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Spring is right around the corner; summer isn’t far behind. I write this while watching snow fall outside my East Tennessee home. Regardless, the truth remains…spring and summer are almost upon us. In fact, most of us probably had the same reaction to waking up yesterday after losing an hour of sleep due to the clock “springing forward.” You can thank Ben Franklin for that piece of awesome. Still, here we are…it’s time for rebirth, lush colors, and for blowing the dust off the old mower. It’s also time for family and friends to come together for vacation. Unfortunately, it’s also makes it the time of year when the violent crime rate nearly doubles in most cities, especially those along the beach and in towns where tourism is the main trade. Criminals are opportunistic, and they see this time of year as pure opportunity. In the retail business, you have Black Friday…to the criminal community, it's vacation season. This is their Super Bowl.
All joking aside, we live in a crazy, dangerous world, folks. Every day the news is filled with innocent men and women being attacked by criminals, usually in areas that we consider to be “safe” like the parking lots of our favorite stores or even in our own driveways. It pays to be prepared; but that doesn’t have to mean spending hundreds of dollars on a gun or spending years of your life learning a martial art. Both are awesome, if you have the time and money. If not, you need to focus on the steps that you can take every day to keep yourself and your family safe.
You Should See the Other Guy!
Before we get started, I need to be clear on one thing. The disclaimer, if you will — the best course of action in any case is to flee as soon as possible. Run away. I’m a big guy with a lot of things going for me in a fight — law enforcement training as well as years of self-defense training outside of the job. But, fights are unpredictable…at best. I used to have an instructor that said, “the best thing you can do to win a fight is to not be in a fight”. He would go on to say that avoiding the fight altogether is a matter of awareness, and we’ll get into that later. But, for now, you need to understand that, regardless of your stamina or skill, the odds are against you. If you get into a fight, you are going to get hurt. The hope is that you will get the better of your opponent and that they will receive more of the punishment; but thinking you are going to walk away from any physical altercation without injury is making a very false and very dangerous assumption. So, in short, always look for and take any opportunity to exit a bad situation and flee. As a matter of fact, most of the tips I’m giving in this article are simply delaying tactics to provide you with an opportunity you get away.
“He that fights and runs away, may turn and fight another day; But he that is in battle slain, will never rise to fight again.” ~ Tacitus
See, Tacitus gets it. Note, however, that the instructions in the quote above are not simply to run a way….it is to “fight” and run away. That’s one of the major takeaways you need to get from reading this article. You cannot give in and you cannot submit…in most cases, you MUST fight for your opportunity to flee. It can mean the difference between life and death at the hands of your abductor, robber, or basic bad guy. Like Tacitus, our goal is to always live to fight another day.
There are no blind antelopes.
There probably have been blind antelopes born out there, but they aren’t there long…because they get eaten. In the wild, if you can’t or won’t stay aware of what’s going on around you, you are going to get eaten by something big and scary. So, before I move into some specific things to watch for and how to avoid and survive them; I wanted to go over a very basic concept: You need to always know what’s going on around you. Seems simple, I know. But, look around you. How many people do you see on their cell phones or so lost in a conversation that they have no clue what’s happening around them. Believe it or not, the single best way to avoid being the victim of a violent crime is to follow this simple, but apparently very hard, concept — stay alert. Criminals are like wild predators. Have you ever watched a nature show on cable? The lion always watches the herd for some time before attacking; he’s looking to pick out the most vulnerable animal. He wants to separate them from the herd and then take them down. They are the weakest. The slowest. He’s smart about his attack, but he’s also a coward…so he does not pick the biggest, the fastest, or the leaders of the herd. He singles out the one that will be the easiest target. It is more about opportunity than it is nature.
Criminals are the same way.
They will sit and wait in parking lots or browse around retail stores for hours looking for their next victim. They watch until they see the most distracted and insecure target they can find. They know that if you are focused too much on your phone, for example, that you won’t see them coming. They know that they can be on you quickly, position you in to a place or situation that you cannot easily escape, and they will be able to make you their victim. I cannot drive this point home hard enough: the best, most effective way to defend yourself is to pay attention and appear confident. Here are some ways you can do that:
Put the phone away. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as anybody else when it comes to having my phone firmly gripped in my hand pretty much all time. But I don’t have it out when I need to be focused. It’s dangerous. When you are exiting a building, walking across a parking lot, or just moving through the crowd on the sidewalk, the phone needs to be put away and your attention needs to be on what’s going on around you. The only exception to this rule is if you feel like you may need to call for help. If you’re leaving work and you’re afraid to walk out to your car alone, for example, it’s a good idea to go ahead and call a friend. Call…. not text. The difference is simple, but it can save your life. If you are on the phone with it against you ear, your eyes are free to focus on where you are walking and what is going on around you. You can still see danger coming and react accordingly. If you’re looking down at the screen or reading, you are susceptible to attack, and you’ve made yourself a target.
