What happens when a brave, dedicated, armed citizen fights back against an untrained, unskilled, pathetic coward bent on murdering helpless innocents? The coward surrenders or winds up dead, and the killing is either stopped quickly or never has a chance to start.
Last week at the Arapahoe High School in Colorado a student named Karl Pierson walked into school and opened fire with a shotgun. He fired five rounds, badly wounding a beautiful young girl, before he saw a campus police officer advancing toward him. Pierson killed himself with his sixth round. The incident was captured on video, and lasted approximately 80 seconds from first shot to last.
80 seconds. And the mere presence of an armed “good guy” forced Pierson to stop targeting victims, and shoot himself instead.
This Arapahoe incident, among others, reinforced a belief I already had. My belief didn’t come from watching TV or reading articles. I’m a 19 year police officer and former active shooter instructor. I’ve attended advanced active shooter training, helped train many officers, and played the role of an active shooter in numerous high stress, extremely realistic simulation exercises. I’m also a 24-year Marine and Soldier, a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. I ain’t no expert on nuthin’, but I have a much better understanding of the active shooter threat than the average person. My years of training and experience helped me form this belief. This belief is so amazing, so earth-shattering, that I expect millions of people to read this, gasp, and tumble over in shock.
Prepare yourselves. Here it comes.
“When a coward is trying to shoot up a school, at least one person already at the school should have a gun and shoot back.”
I know, I know. Pure heresy. I have to be wrong on this. Those who don’t want armed teachers or even armed police in schools must be right. Some of them, like American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, insist that having armed police on school grounds doesn’t make schools safer (http://wvmetronews.com/2012/12/27/no-guns-in-schools/). After the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre made his infamous “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” claim, a veritable human wave of legislators and celebrities mounted ceaseless attacks against him and his simplistic belief that armed good guys actually protect the innocent.
Ms. Weingarten and many of those legislators and celebrities must understand this problem better than me. They must understand better than Wayne LaPierre. Weingarten and her allies apparently have vast knowledge of and experience with gun violence.
They have vast knowledge and experience because they went to college. Then when they were done, they went to college. Then after that, they went to college. Some of them were so dedicated that between college semesters, they went to college. In college, they talked a lot. They talked to other people in college, and to college professors. They undoubtedly had many interesting conversations with other insulated idealists, who repeated the same uninformed opinions everyone else had. Then, when these people graduated from college, they went into the academic world, or politics, or acting.
And by golly, their opinions about armed good guys in schools count more than mine. Because they’re educated. And they’re academics. Or politicians. Or actors.
I, on the other hand, foolishly wasted my entire adult life serving my community as a cop and my country as a Marine and Soldier. I spent countless hours on ranges and in training exercises. I wandered deserted streets late at night looking for crimes in progress, and found a LOT. And I spent almost two years at war.
None of this taught me anything, of course.
My worthless, unqualified opinion is obviously insignificant in the face of mighty academics, politicians and actors who fired a gun once on a movie set. If I was more educated, maybe I’d see the ridiculous fallacy of, oh, putting armed and trained good guys in all schools to defend our children. If I had taken statistics, I’m sure I’d realize that the murders of 20 children and 6 educators in a school with no armed guards, during a massacre that went on for several minutes, is a better outcome than one wounded student in a shooting that an armed police officer ended in 80 seconds.
I should actually apologize for the tone of this post. I try not to be snarky, sarcastic or insulting toward my ideological opponents. I’m not a member of the NRA, nor am I an ultraconservative (I’m agnostic and support drug legalization, so how conservative can I be?). I’m definitely not anti-education. And I like to think I’m a pretty reasonable guy. But I get frustrated at people who absolutely refuse to accept reality. Sorry guys, but in this case Wayne LaPierre was right.
Those who oppose allowing armed teachers or police officers in schools tend to be the same people who think we conservatives are the mental equivalent of “flat earthers”. They seem to view us as ignorant hicks with no understanding of the real world. Then they turn around and insist that the best way to protect our children from school shooters is to make our schools more attractive targets. They think it’s better for a murderer to kill helpless victims for several minutes until police show up, than to have an armed teacher or police officer already there stop the killing as quickly as possible. They advocate policies that make more Sandy Hooks and oppose policies that make Arapahoes. They honestly believe the best way to keep my children safe is to turn them into helpless victims.
Remember that knuckle-dragging conservatives like me are evil morons who want children to die. But liberals who don’t want guns in schools are geniuses who love children. That’s why my fellow knuckle-draggers and I strongly support the policies that saved children’s lives at Arapahoe, while our super-genius child-loving opponents so ardently support the stupid rules that helped kill 20 defenseless children at Sandy Hook.
The Arapahoe shooter had a shotgun, 125 rounds, three Molotov cocktails and a machete. He had plans to attack people in several locations at the school. Had my opponents had their way, he could have shot many more innocent people, burned them alive, or hacked them to death. Instead, one good guy with a gun on campus ended the threat in 80 seconds.
Shucks, maybe I’m one o’ them thar conservative country bumpkins who ain’t never learnt much. But it certainly seems to me that the result produced by one armed good guy at Arapahoe High School was better than the result of having no armed good guys at Sandy Hook. So instead of spending years in college learning the wrong answer, maybe some people need to spend about 80 seconds learning that armed good guys in schools really are the best way to stop armed bad guys in schools.
UPDATE 12/22/13: Claire Davis died of her injuries yesterday. Rest in peace, Ms. Davis.
Filed under: Cops | 28 Comments
Tags: active shooters, arapahoe high school, karl pierson, school shooters, veteran writers
This essay was published on TheTruthAboutGuns.com on December 15th.
