Thursday, March 29, 2012

Urban Safety: "Be Aware"

"Be aware"
Keep your eyes and ears open! Scan for threats and possible dangers. At first, you will do this actively. With practice, it will become habit. Remember the old Dungeons and Dragons adage: If you get ambushed, you already failed your listen and spot check.  

This is part 2 of our 5 part series on urban safety tips. In part 1, I talked about the importance of "crossing the street" to avoid uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situations. Here is what we should remember about "crossing 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."

Remember that there is a difference between observing potential dangers and just being biased or discriminatory. Use your best judgment and experience in making the call, but do not select certain aspects of the situation to downplay/overplay at the expense of others. For example, if you see a rowdy group of young white men walking towards you, their rowdy behavior should be at the front of your mind. Just because young white men in Chicago are less likely to commit crimes than other demographics, the behavior of this group should strongly indicate that these guys might be the exception. That said, do not worry about political correctness if you have genuine cause to worry. If a group of three men in hoodies points at you and then starts to check over their shoulders for potential witnesses as they close the distance, skin color should not matter. Regardless of their perceive race, you should be rapidly exiting the situation.

Next Tip: Be Aware
That brings us to the next part of our safety lesson: "Be Aware". "Cross the street" is a good first rule because it is concrete, specific, and sets the tone for the following safety tips. Insofar as urban safety has a thesis, however, "Be Aware" is probably it. This principle basically comes down to using your eyes and ears at all times.

"Be aware" 
-Look over your shoulder as you walk
-Keep your head on a swivel
-Watch for suspicious shadows
-Have your ears open for unusual visual cues (muttered conversation around corners that stops as you approach, twigs snapping, rustling behind dumpsters, etc.)
-Identify potentially unsafe situations before you reach them

These are some sample strategies for being aware in an urban environment. Under no circumstances should you limit yourself to these methods; there are dozens of other actions that constitute "being aware" that I have not listed. My above suggestions, however, are a good starting point.

The common thread in all of them, and this returns to the header of this post, is an active scanning for threats. At first, we should consider active awareness as distinct from the more common "PASSIVE" awareness. In the end, however, we are going to see that the two are not actually that different. You want to evolve your awareness from passive, to active, and then again to habitual. Let's delve into this a bit.

Step 1: Passive Awareness
As you walk down the street, there is a good chance that you are passively aware of the world around you (But if you have headphones on, or are buried in an iPhone, then you probably aren't even passively engaged!). You are cognizant of visual and aural cues in your vicinity, and on some level you are processing them. Trees are green and pretty, dogs are cute and cuddly, people are going about their day, and cars are zooming by. Passive awareness of the world, however, is not detail oriented. It gives you a general sense of your surroundings but leaves you oblivious to any specifics, especially the specifics that might threaten you. Can you remember the colors of the cars you walked by this morning? Their make and model? Do you think you could point out the faces of your fellow pedestrians in a police line up? Do you remember what clothing they wore? Most people can't. Most people do not even try.

I am not suggesting that passive awareness is useless. After all, passive awareness can give you a decent sense of the obvious dangers; if a giant 40 man brawl is rumbling in the sidewalk down the road, you will probably notice it and steer clear. You are unlikely to fall into an uncovered manhole, and you are probably aware of cars at red lights and stop signs. Passive awareness is an acceptable way to walk through the world in the vast majority of situations. It is also a lot easier and less stressful. If you are out with your friends, it is quite a drag to be processing every last detail you encounter on the streets. How can one enjoy life like that?

That first time you get robbed, jumped, attacked, or just find yourself in a horrible situation, passive awareness becomes a lot less useful. It happens only once (hopefully), but that one time is an identity and experience changing event. Passive awareness is terrible at identifying the cues and warnings that lead up to this event. It will serve you well most days, but that one time you really needed to observe danger beforehand, it is going to let you down. In most instances, criminals act as predators. They operate on a level that is invisible to passive awareness, and that is why they are successful at their trade. To counter this threat, you need to employ a more active engagement of the world.

Step 2: Active Awareness
Once you realize that passive awareness has some serious flaws, it is time to increase your state of alertness. That is where the active awareness strategy becomes relevant. All of those tips that I mentioned above come into play. Keep your head on a swivel. Have your ears open. Check around your shoulder every few seconds. Turn your gaze towards strange or unexpected noises to determine the threat (if any). Essentially, active awareness is a state of vigilance. Some might call it hyper vigilance, even.

