lack thereof from people who have no sense of appreciation for the service we provide and the hazards we face. Too many of us cut down in the prime years of our lives, while the chain stores cry fake tears and deny any liability in court when they are sued by the victim’s family for failing to provide adequate safety and for sending that poor driver into a known killing field for the sake of a few dollars’ profit.
And the worst part of all? Too many of these animals don’t get caught, or by the time they are, they have committed multiple robberies which traumatized and injured a lot of people.
I remember when I was hearing about these robberies in my town. I was taken aback at how little information was being shared. You would think the police would notify the pizza shops in town that there were setup robberies going on in a certain neighborhood and to take extra precautions when delivering there. Nope. Not a word. Not even from the stores the victims worked at. When a driver at our store was robbed last year, many of us at our store spread the word to our fellow drivers at other stores. We tried to make people aware. At very least, it’s professional courtesy to make others aware of an increased danger, but no, we got information in fragments, and every time we delivered to that area, we were afraid and didn’t quite know what to look for.
I’m glad that Mr. Montague is going to be tried as an adult and I hope he and his accomplices spend a long time in prison. That’s not the point, though. The point is much greater. We face a much higher risk on average of being robbed and killed, murdered on the job than 99.999% of all other workers. We face serious injury, dismemberment, and death from other drivers on the roads, especially in adverse weather conditions. We do this in most cases for SUB-MINIMUM WAGE because our restaurants expect that tips from customers will excuse them from meeting federal minimum wage- which is a nice way of saying that our employers are subsidizing our wages at OUR expense, and then charging a delivery fee which has nothing to do with what we make as drivers.
Yes, drivers can and should do everything they can to maximize their safety and to be aware of their surroundings when they are on the road. They SHOULD defend themselves if possible against robbers, armed or otherwise, and not depend on the mercy of a thug to let them live. They SHOULD refuse deliveries in situations that look suspicious. We SHOULD be sharing information with other stores and delivery drivers and asking the police what we should be looking for when there is a spate of robberies happening. And our companies, whoever we work for, should be backing us up 100%.
However, I want to make delivery customers aware of what we face too, because many of them just don’t know. Many of them think we have an easy, cushy slacker job and that since we don’t do as much to serve them as a waitperson does, that we’re not worth the same kind of tip. This danger we face is only one facet of why we are equally deserving as waitstaff. There are others, but the fact that we face robbery and murder every day, that’s probably the biggest reason. For those who say, “why do the job?” Why does anyone do any job that’s risky? Some people like it, some people don’t have many options, and some dangerous jobs, like cops and firefighters, are necessary. The fact that getting food delivered is NOT a necessity and that the person bringing it to you is putting their life in jeopardy to do so is all the reason you need to tip them as much as you would a server in a restaurant.
So remember, when you order that food, understand that the service we provide to you comes at great personal risk, that in many cases our employers are apathetic or even dismissive of the perils we face, and that the ONLY thing that makes it worth it are the tips we strive to earn.
We all have to take care of each other, it’s a jungle out there.