So there I was, minding my own business, taking a bathroom break at the station. This was late on New Year’s Eve in a small town. I was just a rookie with less than a year on the street. But even so, I knew crap was going to hit the fan at any moment.
My shift had started several hours earlier. The first thing I had done was head to the worst part of town and check the crowd. What I saw was a guarantee something bad would happen before long.
Every small Texas town has at least one really crappy area. Ours was “100 Smith Street”. On this block stood two tiny falling-apart old houses, about 1200 square feet each, which had been converted into “nightclubs”. The clubs were directly across the street from each other, the only two structures on a trash-strewn, crack-infested, deserted block. And on weekend nights on this very small street, about 400 people would be in and around these two clubs.
On “normal” nights on 100 Smith we had fights, stabbings and the occasional shooting. All night every night at least a couple dozen crackheads would just stand out there, doing who knew what. I would hide sometimes and watch them through binoculars. They would wander around holding lighters to the ground, searching for rocks of crack that users and dealers had dropped when police drove past. One night an angry crack addict, burned in a drug deal, flagged an officer down on 100 Smith, pointed into the crowd and yelled, “That guy’s got crack!” Six people took off running.
When I passed through 100 Smith earlier on New Year’s Eve, the tiny block was packed with about 600 people. Gangsters, thieves, prostitutes, crackheads, dealers, pretty much every local troublemaker was there. When I drove through the crowd I almost got trapped by people intentionally blocking the street in front of me. I expected beer bottles to start flying, as had happened to other officers on other nights. But I made it through.
When I came out of the bathroom at the station, I went to see if the dispatcher needed a break. Another couple of officers who were about to work off-duty security jobs were hanging out in there. One was a K9 handler. Right after I walked in, the 911 line rang.
A frantic voice yelled over the phone. The dispatcher jotted quick notes, then turned to me and said, “Shots fired, 100 Smith Street.”
Oh, hell, I thought. I looked at the other two officers, smiled and said “I don’t wanna go.” Then I ran out the door to my car and sped away. Smith Street was only about a mile from the station.
As I neared the intersection with Smith, I saw a bad sign. Cars were pouring off Smith, making turns and hauling ass. A flood of people were escaping whatever had just happened.
I turned onto Smith, followed the little dogleg in the road and was stopped by a gigantic, swirling mass of angry, frantic partiers. Cars and people were pushing past me or running in the opposite direction, pairs and trios were fighting in different parts of the crowd. I jumped out of my car and shined my flashlight into the crowd. About fifty yards away a clump of screaming people were clustered around something in the street. Several people jumped up and shrieked, “We need an ambulance!”
Like a moron, I started walking alone through the crowd toward the clump in the road. As chaos raged around me, I keyed my shoulder microphone and yelled for an ambulance. Cars crept past, with a few drivers yelling “It was Edward! It was Edward!” I yelled back, “Edward who?”, but nobody would answer me.
As I reached whatever it was on the pavement, two more police cars pushed their way through the crowd and stopped beside me. The sudden appearance of backup was fortuitous, because as the crowd parted it revealed one of the most surreal, unforgettable sights I’ve ever seen. Many years and two combat tours have passed since that night, but I’ve never again seen anything quite like what I saw on 100 Smith.
A dead young man was laid out facedown on the street. Without question, he was dead. His was shirtless on a cold night. A huge pool of blood, maybe four feet across, stained the pavement around him. The blood was thick and dark, and almost looked like chunks of liver. The man’s face was turned toward me, eyes half open, lips parted.
I saw all of this in little flashes, quick glimpses amid flailing limbs. I also noticed that the man was completely covered in blood from the waist up; every inch of skin between his belt and top of his head was solid, dark red. Because three or four other young men were kneeling in the pool beside the dead man, shrieking and smearing blood all over him.
It was, I guess, some weird expression of grief from his friends. Whatever it was, it freaked me the hell out.
The other two officers, a patrolman and a sergeant, jumped out of their cars. I think all of us froze in shocked disbelief. I know I did. Even then, in my first year as a cop, I had seen several dead people. But I had never seen people in near-catatonic trance, screeching unintelligibly and running blood-soaked fingers over a corpse’s face.
We had a job to do, though. We had to clear the scene, to get the corpse’s screaming friends off him before they destroyed any evidence. We jumped in and started pulling people away.
The only place to grab them without getting blood all over us was by the backs of their collars. But every time we pulled one off, someone else would jump in and start shaking the body by the shoulders, or rocking its head back and forth while screaming “Get up, get up!” I yanked one of them off and he spun around to face me. I jumped back as the man began shaking his hands violently up and down, flinging blood drops through the air. His eyes were wide as he ranted incoherently at me.
We pushed people away from the body. Then I stopped focusing on my immediate surroundings, and realized we were surrounded by angry, threatening men and women. A street thug had just killed another street thug, but, not surprisingly, they had decided it was somehow our fault.
The crowd closed in around us. People were demanding, “Why aren’t you giving him mouth to mouth? What, you don’t care? You hope he’s dead?” We formed a loose, three-officer perimeter around the body, pulled batons and pepper spray to keep everyone out. But there were too few of us. Ones and twos slipped past to try to revive the body by shaking and screaming at it.
In the middle of the insanity, a dazed, bloody young man staggered toward me. His shirt was torn, face swollen. He slurred, “Hey man, we need an ambulance.”
I answered, “Yeah, one’s on the way.” The man swayed on his feet, and I noticed a ripped, bloody dent on his skull. I looked at it and wondered, Is that a bullet hole in his head?