You need not always be in a frame of active awareness. This is what separates it from paranoia. Active awareness should be a tool that you employ whenever you need it, a mode that you can turn on when it is called for. In cities, whenever you are walking down sparsely populated sidewalks, whenever it is dark outside, or whenever you are in a neighborhood known for crime, you should be able to switch on your active awareness setting. Alternately, you could voluntarily engage active awareness every few minutes, reminding yourself to look around and observe your environment on a schedule.

The problem with this, as some of you might identify, is that active awareness is not really practical for every day situations. When you are out with your parents or significant other, they are going to think you mighty strange if you are gawking about like an owl every 20 seconds, or snapping to attention whenever you hear broken twig of crunch of gravel underfoot. That said, passive awareness is just not good enough to catch the threats before they arise. How is one to implement the safeguarding principles of active awareness while retaining the ease of passive awareness?

Step 3: Habitual Awareness
With a lot of practice, you will start to develop what I call "habitual awareness". It is a combination of both states, where you are constantly engaged with the world around you, but in a calm and gathered way. The habitually aware do not alarm pedestrians as they walk down the street (with rapidly swiveling heads and sharp reactions to odd noises), nor are they paranoid wrecks in company of friends on everyday strolls. It is the samurai on outing through Edo's marketplace, the warrior monk on pilgrimage through the countryside. It is the epitome of that concept "Zanshin" (a calm, collected, cool awareness and presence of mind) that I touched on before. This should be your goal as a warrior. It is certainly mine, and I have given much thought and practice to the matter. I hope that I am closer to my goal now than I was in years past.

Applying the "Be Aware" Tip
No one is going to get to habitual awareness overnight. I certainly have not, and probably won't by tomorrow morning! While you develop the sense, however, you can continue to summon active awareness at key moments. Develop an internal clock that triggers an active awareness scan. Every 30 seconds, give a look over your shoulder. Every time you reach an alley or corner, listen a little bit harder and search for suspicious shadows or other indicators of trouble. When walking out late, try and scan every 15 seconds (or less). It takes a while to adopt into your daily routine, but that one time you avert a disaster, you will be thankful for all the awkward moments that came before. Remember; skills only develop through practice, reflection, refinement, and yet more practice. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

UChicago Crime Report: Robberies from 51st to 53rd

Incident Location Date/Time Occurred Comment
Robbery Dorchester between 50th and 51st 3/25/12 2:34 AM Unknown male demanded and took property from a man walking on the sidewalk off campus
Robbery 53rd and Ellis 3/25/12 8:56 AM Unknown male took property from a man walking on the sidewalk off campus

Sadly vague descriptions of the crime and the assailants, but the UCPD is doing its best; it can be a little bristly to go into too much detail in a report. Factors such as race and attire can create tremendous bias, especially when divorced from other facts. As usual, UChicago students are always advised to be cautious and aware when traveling around an urban environment. This goes doubly for when it is warm outside.

Take note of the odd times of these attacks. Most crime in this city occurs between 4:30 PM and roughly 11:00 PM. Some neighborhoods experience another violent crime spike at around 2:00 AM, when bars close and a lot of parties call it quits for the night. Hyde Park crime tends to happen at around 4:00 PM and 8:30 PM; it is pretty uncommon to see early morning attacks, and ridiculously rare to see robberies happening as you walk to class.

This just goes to show that robbery and crime can occur at all times of the day. What does that mean for warriors and citizens alike? It means you need to be cautious at all times of the day. Keep in mind the urban safety tips that we talked about before. Exercise them whether it is 9:00 PM or 9:00 AM. The inconvenience that you might incur from forgoing headphones and iPhone is definitely worth it when you steer clear of a potential robber or attacker. Tomorrow, we will go over the next important step in the process of urban safety: BE AWARE.

"Urban Safety: Cross the Street"

"Review of the overall principles"

Monday, March 26, 2012

Chicago Thoughts: Chicago, Modern City of Districts

The Districts of Chicago overflow with character. Residents know it. Residents relish it. Even today, an era I often lament, character still pours from our locales. Brief tour should invigorate even the staunchest skeptic.

