Bad guys are clever, and disguise their evil intent by adopting familiar and ‘safe’ seeming guises.
In this article, we look at the lessons to be learned in one such case, where what seemed like nothing more than a person begging for change ended up as a brutal beating by four youths.
A motorist’s car broke down not far from where he lived, late one night. He decided the easiest thing to do was to leave the car where it was, in an upscale residential area in Tampa FL, and walk the short distance home. As a fit soldier enlisted in the Army, the thought of walking a couple of blocks, in a good neighborhood, was no big deal.
Three youths were walking in the same direction, ahead of him. One of them turned back to the soldier and asked if he could spare a dollar. The soldier agreed and reached to get a dollar from his wallet.
So far, so good, right? Nothing too fearsome about that, and if you were that soldier, the chances are you’d be totally relaxed. The youth had asked you for a dollar, and you had agreed to give it to him; besides which, the youth wasn’t overwhelmingly physically threatening or anything. Typically we would not be surprised at a protest or complaint if we refused a panhandler, but don’t we sort of think, when we agree to give them the money they ask for, that there is no reason to be concerned any more?
But then, lightning fast, while the soldier was distracted reaching for his wallet, and without any warning, the youth viciously attacked him, knocking him to the ground. A second youth quickly joins in, and now the soldier on the ground is being kicked by two youths above him. You don’t have to have studied strategy and tactics in the Army to understand that this is not a good situation.
The third youth comes back diffidently, watches for a while, but when we judges that the soldier is no threat at all, he then joins in too. Now it is three to one.
And – wait – there’s more! A fourth person comes running up from behind. But, bad news for the victim. This fourth person is coming to join in the fun and starts attacking the soldier too.
At some stage the youths tire of their fun, steal the soldier’s wallet and cell phone, and go on their way.
Here’s a video of the encounter, caught on a neighbor’s security camera. You should look at it primarily to see how quickly the initial encounter goes bad.
What lessons can we learn from this, so as to avoid it happening to us, too? We suggest there are some important learning opportunities here :
1. There’s No Such Thing as a Safe Neighborhood
As we’ve said before, we’re not the only ones who commute to work each day. Bad guys commute too, and many times, the places they choose to work are ‘good/safe’ neighborhoods.
While it is true that some neighborhoods are clearly high-risk right from the get-go, the main factor that defines the safety of an area is not the location itself, but the people around you. That is the thing you need to key in on. Which leads to :
2. Keep Strangers At a Distance
Distance is your friend. Distance = time = safety. The more distance between you and an unknown person or persons, the more time you have to judge the situation, to anticipate potential threats, to prepare responses, and to control the situation rather than be controlled by events.
How long would it take you to get your gun out of its concealment location and point it at an attacker? You need to practice drawing your pistol – not from a nice Kydex range holster on your unobstructed hip, but whatever form of concealment holster you use, and while wearing normal ‘street’ clothes. Get this process as optimized as possible, and have someone time it. Whatever that time is, add 1/2 a second (or perhaps even 1 second) to that time as the addition reaction time you’ll need from the point at which you detect a threat needing you to grab your gun and the time at which you start reaching for it.
Now, that final time might be 2 seconds (it almost surely won’t be less), and it might be 3 or even 4 seconds. Whatever it is, now look at the time from another perspective. How far can a bad guy sprint in that same time period. Have your friend time you – or, if he/she is faster than you, you time them for that long a sprint and see how far they get.
Take that distance, add another six or more feet, and that is your danger zone. Anyone inside that zone can get to you before you can pull your gun and shoot them.
If there are two people, your danger zone expands because you have to assess and shoot two people now, which will take longer. Three people – more expansion. And so on.
At the risk of stating the obvious, that danger zone is huge, isn’t it! You might have thought that the danger zone was 10 ft, or maybe even 20 ft. But we’ll be you’ve ended up measuring a 30 or even 40 foot danger zone just by this one simple experiment.
Any time someone is within your danger zone, you are vulnerable. As much as is possible in our often crowded society, you need to keep people outside that zone, and you need to be keyed in on who is inside it and what they are doing.
3. Take Control of the Situation
Are you the puppet or the puppeteer? Are you making the bad guy change his plan and react/respond to you, or are you unknowingly responding to him and doing what he wants you to do?
You need to use the distance between you and the possible bad guy to create a series of escalating events that hopefully cause the problem to go away. However, if these escalating events don’t end the problem, they give you the certainty that the person you are facing is indeed a lethal threat and needs to be stopped.
So, starting from the beginning, if you see someone coming towards you who you have concerns about, simply turn and walk in another direction. Cross the road. In some way, do something that means your paths will not know cross.
If it was merely an innocent coincidence that you were on intersecting paths before, then you have solved the problem. He’ll continue on his way, and you will now be going in a different way, keeping the distance open. When it is safe, you’ll resume proceeding in the direction you wish to travel in.
But if the other guy now changes his path and continues to close on you, he has clearly signaled to you that this is not an innocent encounter. He wants to get to you. Your first mental trip-wire has now been sprung, and an alarm is ringing in your head.
The bad guy is relying on you behaving passively like all other victims. He is relying on you not wanting to cause a fuss or make a scene, allowing him to get into your danger zone and then it is all too late for you.
But there’s no rule that says you have to do what the bad guy wants. So if this person continues towards you, in a loud assertive voice tell him to stop : Stop! Go Away! Do Not Come Closer! Back Off! Say whatever you want, using short simple words that make your meaning clear. Hold up your support hand (ie not the hand you’ll hold your pistol with) to visually signal him as well.
Keep moving, yourself, to open up the distance (and of course, keep looking for the bad guy’s friends).
If the bad guy keeps coming, no matter what the reason and no matter what sort of excuse he may offer, he has now triggered your second mental alarm. And, talking about triggers, now is the time to grab your gun and point in at the probable attacker. Speak to him again (and keep moving and looking for his partners) : “Stop or I shoot! Go Away!” Say this like you mean it, because you really do mean it.
If he continues towards you, and if you have no other easy option (like running away) you’re probably going to have to shoot. And think about it
(a) You changed direction to avoid him, he changed direction to get to you
(b) You told him to stop, to go away, and he kept coming towards you
(c) You pointed a gun right at him, and told him if he didn’t back off, you’d shoot him – and still he kept coming towards you.
What would you do if you were the other person, and someone warned you off? If a person tells you to go away and says they’ll shoot you if you don’t, would you continue to approach them? Not in a million years would you do that.
Only a person with evil intent would continue to approach a total stranger in such a situation.
You need to understand this, so you have the confidence to shoot if necessary (and of course it is always best to simply run away if you can). You’ve given the person three chances to back off. They’ve continued to close the distance each time, and are now within your danger zone. You just know that when they get right up to you, they’re not going to simply shake you by the hand and wish you a happy day.
And Most Important of All
All of the preceding assumes that you have your pistol with you. Don’t leave home without it. Even when you know you’ll only be walking around in a ‘good’ neighborhood. Even when you’ll only be in your own home neighborhood – you hopefully don’t need your gun to protect you from the next door neighbors, but you might need it if you have commuting criminals who have decided to do their day’s work (or, more likely, their night’s work) on your block.
Whether it is innocent/safe seeming surroundings, or innocent/safe seeming people and encounters, nothing is guaranteed safe. Always be alert and on your guard, and keep as much distance between yourself and strangers as possible.