The man collapsed at my feet. Others closed in around him. I don’t know who took him, but he wound up at the emergency room later. A bullet had bounced off his skull.
The K9 officer who had been at dispatch bumped me on the radio to ask if we needed help. K9s are great for crowd control. I tried not to sound scared when I shouted into the microphone, “309 to 552, if possible come to this location and bring a dog!” I later found out that when I yelled for backup, every officer in the county who heard me burned rubber toward our scene.
Around this time our fourth officer showed up. That was all we had, four officers on duty. He parked about 20 yards away, got out and started walking toward us with pepper spray in hand. Someone grabbed him by the collar, pulled him face to face and growled, “It should have been one of y’all.”
The surprised officer pepper-sprayed the man in the eyes. The man spat an agonized curse, let go and staggered into the crowd.
An ambulance forced its way through the throngs of angry people in the street. Paramedics pushed their way to the body. One of them took about a minute to confirm what we already knew. The man was, without question, dead. The crowd wailed in anger when they saw that the paramedics weren’t going to treat him. Angry friends and relatives, or maybe people just joining in for fun, closed in. We were in danger of being overrun.
The sergeant yelled, “Load him! Get him out of here!” We had to break a cardinal rule, to ruin the crime scene so we wouldn’t have to shoot our way out of a riot.
The paramedics lifted him onto a stretcher. As they did, I saw one of the gunshot wounds on his side. It was small, with flesh and fat pushing outward. We found out later he been hit with two 9mm Black Talons.
As soon as the body was gone, more officers showed up and the crowd trickled away. I was wired, overloaded on adrenaline and bouncing all over the scene. I was only 23 then, and that had been the most intense experience of my life.
In this county, whenever we had a murder, fatal accident or major nonfatal crime, the District Attorney would be called at home. Either he or an Assistant D.A. would personally come to the scene. The D.A. showed up within minutes. When he found out I had been the first officer on the scene, he asked me a series of questions.
“So did you identify any witnesses?”
I was still tense, heart pounding, dancing on electrified nerves. I looked at him like he was crazy and said, “Hell no I didn’t!”
He frowned and asked, “Did you recover any evidence?”
“Of course not.”
He rolled his eyes. “Did you identify a suspect?”
“Yeah, if hearing people yell ‘It was Edward’ counts as identifying a suspect.”
The D.A. threw his hands up in exasperation, walked away, and drove to the emergency room to see the victims. He arrived just before an enraged mob showed up and tried to force their way to the body. Officers already at the hospital had to yell for help, force people out and lock the hospital doors. I think the D.A. understood my position a little better after that.
Eventually, we pieced together what had happened. And, as usual with crimes at low-end clubs, nothing about the incident was simple. The shooting in the street had only been half the incident.
Inside one of the clubs, a customer was holding a lighter to the low ceiling. An employee told him to stop. He complied, then did it again. When the employee told him again to stop, he did. Then he shot the employee in the back. Club patrons heard the shot, panicked and rushed outside. Meanwhile, two drug dealers had gotten into a fistfight in the street. One of them, “Edward”, shot two dope-dealing rivals.
The man with the head wound survived. So did the club employee. We didn’t find out about the shooting inside the club until well after everything was over. The two shootings were simultaneous and unrelated. But in an odd twist, the dead man outside was the brother of the shooter inside.
In the end, Edward was convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison. I don’t think the employee who was shot followed through with prosecution. The drug dealer who was shot in the head proudly showed his scar every time we dealt with him afterward.
And about a month after the shootings, business was back to normal on 100 Smith Street.
Filed under: Uncategorized | 14 Comments
Not long ago I wrote a post about my friend Manal and her quest to find a US Marine who had welcomed her and her family to safety in Beirut in 2006.
The Marine, a then-Lance Corporal named Wilks, went out of his way to make them feel safe in the US Embassy compound. Manal had always wanted to find that Marine and thank him. She posted the story and picture on her blog, and I went through my military contacts to find him. Within hours, I had the awful news that Corporal Kyle Wilks had been killed in Afghanistan in 2008.
Manal was crushed. She posted the news on her blog, and was contacted by several of Wilks’ friends and family. She decided to do something in Wilks’ honor, and has started a fund drive for Toys for Tots, in Corporal Wilks’ memory.
If you can spare a couple dollars, please go to the fund drive page and donate. It’s for a good cause, started by a good friend, in honor of a great American.
RIP Corporal Kyle Wilks.
Filed under: Afghanistan | 3 Comments
Tags: Kyle Wilks, Manal, toys for tots, veteran writers
So there I was, minding my own business, bored almost to death on night shift patrol in a tiny town. After midnight, streets deserted, nothing happening anywhere. Then I got a call: “Natural DOA, Pleasantville Motel, 300 Main. Room 10.”
I turned around and headed toward the motel. It was a place I knew well. Even in tiny Texas towns, crack addicts and prostitutes need a nice, semi-safe place to get high and give happy endings. Whatever had happened to our ‘Dead On Arrival’ person, I doubted it was natural.
I arrived at the hotel. Room 10′s door was standing open. Inside, I saw an older man with an oxygen mask lying on the bed. A woman, almost shaking in panic, paced frantically near the door.
I knew exactly who the woman was. Pretty much every time we had a call that involved more than one crack addict, she was there. She was about 30, happy and friendly, intelligent, and one of the most dedicated crack smokers I’ve ever met. In addition to being a prostitute, she was also happily married to a guy about 30 years her senior who drove her and her Johns to hotel rooms or crack houses for sex.