The term "District", as we should understand it here, originates from the fantastic settings of history and imagination. We think of Baghdad, with Bazaars and Universities, just as we think of Neverwinter ,Faerun regional capital with Beggar's Nest, Blacklake, and more. "District" does not just connote internal city division, but rather a singular character separation between communities within the metropolis. Districts have as much overwhelming personal character as they have tangible opportunity; a sense of adventure permeates a true district, just as the character of that district influences the actual nature of that adventure. In the classic example of Athkatla, we find city divided between Temple, Bridge, Dock, Slum, and a variety of other zones. There is no such thing as an Athkatlan adventure. Rather, adventures become characterized by the specific district in which they take place. Brawl and brew in the docks, prayer and proselytizing in Temple, and so on.

Tempting as it may be to classify this as an antiquated or romantic notion, I discourage such doubt. Skepticism drives innovation, as any paragon of either Renaissance or Enlightenment could attest. Doubt is the business of the uninspired, and I know of no great works accomplished by an uninspired being. Do not be doubter, but do be skeptic. Question whether or not "Districts" applies in the modern world, because the questioner seeks answers, explanation, and clarity. Skepticism changes belief, not entrenches it. Doubters seek only confirmation of extant disbelief. Doubt is one of the greatest agents of stagnation, whether historical, cultural, intellectual, or in any other realm.

So it is that we arrive at Chicago. As far as a thesis goes, this was an obvious one. The essay's first part alluded to it in all but explicit statement. Now I state it clearly, pride bolstering my words. Chicago is a modern City of Districts. The greatest now? Or ever? I do not think so, but it is the greatest I know. Not all who travel or reside here may agree, but many surely do. And for those that do not, I encourage skepticism; why should any city of the drab modern age achieve Constantinople's or Rome's glory? Perhaps Chicago will not, but it will not be for lack of Districts to compose its map and drive its citizens.

Chicago's neighborhoods have diverse names. Does this make us a City of Districts? Of course not. Names alone do not suffice. That we have an Andersonville, a Wicker Park, a Lincoln Square, a South Shore, an Englewood, or a Pilsen means nothing on its own. Many cities give pet name to neighborhoods, just as many lovers offer pet names to each other. The fact of the names is not sufficient to mean anything. You would be hard pressed to find a city with residents who did not have ownership enough to name parts of their town. Indeed, as a particularly obnoxious series of recent metropolis posters shows, every major city in America appears to have such districting. But as we can sense with just tangential observation, not every city even approaches worth at being entitled "City . of Districts". Something more than mere neighborhood name must be at work here.

Then there is the character and nature of those neighborhoods. If nothing else, Chicago's have character. Say it cool, like Bronzeville jazzman. Character. Perhaps to excess, some might argue. In the true City of Districts, neighborhood character must strongly influence both the qualities of its residents, and the tone of adventures and opportunities. I fear to say that one should be able to predict both residents and adventures just by knowing the neighborhood; predictability is too closely related to homogenization, and there is nothing homogeneous about Districts and their contents. Rather, you should have a feel for the general tenor of anything in a District just by knowing its name. You would never know specifics with cursory examination. General character, however, should be expected and sought after.

The Districts of Chicago overflow with character. Residents know it. Residents relish it. Not just historically, although that is also true. Even today in an era I often lament, character still pours from our locales. Brief tour should invigorate even the staunchest skeptic. Unlike the tourist mousetrap buses, we should not start downtown. Back of the Yards is as fine a beginning as any. Working class houses and cars, faint scent of slaughter town carcasses wafting through air. Open lots line the streets, cattle and hog spirits prowling about. Europe's immigrants arrived and started anew. Flannel collared man or woman, sleeves rolled high, city safety vest flapping in breeze, set forth in mornings to take to the town and claim their check. Enjoy burger or dog, but do hold that ketchup. Chug beer and watch the game, whatever that game may be. Complain and laugh, and fix a car on a warm spring day. Hard work, old brick, quiet streets; welcome to Back of the Yards.