Make eye contact. This can be uncomfortable for a lot of people, but it could save your life. It is the best way to indicate to any would be attacker that you are aware of them. Look them squarely in the face and speak to them. I simple “good evening” can say a lot to a criminal. It says:
• I see you and know your face,
• I’m aware of what you’re doing,
• I’m not timid and I’m not an easy target.
Just like a burglar casing out a home to break into, an attacker wants the path of least resistance and making eye contact can identify you as anything but. This works hand in hand with the next point:
Be Confident. Stand tall and have good posture and walk with purpose. Don’t walk too fast as if you are scared, but don’t walk too slow or act distracted. Walk and carry yourself like someone that knows where they are going and is fully in charge.
Those seem like simple things to do, but you’d be surprised how few people do them. As a test, next time you’re out pay attention to everyone else. See if you can identify who is the most likely to catch the eye of a would-be attacker. I’m betting you’ll be surprised how easy it is to pick out a target.
Now, as promised, here is a list of simple tips that could save your life or prevent you from being the victim of a violent crime...this vacation season or any time. Please take note of each and please share them with everyone you care about. Let’s get started:
Everybody was Kung Fu fighting. Surely everyone wasn’t kung-fu fighting. That’s ridiculous. Still, here’s a little tip taken from Tae Kwon Do – use your elbow to strike your attacker. The elbow is the one of the strongest parts on your body with which to strike. It can have a much more devastating effect than your hands or fists. The same is true of your knees. So, if you are close enough to use them, they are your hand-to-hand weapons of choice…. use them!
Go get it, jerk.
If a robber asks for your wallet and/or purse, DO NOT HAND IT TO HIM. Instead, toss it away from you... the odds are that he is far more interested in your wallet and/or purse than he is in you. Most likely, he will go for the wallet/purse. Then take the opportunity to RUN towards lights or people. Don’t forget, this isn’t the time for heroics…distract then flee. Live to fight again.
If you are attacked, make a scene. I mean a scene like you’ve never seen in a movie. Scream and kick as loudly as possible. And be specific! Don’t just yell “help” and hope that someone takes action; call people out specifically: “Hey, you…in the red shirt! Help me!” When you call on someone specific, you make them feel more accountable than that they otherwise might have. Note: If you happen to be abducted and thrown into the trunk of a car, kick out the back tail lights and stick your arm out the hole and start waving like crazy. The driver won't see you, but everybody else will. There are documented cases where this has saved lives.
Keep it moving, sister.
We all tend to get into our cars after shopping, eating, working, etc., and just sitting there. We’re busy updating our checkbook, checking our ‘Likes’ on Facebook, making a list, etc.
The predator will be watching you, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to get in on the passenger side or in the back, put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go.
AS SOON AS YOU GET INTO YOUR CAR, LOCK THE DOORS AND LEAVE.
If someone manages to get in or is already in the car holding a gun or knife to you, DO NOT DRIVE OFF. Repeat: DO NOT DRIVE OFF! Instead gun the engine and speed into anything with as much speed as you can get going. Yes, this will wreck your car. But, your Air Bag will save you. If the person is in the back seat they will get the worst of it. Even if you are both incapacitated temporarily, it will attract attention. And attention is good. If you can, as soon as the car stops, bail out and run. Messing up that bumper or fender is much better than having authorities find your body in dumpster later.
Where’d you park?
Here are a few more tips about getting into your car in a parking lot or parking garage: Again, be aware of your surroundings. Look around you, look around your car, and be sure to look inside your car at the passenger side floor and the back seat.
If you are parked next to a big van, unlock only the passenger door and climb in that way. It’s awkward and seems a little like overkill, I know. But consider this: Most serial killers attack their victims by pulling them into their cars or vans while they are attempting to get into their cars. It’s documented; look it up. It may be cumbersome, but it could save your life.
Always look at the car parked on either side of your vehicle. If a male is sitting alone in the seat nearest your car, you may want to walk back into the mall, or work to get a guard/policeman/co-worker to walk you back out. IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY. A paranoid person lives longer.
Going down…? Take the elevator.
Disclaimer: This is not the case during a fire. You probably know that, but I’m just doing my due diligence, ok? Anyway, stairwells are horrible places to be caught alone and are very often the perfect place for a horrible crime to happen. This is especially true at night. So, use you best judgement here, but anybody can be hiding around the next corner on the next flight of stairs.
Run, Forrest! Run!