She was also the daughter of the former chief of police.
I walked inside the room and looked at the man on the bed. He was in his underwear, laid out in a comfortable position as if sleeping, face up with eyes half open. “Janice” blurted several times, “He just quit breathing! He’s dead!”
I walked to the man and grabbed his wrist. No pulse, and he was much cooler than someone should be if they had just quit breathing. Just on a hunch, I pressed my fingers lightly into the man’s forearm. They left white spots on his dark skin. Clearly, he hadn’t breathed in quite some time.
An ambulance and other officers arrived. The paramedics took a few minutes to announce what we all knew. The man was way dead, and had been for a while. But Janice kept insisting he had just quit breathing.
I asked Janice what had happened. She claimed they had just been talking, and he quit breathing. That was it.
I looked at him, in his underwear. Then at her, the well-known drug prostitute. And I asked why his pants were off.
“I don’t know,” she stammered. “I guess he wanted to have sex with me.”
Other officers and I spoke to the paramedics, who told us, “This guy did not ‘just’ quit breathing.” So we went back to Janice, who hemmed and hawed and feigned surprise and claimed total ignorance. So we assured her that we didn’t think she had killed the guy, we just wanted to know how he really died. And eventually, she told us the story.
The man on the bed was almost 70 years old. He had just received an $800 Social Security check that day. He cashed the check, called his crackhead friends and got a motel room. Janice, two other women and a man came to the room. By around one in the morning they had smoked $700 worth of crack at $20 a rock.
The old man was down to his last $100. He asked the other, younger man to go get five more rocks. The younger man took his two women friends and headed to the dealer’s house, leaving Janice and the old man alone.
The man started getting frisky. Janice, of course, was shocked and abstained from any extramarital sexual activity with the man (remember, she was the one telling the story). The man gave up on Janice. But then he started having trouble breathing.
He put on his oxygen mask and laid on the bed. And then he “just quit breathing”.
Janice freaked out. She sure as hell didn’t want to call 911, and this was before everyone had cell phones, so she couldn’t call her friends. So she just stayed in the room and waited for them to get back.
Several minutes later her friends arrived with the precious last five rocks of crack. Janice was spazzing out in the room, telling them the old man was dead and asking what to do. The younger man looked at the corpse on the bed, took stock of the situation. And he made a decision worthy of the wisdom that comes from years of hard drug use.
“Well, he doesn’t need the crack anymore. Let’s smoke it.”
Janice loved crack more than she hated dead bodies. She agreed. The other women apparently never had a moment’s hesitation. The four crack addicts got comfortable, broke out their pipes and spent about an hour smoking the last five rocks.
When they were done, the young man and two of the women left. Janice was alone with the dead man again. She waited for the high to wear off, then called 911 to report that the old man “had just quit breathing”.
After we got the more or less true story, I had the unpleasant duty of notifying the dead man’s son. The son’s reaction was anger and disbelief, until he came to the scene. We didn’t let him see the body, but he saw Janice, and knew what went on that that motel. After the reality set in, he quietly said to me, “He had no business being in this place with these people.”
The son was a decent, hardworking family man. And I had to wake him up in the middle of the night to tell him his father had smoked himself to death with $700 worth of crack. Even now, many years later, I feel badly for that man’s son.
After the autopsy confirmed that the old man hadn’t been murdered, the matter was closed. No charges filed on anyone. Janice went on smoking crack and servicing happy customers, the others who had been there undoubtedly did the same.
That’s the life of a small-town crackhead. Get your fix however and whenever you can. Even if it means passing a crack pipe over a dead body.
Filed under: Cops, What Police Work is Really Like | 6 Comments
Tags: crackhead, police work, veteran writers
This essay was published by Breach Bang Clear on 28 November 2013.
Lately I’ve been speaking out (aka “bitching incessantly”) about certain things in the Army that drive me nuts. The biggest complaint I’ve had lately is about stupid decisions from higher up that make soldiers want to chew their fingers off in frustration. But I’ve always been told to offer solutions, not just whine about problems. So I’ve got a solution to offer.
My solution isn’t going to fix everything. And it’s not intended to prevent leaders from making mistakes. Every good leader has learned valuable lessons from screwing up, and no soldier should expect his leaders to be perfect. The wars we’ve fought since 2001 have been rife with unsolvable problems and gray areas which no leader, no matter how wise and brave, could perfectly handle. Good leaders are made better by their honest mistakes; we don’t need to “fix” those men and women. Instead, my solution is aimed at those who make decisions so egregiously stupid that anyone with even half the average IQ wonders, “What the hell could he possibly have been thinking?”
Here’s what I propose: we assign every Colonel and above, plus certain Department of Defense civilians and every Sergeant Major, an E-4 to act as a sanity check.
Mind you, I don’t mean we should use just any E-4s. To be effective they have to be salty, veterans of at least one deployment. They have to be smart, rather than just smartasses. Preferably they’re on their second ride as an E-4. And they absolutely have to be short, close to discharge with zero desire to reenlist.
In other words, they’ve been around, they’ve fought a war, they’re sick of the Army’s bullshit, and they have not even a single fuck to give.
These E-4s will shadow their assigned leader. They’re not his aide-de-camp, they’re not there to polish his shoes or clean his office. Their only duty would be to assess any decision he’s about to make. They’d be something like the modern-day equivalent of slaves who stood on chariots behind Roman emperors returning from victory, whispering “All glory is fleeting” to keep the emperor’s head from swelling. But our E-4’s whispers would keep our leaders from getting too stupid, not too proud.