Uptown comes next. Chicagoans will observe that we are not exactly traveling in terms of miles or proximity. This is a tour that respects character, and diversity of character. Not miles or roads. Uptown is thus next, not Bridgeport or Chinatown. Everything you need to know about Uptown can be found in its post office, and I do not say that dismissively or to reduce or lessen its grandeur. Wizened women in mismatched shoes stand alongside stained coated beggars, men in fishnet stockings and bras chatter with yoga-mat toting blondes. Teenagers in bulging hoodies and pants poke at phone screens with one hand, clutching handwritten letters and bills in the other. Babies play with broken pink cars in a corner while two men of Eastern Europe mutter darkly at each other. And all of this takes place not in some 1970s barracks of linoleum and cinder block. Patrons stand on gold filigreed marble. Majestic limestone upholds gilded ceiling. And presiding over it all, the Public Works Mural of the Great Depression. Tall, awkward laborers, painted in the distinctive style of renegade Art Deco painters of the early Twentieth Century, hammer at girded skyscraper. Farmer strolls a field. The boss oversees on the left, tailcoated with pocket watch. Artist plays on the right, with guitar and booming voice. The words blare to the post office audience: "Out of the wealth and needs of industry came a new architecture. From the sun and the fruits of the black soil, poetry and song sprang." With its subsidized apartments, glittering condos, and towering theaters of Gatsby's time, that is Uptown.

Little Village next? A tough choice, and perhaps an all-too-conscience one. Chicago is great in its ethnic diversity, and despite some groans that it may elicit, I would be remiss to exclude the West Side heartland of those coming from America's south. Besides, how can anyone who has driven all of 26th or 31st Street neglect the energy of this District? Ask ten different residents and you receive twenty different recommendations for the best restaurant, the best market, the best retailer. While working here as protector of University of Chicago researcher, I was invited into almost every home we visited. Water or tea was often offered. Dinner was even given at least twice. Hospitality like that was supposedly extinct! Little Village's families disprove our Western ignorance. An older gentleman explained his nativity scene to me, a diorama that spanned an entire dinner table of space. Cotton for snow, figurines for an Arkful of animals, and the most simple carvings of the holy figures I have witnessed. He even knew I did not understand a word he was saying. But it was not disingenuous on my part to listen, just as it was not condescending on his part to speak. We shared faith and Christmas wonder without sharing a language. Romantization risks minimizing the dangers of such a neighborhood. Latin Kings, Gangster Two Six, beaten pit bulls, desperate robbers; they too call Little Village home. But that too is part of the neighborhood's spirit, or at least a time for it to manifest. Churches rally parishioners, social service agencies fight for the young, and outreach workers take to the streets to battle with reason and words against gun and cusses. But that those same men who invite me into house for arroz con leche or tea can stand down their child's shooter; this defines Little Village and its family.

Those who know me can guess where I will end. There is not much to say of it without diminishing its strengths or simplifying its dangers. Of all the neighborhoods, this is the one that those from Los Angeles to New York City may have heard; certainly if you read of Chicago in the 1990s, you would have heard of Little Beirut. Today we call it Englewood, and there isn't a cabbie in the city that journeys there without either a steeling inhale or a flat out refusal. Residents struggle in it, get by in it, die in it, and thrive in it. Businesses avoid it. Police fear it. Social workers avoid it. Citizens of Chicago at large ignore it, hoping it to go away; it is easier to care of Syria's or Sudan's problems, thousands of miles away. But 5 miles away? That is what the proverbial rug is for. Some say it looks like Bosnia, although those people have themselves never been anywhere east of Berlin. A more apt comparison is Detroit. Or New Orleans. In all these cases, however, it is easy to miss the true character of Englewood, Chicago's murder capital with a murder rate higher than Colombia or South Africa. Englewood is a neighborhood of Strength. It is the strength of the Rebel Alliance on Yavin IV. It is the strength of Catelyn Tully as she journeys Westeros. It is the strength in every pastor who lights fire in his sermons to empower his congregation. You see it in every teacher and social worker who returns to work for another day, and in every young man or woman who comes to their office or classroom again. It is in the block clubs, the living rooms, and the backyard cookouts of every smiling, enduring family. You can witness it in those that "positively" loiter across the street from gang cliques, and those who call 911 when a man is shot in the road. Englewood is the District of a mighty spirit, and that spirit is what will infuse all its residents, visitors, and adventures for years to come.

