Wednesday, April 1, 2015

St. Louis Train Beating: Lessons Learned

This story has made the rounds for a few days now.  As responsible adults, we need to dig a little deeper into both the coverage of the event and the event itself:

"When one man sat down next to a second man in a St. Louis light rail car and asked him his opinion on the shooting of Michael Brown, it was not the beginning of a discussion.

It was the start of an assault, police said.

The second man, who was white, didn't want to answer the question. Then the first man, who was black, boxed him in the face. Two more African-American men joined in the beating, according to a police report about Monday's incident."

Odd that the writer, Ben Brumfield, used the term "boxed" here instead of "struck" or "punched".  Why is that?  To mitigate the savagery of the attack?  I've never heard the word "boxed" used like this outside of a specific reference to the sport of boxing, the metaphorical enclosure of someone or something, or the actual use of a physical box.

As with all violent encounters, it's terrible that this happened, but it's worse if we don't learn anything from it.  The biggest takeaway is that the victim was profiled before the actual attack.  While this particular assault is a bit peculiar for its lack of a robbery (perhaps another chapter in the Knockout Game), it was still brutal.  And unnecessary.  I'm not blaming the victim when I say that if the victim had taken steps to make himself a less attractive target, I'd be looking for a different story to write about.

Before we go further, watch this video of the attack with the sound on.  The audio is important.  I'll wait.

What's striking is that the person who shot the video knew that an attack was imminent.  The videographer knew that the guy was going to get victimized.  So did everyone else on that train except for the victim.  We'll ignore the videographer's sniggering and tittering other than to say that it's particularly disgusting.

This assault started before the attacker asked to borrow the victim's cell phone.  It began in the profiling phase, when the victim sat down on the train, oblivious to his surroundings.  At that moment, the attacker knew out of everyone on that train who he was going to punch.  (We'll save the racial elements for a different discussion.)  Everything followed from that profiling phase, including asking to use the victim's cell phone (who does that?), sitting next to the victim, asking the victim a racially charged question, and reacting to the victim's non-answer.  At every one of those points, the victim could have done something to change the outcome, but didn't.  He ignored them, probably scared but hoping nothing would happen.  You leave them alone, they'll leave you alone, right?


We have to learn from his mistakes and not do what he did.  How do we do that?  Remember these five easy steps:
  1. Always carry a weapon.  Always.  Especially if circumstances force you to travel at night.  Gun, knife, pepper spray, whatever: if you don't have a weapon of some kind on you at all times, you're putting yourself at unnecessary risk.  Practice accessing and deploying your weapon under duress.  Take your personal safety seriously.
  2. If you're tired, suck it up and don't look tired.  Look alert.  Take visible notice of your surroundings.  If I'm a felon, I'm going to go after the guy who looks tired and oblivious over the guy who looks like he's going to be a problem every single time.
  3. Failing that, when someone who's obviously up to no good wants something from you, leave.  Get out of there.  Switch train cars.  Move to a place where you have enough room to access and deploy your weapon of choice.  Don't interact with him.  He'll call you a pussy and ask if you're afraid of him.  Remember that you have more to lose than he does and get away.
  4. If you can't run, at least stand up.  Don't just sit there.  A serious person who's got a plan for his own defense is unattractive as a victim.  Once you're up, get that weapon out.  If you think that's extreme, remember the context: you were sitting there, minding your own business, when a person or people who gave you a legitimate reason to be concerned (that scared feeling in your gut is a legitimate reason) got into your personal space and wouldn't let you move away.  He's already assaulted you by arresting your movement.  
  5. If after steps 2, 3, and 4, plus firm verbal demands for your attacker to back off haven't worked, you'll have to get proactive in your own defense.  Every situation is different, obviously, but just remember that as a peaceful, law-abiding citizen, you have a legal and moral right to defend yourself.
I'm not a lawyer, so don't take any of this as legal advice.  It's ugly.  It's scary to think about.  It's difficult.  And it's part of being an adult.  Your personal defense is your responsibility.  Own it.

In more situations than anyone would like to admit, being a victim is often a choice.  Choose something else.

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