As a reward for enduring the horrors of life among senior leaders, our heroic E-4s would receive a gift that generations of fighting men have desperately wished for. Only Specialists and Corporals with maturity and self-control could be trusted with this gift. And while the gift might seem like pure orgasmic happiness to those who receive it, it also has a utilitarian purpose. My solution will not work without it.
Our E-4s will receive a special dispensation, signed in blood by the President, allowing them to beat the crap out of any senior leader who desperately needs it.
Yes, this sounds harsh. But I don’t know of any other way to fix the problem. Appealing to reason obviously doesn’t help.
Here’s how it would work. Our E-4s would stay in the background, quietly watching their assigned senior leader for telltale signs that he’s been struck by the Good Idea Fairy: fingers rubbing his chin, eyes drifting upward and glazing over from deep concentration, sudden expressions of rapturous joy followed by mad dashes to a computer to build a 278-slide PowerPoint presentation, frantic phone calls to bark orders at frustrated subordinates.
When they see those signs, our E-4s need to leap from the shadows, peer over the leader’s shoulder at his computer screen or listen to his phone calls, and make a split-second evaluation of the order the leader is about to give. If the order is something like “All troops, combat or support, need more call for fire training!” the E-4 should back off. But if the order is something else, he needs to shift into attack mode. And he has to do it quickly, before the leader can give the order and cause irreparable damage.
·Leader: “Soldiers should wear reflective belts, salute officers and carry their weapons at the combat ready inside the FOB!”
>E-4: “Come here, dipshit!” Crack!
·Leader: “I think every soldier in the Army should wear black berets! That way they’ll all be just like Rangers!”
>E-4: “Moron!” Whack!
·Leader: “If we make every soldier put a green safety dot on their watch, they’ll think safety whenever they check the time!”
>E-4: “Stupid motherfucker!” Pow!
·Leader: “We’re going to create a special Drone Operator Medal, and make it higher than a Purple Heart or Bronze Star!”
>E-4: “Stop it, shithead!” Smack!
·Leader: “We don’t need to listen to soldiers actually fighting the war! The Universal Camouflage Pattern is obviously the best camouflage for Iraq and Afghanistan!”
>E-4: “What the. . . you son of a bitch!” Whack! Whack! Whack! (I should point out that our E-4s wouldn’t be allowed to carry weapons, because in this situation numerous terrified officers would be standing back screaming “Drop the knife, Corporal! Drop the knife!”
And so on.
I need everyone’s help on this. I’ve wracked my brain for years trying to find a solution, and this is the only thing that could possibly work. Please find E-4s who are willing to intercept and destroy the stupid ideas that have been killing us for years. Write your Congressman to express support for my idea. Send the President the Special E-4 Leader-Beating Dispensation and ask him to sign it asap.
Help me put this plan into action. Because the E-4 Option is our only hope.
Filed under: Afghanistan, Iraq | 24 Comments
Tags: E-4 mafia, veteran writers
Recently I had a conversation with a friend about my last “Knockout Game” post (http://chrishernandezauthor.com/2013/11/21/a-loudmouth-female-police-cadet-trayvon-martin-and-the-knockout-game/). My friend made a statement that I think many people are saying in private: she’s worried about becoming a potential KO Game victim, but is also afraid that she’ll seem racist if she encounters a group of “thug” looking black teenagers and tries to avoid them.
Her worry meshed with a comment I received on my KO Game post. A reader named Joe was concerned with this statement I made: “And if we’re someday confronted by an unarmed scumbag who looks like he could beat us to death, or if we spot the signs that we’re about to become a playtoy for the ‘Knockout Game’, we’re going to draw, aim, and engage as necessary.” He thought it might be a suggestion to shoot anyone who “looked like” the kind of person who would play the KO game.
I gave both Joe and my friend the same answer. When we’re talking about spotting potential KO game players, we aren’t just looking at appearance. Appearance can matter, but more importantly we’re looking at behavior, at pre-assault indicators.
Many different actions can be pre-assault indicators. Generally speaking, these indicators seem harmless when viewed outside of the overall situation. The trick is to recognize them in context.
For example, if someone puts on a hood, that means nothing by itself. Simply looking around at their surroundings means nothing either. And if they cross a street, so what? But let’s say you’re walking down a sidewalk toward your car, late on a clear night after businesses have closed, and see a young man walking toward you on the other side of the street. The man looks around (possibly checking for witnesses or people who would interfere), puts on a hood (possibly trying to make himself harder to identify), and crosses the street toward you (the businesses are all closed; he’s not going toward them, he’s possibly directly targeting you).
Now you have a choice. Should you take evasive action, maybe change direction or head toward the nearest well-lit area? Should you maybe pull a small flashlight and shine it at him if he gets close? Should you put your hand on your concealed pistol, ready to draw and fire if he makes a threatening move?
Or, if the man is a minority, should you ignore his actions and blindly keep walking, because you’d rather risk death than seem racist?
Several years ago a cop friend and I were in New York City visiting a friend. We were in a subway station waiting for a train when I saw a young black man with a young Hispanic man walk toward us. Both men were wearing baggy clothes and hoods, but it was cold; they didn’t look all that different from anyone else. And there were blacks and Hispanics all over NYC. That didn’t catch my attention either. What raised my alert level was where the two young men came from. They walked out from the train tunnel, where people aren’t supposed to go, stepped over the tracks and climbed onto the platform.
I immediately bumped my cop buddy and motioned toward the two men. His guard went up also. We kept our eyes on the two men and readied ourselves. The men noticed us watching them, and kept going.