Four portraits do not make a gallery. I would not attend a showing at museum or exhibit with such a meager presentation. Hopefully, however, quality of artwork exceeds quantity. Chicago has always been called the Second City, in no small part because of its supposed subservience to New York. We lack the history of Madrid or Rome, and we lack the business power of Tokyo or Beijing. What we do not lack, however, are Districts. Dozens of other unmentioned ones remain for exploring and characterization, although we should not think that we characterize them ourselves. Rather, they are their own characterizers. Ample questing across cityscape should reveal that to be the case, but I assure all skeptics who remain to not take my word for it. Venture forth with helmet upon head, bag upon back, and machete at side (take that last advice more proverbially; the police would take unkindly to a literal interpretation). Know that the Districts of Chicago await the questing knights and pilgrims of this world with lost treasure and unclaimed story both. We are the Modern City of Districts, and just as the towns of the Old World were ripe with tale, trial, travail, and triumph, so too is Chicago.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Chicago Thoughts: A City of Districts, A City of Adventure

 A true "District", not just a neighborhood, will demand that its name be said with suggestive inflection. You should feel and know the neighborhood just by speaking its title.

Adventurers and travelers, from time of Araby to America, know it well; the greatest Cities of Fables were never just one town inside ones set of walls. Contained in any sprawling cityscape were many smaller neighborhoods, districts, zones, and towns. Cities within cities, to risk the ire of the meme generation. To be sure, not all towns earned this classification. Only the greatest, only the ones worth remembering. How tempting is it to reminisce on their spires and squalor? Universities and Bazaar at Baghdad, the skulldugerous wharves of London and Portobello Road, New York's boroughs, the pleasure and noble houses of Kyoto, and, of course, all of Constantinople and Istanbul. Neighborhoods each have their own singular flavor, character, and narrative. They are worth remembering in and of themselves, let alone part of the city. Yes, yes, as University of Chicago scholar, I would be remiss to romanticize too much. Just because old Jerusalem calls to all of us, that does not necessarily mean there is something magical in these cities.

No, but surely there is more to it than historical! Moderners in theater know what I speak of. Theater of all forms, whether grandly lit stage or dimly lit platform, computer game screen or roleplaying table top. The dramatists know, especially those who game. Writers too. Every fantastic city that we grew up in had a playbill of neighborhoods and inner communities. Athkatla or Neverwinter, Minas Tirith or Osgiliath, Cyrodiil's Imperial City, Clock Town, and Coruscant. Individual communities defined these metropolises. Individual districts with individual characters. On one side of a town, the docks might provide brew or brawl. Mere blocks away, priests congregate at crossroads to convert. Such local seasoning gives a city, and its residents, great character. In one city, one walled community, an adventure awaits around every corner. Wild personalities, both of area and inhabitants, foster the quest in all of us.

The spirit of adventure. That seems to lie at the core of it all. A city with many unique neighborhoods and districts, communities and boroughs, defies generalization. It defies standardization. Opportunity skulks in each alley, wonder hunched in every doorway. It is not necessarily a function of city size, but rather of city personality. We speak of humans with overpowering personality. A "Character," we might call them. They command a room on mere entrance, and a conversation with just a glance. That is where I arrive at this notion of "Districts". In those games and fantasies I most remembered, in the cities of history with the most romantic possibility and adventure hiding behind corners, districts built the entire municipality. That word, "Districts" must be resurrected. It connotes more than just community or neighborhood. It means character. It means history. It means possibility. A city of districts is a city in which every neighborhood has its own compelling presence. Just by entering the district, its spirit commands your attention and drives your action. 

So how are we to consider all of this? Are there terms to tuck away for later use? "District" comes to mind. It is more than mere police district or alderman ward. It is not a technical boundary so much as a spiritual one. It is also more than just neighborhood name. Just because a side or part of town can claim a title, does not make it a true "district", in the sense of those fabled and magical cities. For a community area to be called a district, it must have a commanding character, and it must resist standardization. It must seethe opportunity, and it must defy government. Not in the post-anarchist New York City sense; it can have running water, pay taxes, enjoy police protection, hold municipal offices, and so on. Its direction, future, and residents, however, must be self-decided.

Minding that, here is then the ultimate test of district status. In turn, it is the metric by which a city is judged to be a city of Districts, not just an urban sprawl. Here is the test: Simply say its name. A true "District", not just a neighborhood, will demand that its name be said with suggestive inflection. You should feel and know the neighborhood just by speaking its title. History should course through you and all the possible paths of the future must trickle ahead. If you can say the neighborhood's name with respect, fear, a knowing chuckle, a garish laugh, a contented smile, or pure awe, then it is indeed a true district. A city with many such neighborhoods thus becomes a city of districts.

