Friday, March 16, 2012

Urban Safety: "Cross the Street"

"Cross the street"
If you are walking down a sidewalk and observe any activity up ahead that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, either a) cross to the other side of the street or b) double back.

Warm weather tends to bring an increase in violent crime. Nowhere is this trend more predictable than in Chicago. March is historically a month with lower batteries, aggravated batteries, and murders. In the past week, what with record-setting high temperatures in the 70s, there have been a spree of shootings: Over a dozen in the past two days alone. The average UChicago student, or average Chicagoan, has little to fear from these crimes, but the general violence uptick that accompanies high temperatures is something to consider. In particular, robbers (or "muggers") tend to be out more in summer weather.

In a previous post, I listed five good rules for staying safe on Chicago's streets. Or rather, five good rules for staying safe on ANY major urban city's streets. Here they are briefly:
  1. CROSS THE STREET
  2. BE AWARE
  3. LOOK AWARE
  4. DON'T WALK WHILE WEARING HEADPHONES
  5. DON'T BE BURIED IN YOUR PHONE
They range from the general to the specific, and all of them are great rules to live by. Over the next weeks, I am going to talk about each of them in detail. Today's discussion will be about my first, and perhaps most controversial, rule: "Cross the street".

I started off the post with the rule, but let's see it again just to drill it in:

"Cross the street"
If you are walking down a sidewalk and observe any activity or conditions up ahead that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, either a) cross to the other side of the street or b) double back. 

There are a few critical elements of this definition that are worth elaborating on. Specifically, there is a distinction between what I am trying to say in this rule, and what I am absolutely not trying to say in this rule.

"Activity or conditions"
There is a big difference between "Activity or conditions" and "People". A lot of Chicagoan, especially UChicago students, might misinterpret this advice as "If you see any people (such as young non-white males)". There are a lot of problems with this misinterpretation. For one, we no longer live in a world of 1940s Disney cartoons; warriors and intellectuals especially should be better than such racist generalizations.
More importantly, however, looking for "People" is not a good measure of safety. People themselves are often quite neutral. It is the activity that they are doing, or the conditions in which they are in, that makes them dangerous or criminal. Let us consider "activity" and "conditions" separately, for now, just so we can get a better sense of this rule and its application.

"Activity"
Activity describes the actions and behavior of a group of people. It does not describe the people themselves. Problematic activities and behavior include.
  • Suspicious pointing in your direction, along with covert whispers
  • Wearing clothing that is too warm or thick for the weather (e.g. a hoodie or jacket on a sunny July day)
  • Constantly looking over one's shoulder as they approach you
  • Rough-housing and play punching
 This is just a brief list of all the actions that would arise extreme suspicion and provoke you to find a safer route. Basically, you are looking for activity that tends to indicate danger. To an extent, you could consider this a form of stereotyping or, at the least, generalization. In my experience, people wearing hoodies on a 90 degree day have something to hide, and that something is probably bad for your health if they are approaching you in a clique of 3. Use judgment, common sense, and experience.

"Conditions"
Sometimes, it's not the activity that people are doing, but the actual physical environment that is cause for alarm. The proverbial "dark alley" is definitely an example of this. It's as true today in Chicago as it was in 1985 New York City; not much good happens in dark alleys, especially after nightfall. There are, however, more subtle indications that the physical environment potentially harbors danger. Here are some examples in my own experience:
  • Blind corners in poorly lit areas
  • Desolate streets with minimal traffic, either foot or auto
  • DARK ALLEYS (Can't emphasize that one enough; the 2 minutes you save on your "shortcut" is not often worth it)
  • Warm, humid weather. 
  • Parks after nightfall. Bushes, trees, high foliage ,etc. This is a perfect ambush zone.
 There are of course exceptions and qualification to all of these. For example, warm weather is also a great time to go out at night for a walk with your significant other! But maybe stay away from dark parks. And dark alleys. It is shocking how many people get attacked near dark alleys, despite the fact that this is supposedly common knowledge.

Some Conclusions: Don't live your life in fear!
"But Sheridan, if I follow all this advice, I am just going to live my life in a constant state of paranoia! How do you even go outside!?"
You don't want to live your life in a constant state of hyper-aware stress. We don't live in a warzone (for the most part, and I only speak for myself). Part of the warrior way is learning to adopt these techniques to a daily routine without raising your blood pressure too much, or creeping out your friends. Casually observe these concepts. Be cool. Have Zanshin, a state of awareness and calm that the Samurai purported to possess (more on that another time).

It's Friday. Stay safe. Have fun. STAY SAFE. Remember the tips!

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