Was it racist for us to be wary of the young black and Hispanic men? Nope. My cop buddy was black; we were the same racial makeup as the men we were watching. It was their actions that caught our eye, not their race.
In the KO game assault videos I’ve seen it wasn’t the physical appearance of the young black males that indicated danger. It was their behavior. Yes, someone’s appearance certainly can indicate danger, and this is the point where people usually scream “That’s racist!” But a threatening appearance isn’t limited to any one race.
How would you react if you were on a bus and a young white man with a shaved head, “trouble gangster” and “wicked ways” tattooed around his eyes, “Aryan Brotherhood” and a swastika tattooed on his neck, sat next to you? Regardless of his actions, would his appearance suggest he’s a possible threat? I’d say yes. I’d say the same thing about a black man wearing a red ball cap, red pants and a red “Thug4Life” t-shirt with a “Money Over Bitches” tattoo on one arm and “Half-Dead Fry Head” on the other. And about a young Hispanic male with blue shirt and shoes, gang tattoos on both arms, and tattoos depicting a drive-by shooting and a robbery on his chest.
At this point, I’m sure some readers nodded in agreement about the white power guy, but felt uncomfortable at my description of the black and Hispanic gang members because talking about minority criminals is “racist”. All I can say is, describing reality isn’t racism. I stopped that tattooed white parolee one night in a mostly black and Hispanic neighborhood. He was one of the most polite, cooperative people I’ve ever stopped, but I still viewed him as a threat. I arrested a black gang member who was high on “fry” (a joint dipped in formaldehyde or PCP) and had a tattoo of a half skull-half face with a joint in its mouth that announced he was a “Half Dead Fry Head”. He didn’t fight or run from us, but yes, his appearance suggested he was a threat. And I stopped a Hispanic male with a robbery scene and drive-by shooting tattooed on his chest. He was also polite and cooperative, but was a dedicated, hardcore gang member. Yes, he was a threat.
If you see someone who is advertising their criminal tendencies and your alert level goes up, that doesn’t make you racist. It means you’ve got some sense, you don’t ignore obvious signs of danger and you’re being situationally aware. If you spot an obvious threat like those I’ve described, then identify pre-assault indicators, you may have just saved your life.
Once again, I’d like to point out that I ain’t no expert on nuthin’. But in almost 20 years as a cop, I’ve learned a little about pre-assault indicators. Some of this knowledge was gained the hard way, and I’d like to share it with you. Keep in mind that I’m discussing situational awareness in general, not only discussing the KO Game.
Now I’d like you to watch this short video, which most of us have seen several times already.
Note that the victim in this assault does not appear to be paying any particular attention to his surroundings. He’s simply walking down what appears to be an alley, face forward, minding his own business. He doesn’t seem to give a second thought to the fact that the young black males approaching him are spread out almost all the way across the alley, leaving him only a small gap to pass through. And he takes no action at all when one of the young males moves sideways toward him. My guess is that the victim never recognized any signs of impending danger. In this case the young males don’t, by appearance alone, seem to be threatening. But some of their behavior before the attack certainly suggests a threat.
Let’s look at the first indicator I mentioned. The young males are spread out, taking up most of the alley. While that might just mean those kids are selfish jerks, it could also be an intentional effort to channelize the victim into what we soldiers call a “choke point”: an area where a victim’s freedom of movement and action are restricted. When soldiers plant land mines, dig ditches and emplace concrete obstacles, it’s not to simply stop enemy vehicles. It’s to force them into a specific area, like a narrow mountain pass, where they can be easily ambushed. Those attackers did the same thing to their KO game victim.
Now take another look at the video, right around the 00:21 mark. Even in the blurry, distant video you can see the attacker make an obvious, deliberate move to his left just prior to throwing the punch. While it might seem that the victim had almost no time to react before being punched, he actually had more than enough. If he had noticed the signs, he could have stopped and waited for the group to pass. He could have kept his eyes on the young men, giving the non-verbal clue that he was watching them as closely as they were watching him. Even if he had walked into the choke point they created, he still could have ducked or sidestepped once he saw the punch about to be thrown. Any of those countermeasures could have kept him from laying facedown and unconscious on the pavement.
But here are my questions: did the victim walk blindly into an ambush even though he felt uncomfortable when he saw the group of young black males approaching him? Did he intentionally disregard signs of danger, because he didn’t want to appear racist?
One night I arrested a murder suspect. He had stabbed someone to death at a bar, and I found him the next night as he was hurriedly loading possessions into a truck prior to his planned escape from town. I snuck up and surprised him in his front yard; when I ordered him to put his hands up and lay on his stomach he ignored me, protested his innocence and started walking toward me.
I repeated the order. He ignored it and kept coming. He wasn’t cursing, he wasn’t saying “I’m going to kill you”, his demeanor suggested he was friendly. But his actions told a different story. He kept ignoring my commands. He kept walking toward me, despite the fact that he could easily hear me from where he was. He kept talking over me, trying to appear casual. He was about to attack.
Because my flashlight was in his face, he couldn’t see my pistol pointed at him. Despite his apparent friendliness, I knew he was “innocently” closing distance. I expected him to go for a knife, and was ready to shoot him. The sudden appearance of another officer made the suspect stop.
But here’s the twist. The suspect was an illegal alien. He was speaking Spanish as he protested his innocence. Was I being “insensitive”, not considering that he may have been confused rather than uncooperative? Was I stereotyping by assuming he had a knife? Should I have given him the benefit of the doubt and not kept my pistol on him?