The next step in the essay is natural. What modern cities are there that contain such awing districts? I can consider a few, but I only care for one. And that is something to discuss next time.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chicago Thoughts: Chicago Police Manpower

New York City had a huge crime reduction in the 90s, in no small part due to its professional and large police force. Today, for Chicago's police to have coverage like New York's (at least, based on population density), the CPD would need roughly 15,800 officers. That's 3,500 more officers than Chicago currently has, and 3,500 more officers than we can currently afford. 

Chicago has a crime problem. Every news outlet from Los Angeles to New York knows it. Chicagoans definitely know it, even if they can't identify parties involved, specific neighborhoods, or reasons why. One of the factors in this crime puzzle is police manpower, specifically number of sworn officers on active duty. As New York City hotspot policing strategies showed, more officers did equal less crime. Other factors were involved, but a big part of it was sheer number of police. Today, we are going to look at police manpower for both of these cities today. New York City, a huge town with a comparatively small violent crime rate. Chicago, a smaller town with an embarrassing violent crime rate.

But before we do that, let's just get something out of the way. I love numbers, data, and statistics. My high school transcript might not reflect that, but it is no less true. A lot of these posts are going to talk about numbers and my interpretation of those numbers. In that regard, statistical analysis is just like writing; you spin them to make a point. All of my posts that contain numbers are going to try and make a point. Biased? Opinionated? Yes to both.

So let's get started. 

# Sworn Officers City Population Officers per capita (per 100,000)
New York City 36000 8175133
Chicago 12244 2695598 ~454

By the population metric, Chicago and NYC are pretty close. Chicago has a few more officers per capita than does New York. Based on this alone, it doesn't look like Chicago has a manpower problem. But there are other ways to look at this. Here is one that does not just shock and alarm. It is downright outrageous. Jaw-dropping, in fact.

# Sworn Officers Square Land Mileage Officers per square mile
New York City 36000 302.64
Chicago 12244 227.2 ~54

That's what we call a manpower disaster. NYC has more than DOUBLE the number of officers per square mile than does Chicago. NYC can use this manpower to increase coverage, decrease response times, and generally increase presence. Chicago is on a shoestring police force right now.
In fact, in order for Chicago to have the same number of officers per square mile as NYC, we would need to have a whopping 27,000 officers on our force. If we doubled our current department, we still just wouldn't make it to NYC levels of coverage.

I admit, though, that this is a bit alarmist, not just alarming. After all, square mileage of a city might not be the best way to measure a police force's manpower. Sprawling cities might not have a lot of population. So let's look at a different number, a much more important number, to show the real difference between Chicago and NYC officer strength.

# Sworn Officers Pop. Density/Sq. Mile Ratio of Officers to Density
New York City 36000 27012.5
Chicago 12244 11864.4 ~1.03

First of all, this idea of "Ratio of Officers to Density" is a little abstruse. In fact, it's downright sloppy data analysis, but it gets the message across in this brief space. It lets us extrapolate some idea about police coverage in a city. A NYC square mile has 27000 residents. The police force has roughly 1.3 times as many officers as does any square mile. In Chicago, the police force only has roughly the same number of officers as does any square mile.

Here's where it gets interesting. Let's assume that NYC has optimal coverage of its city, with a good number of police officers relative to its density. Suppose that Chicago wanted to have comparable coverage. Guess how many officers it would need so that it too had a 1.33 coverage ratio, just like NYC?

For the CPD to have coverage like the NYPD (at least, based on population density), it would need roughly 15,800 officers. That's 3,500 more officers than Chicago currently has.

Of course, density may not be the best measure of police coverage. There are a lot of other nuanced metrics we can use. But it gives some sense of the tremendous manpower problem facing the courageous police of Chicago. As anyone who has read the news knows, Illinois is a remarkably broke state, the second most broke after California. There is no money to hire new officers, and even if some room in the budget were made, a mere 100-300 new recruits would not even come close to filling the quota. This leaves the city with a lack of law enforcement and a lack of personnel to stop crime. Bad news for our crime rates, and tough news for the overworked, underappreciated CPD.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Way of the Warrior: Acting Under Stress

In my, admittedly limited, experience. no one actually steps it up under stress. You step down to the lowest denominator of your training and experience

These days, self-defense training is preoccupied with the concept of "stress drills". In stress drills, a student will have to apply their techniques and concepts under duress in a semi-uncontrolled and unpredictable environment. The objective of this difficult regimen is to accustom martial artists to the chaos of an actual confrontation. Pumped with adrenaline, humans tend to revert to a deeper motor memory, incapable of performing fine motor actions, and cut off from their higher thinking processing powers.