What if they have a gun? The thought is terrifying, but you still need to take action. If the predator has a gun and you are not under his control, do not hesitate… RUN! If you are under his control, fight to get free…kick, bite, claw, stomp. Then, RUN! Now, this is going to be tough to hear, but yes, he may take a shot at you. It's not as likely as you might think, but it's possible. However, the facts show a shooter will only hit a moving/running target 4 in 100 times. Even then, it most likely will NOT be a vital organ. So, RUN. And yes, as cliché as it sounds…do it in a zig -zag pattern do decrease your chances of getting hit. Just don’t fall, ok?
Don’t give a f*ck.
Yeah, I know it sounds a little harsh. We all want to help people that need it, that old guy with the cane or the lady in the wheelchair…and I’m not saying not to. What I am saying is that it can get you killed. The key? Awareness. If it looks shady, it probably is. For example, a little 80-year-old granny struggling to get out of her car? Ok. A 250lb, 6’3” man hunching over a little with a cane asking for help getting something out of his van? Uh…nope. Big nope. People, overall, are good. I like to help as much as the next guy, but there are predators out there that will take advantage of your sympathy. Stop it. It could get you raped or killed. Ted Bundy, the famous (rather, the infamous) serial killer, was a good-looking, well-educated man who ALWAYS played on the sympathies of unsuspecting women. He walked with a cane, or a limp, and often asked for help into his vehicle or with his vehicle. And that’s how he abducted most of his victims. Just to be clear though, that is not a license to walk around being a dick. Help when you can, run when you need to.
Just call the police, man.
Call the police. Yeah, I know; this seems like it should be one of those “isn’t that common sense?” things. Well, I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that common sense isn’t so common anymore. So, just to cover all the bases, if something just doesn’t seem right to you, call the police. People have an inherent sense when things are “off.” Law enforcement calls it following your gut or following up on a hunch. Regardless to what you call it, you tend to know when things are not as they appear. Trust that instinct. Listed below are a couple of situations that have been documented by law enforcement over the last couple of years. But there are many more stories like them and criminals are getting smarter all the time.
Do you hear a baby? It’s late. Very late. You’re woken up by what sounds like a crying baby on your front porch. What do you do? A young woman faced exactly that scenario a couple of years ago in 2016. Luckily, she had the good sense to call the police because “well, it was late, and it was just weird.” Darned right it’s weird. But, to her shock, the police told her “Whatever you do, DO NOT open the door.” The lady then told the 911 dispatch that it sounded just like the baby had crawled under a nearby window; she was worried that it would crawl to the street and get run over. The policeman said, “We already have a unit on the way, whatever you do, DO NOT open the door.” As it turns out, a serial killer had been using a recording of a baby's cry to coax women out of their homes thinking that someone dropped off a baby. It had cost two women their lives and it had recently been attempted on several more women in the previous weeks. It was always late, and the ladies were always home alone.
The Running Water Scam. A similar scenario played out in 2017 when a couple was woken up in the middle of the night by what sounded like flooding/running water outside the house. As anybody would, they feared they had a burst pipe. But, like in the previous story, common sense took over and since it seemed odd that a pipe would bust in the middle of a warm summer night, they ended up calling the fire department to report it. Again, it turned out to be the work of innovative criminals. It seems a pair of local robbers had been using this trick to lure people into opening their doors to go out and check. Once outside, they were set upon by the robbers. A simple rule is this…NOTHING is important enough to open your door and go outside late at night. Nothing. Instead, either let it wait until morning (as in the case of a burst pipe) or call the police. If it doesn’t sound right, assume it isn’t. Let the police investigate; that’s what your local police are paid to do, and they are more than willing and happy to oblige.
A fool and his stuff are soon parted…
True story: I was leaving the mall this past weekend and overheard an older, well-dressed lady speaking on the phone as she left the busy foyer of the mall entrance and headed to her car. No, I wasn’t spying. I do sometimes, but that’s not what was going on here. She was being loud enough for everyone around her to hear. Apparently, she was wearing a new ring and it was worth a fortune. It had been a recent gift from her husband and she was excitedly letting all her friends know. Unfortunately, she was also letting everyone else know too. That rock on her finger was worth well over $10,000. This made her a target, big time. So much so that I actually did my best to keep an eye on her until she got into her car and pulled away. Happy ending. This time. What if it had not been me, an ex-cop, that had heard her bragging on the phone. It could have gone a heck of a lot different. So, keep things like that to private conversations; the more people (especially perfect strangers) you make aware of something like that, the greater the chance is you will become a victim.
Ok, folks, that’s it for now. If you get nothing out of this article except that you need to stay fully aware of your surroundings at all times...my job here is done. That one action, simply being alert, can save your life. Next up, “How to hurt more than their feelings,” an article covering how and where to hit an attacker to ensure you live to fight another day. Check it out. Until then, stay alert and stay safe out there, gang.