It turned out I had arrested the suspect once before, and he had been verbally aggressive and threatening. When I saw him in court later he cursed me out. His friendliness was just an act. Had I given him the benefit of the doubt, and if I hadn’t had backup, I have no doubt he would have stabbed me.
One night I had to run a mental patient off from a truck stop. He had been there for hours bothering customers. I didn’t realize he was a mental patient until I saw the sunglasses he was wearing (at night) still had the “Made in China” sticker on a lens. That, and when I told him he had to leave his first question was, “But then where will I get refreshments?”
I asked for his name and date of birth, then called in a warrant check. The man hadn’t been threatening before that. But as soon as he heard give his name over the radio, he went silent, dropped to one knee, hung his head and covered his face.
I backed away, drew pepper spray and made sure I had space to go sideways if he came at me. When he suddenly sprang back to his feet, angrily demanding to know why I was harassing him, I was prepared for an attack. But he didn’t come at me, maybe because he saw my stance and intermediate weapon in my hand. He left peacefully.
He was black. His race had nothing to do with it. I saw black customers in that truck stop all night, every night; nobody called the police on them and I didn’t run them off. But his behavior made the employees call the police, and his unmistakable pre-assault indicator made me take defensive measures.
On another night I stopped two black men in an area known for narcotics trafficking. The passenger looked like a crackhead. The driver was well-dressed, polite and articulate, but was nervous as hell. I asked the driver to step out and walk to the hood of my car.
The driver and I had a pleasant conversation. Until I asked for consent to search his pockets. Then he stiffened up, went silent for a few moments. When he turned around and put his hands on the hood, his back was rigid and head held way high. I could feel his heart racing as I checked his front pockets. But I also noticed something else, which was even more threatening. His passenger, still sitting in the car, was turned almost all the way around, watching us intently. He was waiting for something to happen.
I broke off the search. The driver was probably about to fight, and the passenger would likely have joined in. I was by myself, with backup at least a couple of minutes away. I chose discretion over valor.
Later that night, I found the driver again. His passenger wasn’t with him. I went ahead and searched the driver that time. And he resisted, because he had about ten rocks of crack in his pocket.
Was I racist for asking to search the driver, or for suspecting he was about to fight? No. I recognized behavioral clues. But one night on another call, I totally missed the signs.
A friend and I arrived on a disturbance call in the projects. The call wasn’t serious, and we detained a “suspect” who wasn’t acting the least bit threatening toward us. He was about 19, tall and thin, wearing saggy, loose-fitting running pants with a drawstring. We asked him to sit on the curb. He complied, and my friend stayed by him while I went to the patrol car’s computer to check him for warrants. As I got in the car, I absentmindedly noticed that the young man had pulled his pants up and was tying the drawstring.
The young man was wanted for violating probation on a felony charge. I walked back to the young man and tried to grab him. From his sitting position, he bolted. We lost him.
That kid knew he had a warrant. When I went to my car he knew I would see the warrant hit. He casually tied his drawstring so his sagging pants wouldn’t interfere when he ran. I missed that obvious clue, and was lucky it was a “pre-run” rather than “pre-assault” indicator.
So what did I learn from the above examples? I learned that watching for clues is much more important than looking at race. Yes, race can matter; I doubt anyone would argue that black victims of Klan assaults in 1950′s Alabama shouldn’t have paid attention to certain white males around them. But race isn’t the most important indicator, and isn’t what I would tell anyone to watch for.
Look for behavior. Look for nonverbal clues. Ask yourself why someone is taking the actions they’re taking. Don’t be afraid to take steps to protect yourself, whether they’re small steps like changing direction or big steps like drawing a weapon. Remember that for all the media attention paid to the Knockout Game, the chances of you becoming a victim are infinitesimally small. Remember that KO Game players can be multiracial. And remember that being aware of your surroundings, looking for pre-assault indicators and exercising good judgment does not make you racist.
Filed under: Writing | 15 Comments
Tags: knockout game, racism, veteran writers
Oprah Winfrey has been taking a lot of heat lately for her “racists just need to die” comment.
“‘There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die,’ she said.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/15/oprah-racists-die_n_4280460.html)
Many people are expressing outrage at her and those who agree with her. I’ve kept quiet about it thus far, but have decided to speak out.
Because I, too, am a victim of racism. Woe is me.
I grew up in San Antonio. Money was a constant worry for my parents, and there were many things we went without. Sometimes we were the stereotypical Hispanic family, seven of us jammed into a two door Chevy Nova on a six hour road trip to visit my grandparents who lived in the worst part of another Texas town. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t far from it, either.
Still, San Antonio was so ethnically mixed I never felt like an outsider. There were occasional racial comments, but nothing serious. Whites and Hispanics seemed to live and work together everywhere I went, and the relatively few blacks around didn’t appear to be shunned by the larger community. I thought everything was pretty much under control, racism-wise.
Then, when I was 19, I experienced something that proves Oprah’s recent words true. Racism is alive and well in America. And it’s being passed down generation to generation, just like she said it was.
A high school friend of mine had gotten his own apartment, and one Saturday afternoon invited a few buddies over to go swimming. Several friends showed up, and we headed to the pool together. I think I remember exactly who was there; three of us were Hispanic, one white, two mixed white and Hispanic, and one Jewish.
This was a warm, sunny day. Scores of people were out in the large recreation area, swimming and barbecuing. The residents of the apartment complex were racially diverse, and no problems were evident between them.
My friends and I swam, looked at women, made fun of each other, did the usual things teenage boys do. We stayed to ourselves and didn’t bother anyone. Even though we were teenagers, we were also not long out of Catholic school, and I was a Marine reservist. We weren’t the troublemaker type.
