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Trayvon: What to Tell Youth About Confrontations

More blogs »Posted on Jul 16 2013

Watching many videos giving reactions to the George Zimmerman trial I came across one that is from the soon-to-be-reborn Crossfire show, with Newt Gingrich and Van Jones debating. Now, I like Van Jones, though he is politically the opposite of me, because he’s thoughtful and intelligent. What he said shocked me, though. He said, as a black man, must he tell his sons to dress in a tuxedo to go buy Skittles, and must they lie on the ground with their hands behind them if they’re confronted with an armed civilian?

My soul cried out “Van, what ARE you going to tell them? What would you advise them to do in a confrontation similar to that of Martin and Zimmerman?

Once in my career I was confronted with a Naval officer who, regarding a moral/ethical issue, said “If I don’t see it on CNN, how do I know what is moral or ethical?” With that in mind, allow me to humbly offer the following advice for any youth or child facing a potentially violent confrontation.

Before I begin, let me be clear. I am NOT talking about what is LEGAL, I am going to try to recommend something that is WISE. They are not always the same. Here on Cape Cod, which is crisscrossed with two lane roads, it is legal for bicycles to share the road with cars. I will not do this, I will truck my bike to the Cape Cod Rail Trail and ride the bike trail. Don’t I have the right to ride on the road? Yes. Is it wise? I’d say not with teenagers on the road who attempt to text while they drive, or adults who may drink and drive, or tourists who don’t know the roads. If one of those hits me and kills me ten years from now, the fact that they may have broken the law will be of slight comfort to my loved ones.

Also, I speak as a Christian who is trying his best to live by the word of God. And, I speak as someone who has studied a number of schools of self defense (karate, hapkido…), archery, European fencing, Japanese fencing, firearms (I qualified Expert Rifle Marksman in the Navy), so I know a little about self defense.

The most important thought regarding handling a hostile confrontation is… to AVOID the confrontation! The later the night it is, the more dangerous things get. Realize that there are all kinds of predators out there, from sexual predators to thugs and bullies to the mentally ill. It is illegal for them to assault you, but that’s no guarantee they won’t. Don’t cut through people’s yards, even if you know them (it’s not polite, and could frighten them). Stick to sidewalks, that’s why they’re there. It’s better not to walk alone, especially if you’re female (I know it’s not fair, but I think it’s wise). Have a cell ‘phone on you. Be aware of your surroundings, scan the area with your eyes. Make eye contact. Don’t look like a tourist. If you’re walking any distance, wear shoes you can run in.

Being aware of your surroundings, what happens if you become aware that someone is following you? Make your way to a well-lit public place. As you walk, if they are not running, glance back at them and make very brief eye contact as you continue to be aware of your surroundings. If you have no reason to feel that they are a threat, and they are gaining on you, let them walk by, but give them room (don’t let them violate your personal space).

If you DO think they are a threat, use your cell ‘phone to call the police. And… RUN.

Perhaps, I don’t know, you’re in a relative’s gated community, there’s a neighborhood watch, it’s a dark rainy night and the person following you is focussed on you. Calling the police and running to a well-lit public area remain your best options, in my opinion. But, if for some reason, that doesn’t work (maybe he’s yelled “stop, I have a gun” and you think he’s an unusually good shot) and you MUST actually confront him, try these recommendations. Turn and face the person slowly, with your hands out and open. Make eye contact. Speak calmly and slowly. Ask “Can I help you?” Ask yourself mentally “WHY couldn’t I have fled this mess a few minutes ago?” Their having a handgun changes things somewhat, but bear in mind few people can reliably hit a target at any range, especially if you’re running, and most especially if they’re moving too. And yes, Mr. Jones, if the encounter has gone hopelessly badly, and you’re close to someone who’s armed with a gun who says “get on the ground and cross your hands behind your head until the police get here”, it might be best to do so and pray he really did call the police.

All of this may actually sound obvious, but not if you listen to the media lately. The idea often stated is that someone who’s unarmed should be able to physically assault someone who’s following them without getting shot. Really? I understand that getting shot after beating somebody up isn’t fair, but I go back to my basic point that the best hostile confrontations are the ones that have been avoided! Do we really want to encourage young people to confront a stranger in a hostile manner for any reason other than self-defense in extremis or the defense of someone else? And by the way, if you initiate a physical confrontation, you probably are guilty of assault, which is against the law.

You never know what you’re getting into when you get aggressive with someone. They may be meaner than you, better armed than you, high on drugs or mentally ill. They may be hardened criminals, or afraid that they are confronting a criminal. I submit there is little to gain, and very much to lose. Let us teach our youth to avoid confrontations, as best they can. For blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.



» July 16, 2013 - 11:31 pm

The piece I wrote above IS NOT MEANT to be a direct commentary on the Zimmerman trial. That tends to be divisive, and I did not comment on ‘the other side’ of the encounter since I am not qualified to comment on the guidelines of neighborhood watch groups and whether or not Mr. Zimmerman followed them, and/or recommendations from the police. It is meant specifically to address the narrow subject of what is wise to advise our youth regarding hostile encounters with strangers. I’m simply responding to the idea that a physical encounter should not result in getting shot. I’d agree with that, but I believe it’s not the kind of thinking someone should carry into a potentially hostile encounter.

[edit], I’m Father Alan, Gloria asked me about fatherwashashore, which I didn’t notice until she pointed that out. That’s my login ID at the host of our website! I’ll be more careful in the future so as not to cause confusion. Thanks, Gloria, I did not notice that!

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