Think of it this way. Everyone gets in heated arguments with their friends and family. We often, caught up in the moment, say things that are mean, stupid, and unbecoming of our day-to-day selves. Looking back on such an incident, we say things like "I got flustered" or "I was mad and didn't know what I was saying". I have done this with both my peers and my family, and have regretted it every time. And every time, I know that I was just making an excuse for why I failed to act under this stress. If you too know that feeling of being flustered, overwhelmed, and agitated, feelings which then guide your subsequent decisions (Bad decisions, I should say), then you understand why acting under stress is hard.

Stress drills try and eliminate those problems in an extra-gym confrontation. Because you have some idea of how a real attack might look, you are way better equipped to handle it. Another way to think of it is like driving a car. You can watch movies of people driving cars and read about it all you want. But until you actually get behind the steering wheel, you have no real experience in it. Moreover, once you are steering that car (As most 16 year olds know) you are not nearly as skilled as you think you are.

The same is true of martial arts. In my, admittedly limited, experience. no one actually steps it up under stress. You step down to the lowest denominator of your training and experience. If you have gone through enough training and practice, the right kind of training and practice, you can at least make sure that your lowest level of training is suitable for the fight at hand.

The point to reflect on is not just how this applies to martial arts or self-defense. Rather, you should apply it to all parts of your life. Say dumb things in arguments? Practice arguing so you keep your cool. Lose your train of thought in public speaking? Gather a group of friends and figure out how to keep it together. Getting too stressed on dates? Go out with a close female friend and try and simulate some of the process. Stress training is not just about self-defense. It is a good life skill that can help you act under any and all forms of stress.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Chicago Crime: 10 dead, 49 wounded

Gang-related violence means something different now than it did a decade or two ago. Sadly, most of our popular knowledge on the topic (e.g. Gang Leader For A Day, Freakonomics) does not portray the new reality. 

Weekend Summary: 

I would say that it hasn't been this bad in a while, but I can remember a weekend in BOTH 2010 and 2011 that had roughly the same number of attacks and killings. Mind you, these numbers above don't even account for the dozens of other robberies and instances of simply battery that occurred over the weekend; fist fights and brawls tend to get a lot less attention than crimes involving a gun. 

Average Chicagoans will look at these numbers and ask why they happened. Insightful Chicagoans, however, will actually try and figure out why this violence arises. Success is secondary to the curiosity. Criminologists, public policy experts, police officers, and a host of other experts have met with only moderate success in themselves trying to explain the phenomenon. I find it far more important that an average citizen or warrior, one not payed to understand such violence, actually seeks out its causes and explanations.

In this case, I would only offer one word of caution to those trying to understand this sort of wanton killing. 

Examine underlying assumptions. Challenge them. 

How can this apply? For one, and most importantly, there is a tendency in Chicago crime to blame murders and shootings on gangs. Yes, Chicago does have a lot of gangs. Recent estimations put their membership at over 150,000 in our city alone. This figure surpasses even that of Los Angeles, a historical center of gang activity in America. Gang activity is definitely omnipresent in Chicago. That said, I encourage you to challenge the notion of what a "gang-related" attack is. 

Gang-related violence means something different now than it did a decade or two ago. Sadly, most of our popular knowledge on the topic (e.g. Gang Leader For A Day, Freakonomics) does not portray the new reality. There is really no such thing as a central gang hierarchy in most groups. Gang warfare should not connote an organized struggle between rival powers. Gangs of today are more like small terrorist cliques than syndicates. Think of Wild West bandits, not the Triads. Chicago's gangs today are often no more than isolated and insular sects of criminals operating on their own. They are groups of friends. For fun, they commit crime, but they also do as other normal teenagers and young men would do. It is a new face to gangs, and that is how we should consider this violence today.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chicago Crime: 7 dead, 32 wounded