Everything was fine for about half an hour. Then, with absolutely no provocation, we were racially targeted.
I have no idea what brought it on, or why we were harassed while others were left alone. Maybe it was because three of us were obviously Hispanic, maybe someone knew our friend was Jewish, maybe someone didn’t like “race mixing” in even a benign social setting. Whatever the reason, a pleasant afternoon swimming with friends turned into an ugly racial incident, almost a hate crime. And it was caused by exactly what Oprah recently talked about; the people who harassed us had been taught by previous generations to hate us, and to hate us for nothing more than our skin color. They had been programmed to do it. The racial hatred Oprah spoke of was blindingly evident in everything they said to us.
As my group of friends screwed around in the pool, another group slowly approached us. We didn’t even notice at first, until the other group began intentionally speaking loud enough for us to hear their comments. Once we heard their hateful insults, we looked toward them and saw them staring at us. As soon as our eyes met, they began insulting us directly rather than just talking about us.
My friends and I were a little stunned. We quickly mumbled agreement between ourselves, “Let’s just go to another part of the pool.” None of us wanted a problem, and it was a huge pool. It was best to just avoid the other group. So we swam to the other side of the shallow end.
Minutes later they moved toward us again, still insulting and cursing us. I had never experienced anything like this, and though I wasn’t exactly in disbelief, I was dumbfounded by it. We were literally doing NOTHING wrong. We hadn’t spoken a cross word to anyone except each other, and that was jokingly. I accepted that some people didn’t like me because of my skin tone, but couldn’t these people just leave it alone while everyone was having a good time at the pool?
My friends and I swam to the deep end. The other group watched us and kept running their mouths. And sure enough, within minutes they were coming toward us again.
They had to pull themselves along the edge of the pool to get to us, though. They couldn’t swim in deep water. They were little black girls, about 8 or 9 years old.
“F**k you white boys! We ain’t afraid of you white boys!”
My friends and I shook our heads, decided “Screw it, let’s go back to the apartment,” and climbed out of the pool. As I dried off, I saw a black man by a barbecue pit call one of the girls over. She climbed out, ran to him and listened as he said something I couldn’t hear. I could only make out part of her response: “But those white boys were. . .!”
I have no idea what she accused us of. But I guarantee you that we weren’t out there insulting or harassing little girls, of any color.
So I’m with you, Oprah. I know horrible, entrenched racism is alive in America. I experienced it myself. I’m certain those little girls didn’t have such horrible experiences with white people, or Hispanics who they thought were white, that they uncontrollably lashed out at any white people they saw. I’m sure someone told them to hate white people, whether whites did anything to them or not. I’m positive they were simply repeating what they heard others say, and mimicking what they saw others do.
Just like Oprah, and Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson, and every other member of the racial grievance industry, my life was profoundly changed by my close encounter with racism. I was spiritually damaged, depressed, distrustful of everyone the same color as my attackers, despondent at the realization that some people would always judge me solely by my race. I was an emotional wreck.
Then about thirty-seven seconds later, I laughed it off and went to lunch with my friends.
I didn’t associate those little girls, or the people who raised them to be racist, with blacks I knew. One of my black high school friends was in the Naval Academy at the time; he had nothing to do with the racism those girls expressed. The blacks I knew in the Marine Corps didn’t act like that. I didn’t blame all blacks for those girls’ actions.
In my fairly short life I’ve learned a few things about people. I know that racism is not simply “whites oppressing blacks”. I’ve heard Hispanics talk about how much they dislike whites. I’ve heard whites talk about how much they dislike Arabs. I’ve heard Iraqis talk about how much they hate Egyptians. I knew a Pashtun who talked about how much he hates Tajiks. I heard Albanians talk about how much they hate Serbs. I heard Greeks talk about how much they hate Albanians. I had a drunken Hispanic gang member, when he saw my name tag as I arrested him, blurt out, “You are a f**king disgrace to the Mexican race!” And I was racially harassed and insulted by a group of little black girls.
So. Freaking. What.
Every day I work and live among many different races and ethnic groups. As a cop and soldier I’ve risked my life with and for people of different races, and they risked their lives for me. My children go to school in ethnically diverse schools. My son in law is the tallest white kid you’ll ever meet and my granddaughter is mixed white and Hispanic. I don’t walk the streets fearful of other races. I don’t raise my children to view one group as “oppressors” and other groups as “victims”. I teach my children that in this country, the greatest country that has ever existed, anyone can earn their way to success. I’m just a regular guy who didn’t come from money, I’m not a college graduate, all I’ve been is a Marine, cop and soldier, yet my family is happier and living far more comfortably than most people in the world will ever dream of. Because this is America and my last name and skin color don’t dictate how successful I’ll be.
No matter what I or anyone else thinks of President Obama, the fact is he’s half black and still got elected by mostly white voters. Oprah, for all her angst over racism, is the most powerful woman in the entertainment industry. She complained about a saleswoman who questioned whether or not she could afford a $38,000 purse, citing latent racism, without seeming to realize her race hasn’t kept her from being able to buy a $38,000 purse. My first house only cost $45,000.
The little racist girls who harassed us are somewhere around their early 30’s now. I bet they don’t consider their actions “racist”. I’m positive they’re in full agreement with Oprah’s wish that those darn racists would just die off, without realizing they’re actually talking about themselves. And when Oprah made that comment, I’m sure she had no idea that some of those people she wants dead, the people “born and bred and marinated in racism”, are the same color she is.
Filed under: Writing | 22 Comments
Tags: oprah, racism, veteran writers