Friday: 1 dead, 16 wounded,0,3856219.story

Saturday (Daytime): Six year old girl murdered, 4 wounded,0,1348490.story,0,1207128.story

Saturday (Evening): 5 dead, 12 wounded,0,5075112.story

(There was one more story about Saturday's violence, but the Tribune buried it. As usual. Because of that, it might only record 28 shootings instead of 32. Or I might be wrong in assuming that the 4 shootings on Saturday afternoon were not combined in Saturday evening's total)

For the most part, none of this affects UChicago students, or probably most of the blog's readers. The one that most of this readership should be aware about is the 63rd and Ellis slaying. At around 10:00 PM last night, a man was shot while driving at around 63rd and Ellis. He drove to the UCMC where he died in his vehicle. By reference, 63rd and Ellis is literally 2 blocks south of the South Campus Residence Hall, as well as SSA.

On the one hand, it's hard to not be outraged by the violence. On the other hand, it's also easy to just ignore it and go on about one's day. None of this will appear in the Maroon (UChicago's newspaper), and none of it will enter the daily discourse at Corner Bakeries and Chipotle's downtown. You, however, should care deeply about this.

Whether a warrior or an idealist, your city is important. Historically, warriors fought to defend the home. In our day and age, this might mean something different, but we must at least know our home. If you wish to call this city of yours "home" in any way, you too must learn of both its grandeur and its shadows.

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:
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 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.

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!

Monday, March 12, 2012

UChicago Crime Report: Sunday Robberies

(UCPD car courtesy The Chicago Maroon)

Incident Location Date/Time Occurred Comments
Aggravated Robbery 55th between Cornell & Hyde Park Blvd 3/11/12 4:20 AM Two unknown males, one with his hand in his pocket, implying a weapon, took property from a man walking on the sidewalk off campus / No weapon was seen
Attempted Robbery 57th between Kimbark & Woodlawn 3/11/12 11:08 PM Unknown male attempted to take property from a person walking on the sidewalk off campus/ Suspect fled to a waiting vehicle when a witness appeared / Victim not injured, no property loss

(Know your crime terms!)
Robbery (aka "Mugging")
"The taking of or attempting to take anything of value from the care or custody of a person by force or threat of force" (Chicago Police Department Annual Report, 2010)

Chicago Warrior would like to remind you that warmer weather = increased violent crime. Despite our considerable police presence, UChicago does not escape this urban (or more generally, criminal) phenomenon. We tend not to get the shootings, beatings, and stabbings that might plague other South Side Chicago communities. But like those neighborhoods, we get plenty of robberies.

Probably will be restating this a lot over my writings, and definitely a lot as it continues to get warmer. Here are some concrete tips to avoid getting into a bad situation like this.
    If you feel uncomfortable with any people, obstacles, or situations on your side of the street, cross to the other side. Or better yet, double back the way you came. Don't worry about looking stupid, don't worry about offending anyone, and don't worry about wasting time. 
    Look over your shoulder. Look for visual cues around alleys and dark places (suspicious shadows, blind spots, etc.) Listen for sounds that are out of place, such as muttered conversation that stops as you walk towards an alley. No one should be sneaking up on you from behind, and absolutely no one should be sneaking up on you from the front. Remember the old D&D adage: If you get ambushed, you already failed your listen and spot check. 
    Distinct from BEING aware. You must also look like you are aware. Make sure people see you scanning the street. Acknowledge people as you walk by them. Don't trip and stumble on loose concrete (good life advice anyway). Generally, you don't want to look like prey. Robbers will ignore difficult targets and wait for easier ones. 
    UChicago students fail miserably in the "LOOK AWARE" category in two regards. The first is with headphones. You don't need to rock as you walk. Not only can't you hear anything other than The Boss explaining his running birthright, but you also prove to anyone that looks at you that you have something worth taking! Music players/iPhones are worth big bucks. You can groove out when you get home.
    This one is perhaps worse than the headphone problem. At least with headphones, you can presumably still look around. With a phone, you are probably so distracted by your riveting text conversation that you can neither see nor hear anything going on around you. Sensory exclusion is scary stuff when your attention is elsewhere. Moreover, headphones just imply the presence of a musical device. Holding your fancy smart phone ADVERTISES the existence of that object. 
I will go over those points later to drill them in. Everyone should learn them, practice them, and teach them to your friends.