Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chicago Thoughts: Misunderstandings about gangs

Because many Chicagoans tend not to understand gangs, I am normally in favor of any resource that helps increase our comprehension. I personally will read anything, or talk to anyone, that has even the remotest chance of helping me to understand the city's unique gang situation. In this spirit, I want to talk about two articles that appeared in recent Chicago media. Both of these articles tried to elevate our conversation and understanding about gangs. Only one succeeded.

A few weeks back, WBEZ Chicago (a reputable, local public radio station) published a detailed map of city gang territories. Reddit users posted the link to the Chicago subforum, where it received significant attention from that particular online community. The map itself looks like a shattered church window strewn across the city. Gang territories are all over the place, with few groups holding any contiguous or uncontested areas. UChicago students were particularly roused by the idea that many Hyde Park and campus locales (student housing on 53rd, the South Campus Dorm) were actually in so-called gang territory.

Grand Theft Auto: Chitown
At around the same time, the free (and somewhat more disreputable) Chicago newspaper RedEye released an article on the fragmentation of gangs, and the resulting violence in gang-occupied neighborhoods. Our beleaguered police chief Garry McCarthy repeatedly stressed this point as a primary reason for 2012's heightened violence. This kind of front page coverage in a widely circulated periodical seemed like good news for Mr. McCarthy. At least, it was good news on the day it came out. With an equally catchy cover story running five times a week, any given story lingers no longer than April snowmen.

A lot of Chicagoans might allege that RedEye has not elevated any conversation whatsoever in the last decade (although its homicide map, done by Tracy Schwartz, is even more informative than the official CPD stats). That might be true, but if so, its article on "Gang Factions" was a stunning exception. If you just skimmed the link earlier, go and read it now. It is a succinct and surprisingly accurate summary of an expansive problem. The RedEye article is the one that succeeded. Surprisingly, the same cannot be said of the WBEZ map. As will be shown, the map is basically useless unless you know exactly how to interpret it.

The new look for gang members
Admittedly, RedEye's article is not particularly innovative or revolutionary. Police officers, teachers, social workers, and community members/leaders have witnessed gang fragmentation for at least a decade. The article is successful because it gives a public introduction to the problem in accessible, understandable terms. Media outlets and the general populace are often ignorant of Chicago's gang situation. Even academics were behind the reality. Sudhir Venkatesh's publishers released Gang Leader for a Day in 2008, describing the syndicate-like behavior of 1990s gangs from the Robert Taylor housing project. It was a good piece of sociology and an interesting piece of history. But that is how it had to be read: As a history text. Taking Gang Leader for a Day as a prescription for social intervention would be like reading Common Sense today and flying to Boston to protest King George.

Hyperbole can get the better of me, and Mr. Venkatesh certainly deserves credit for more than just his book; indeed, his later works are much more accurate in identifying current criminal conditions of Chicago and New York City. Moreover, he conducted his research in the 1990s; at the time, it would have been quite relevant, and it is not his fault that publishers waited so long to release his research. Nowadays, we need new tools to deal with new gangs. RedEye deserves praise for trying to write a mere two page article about such a complicated social phenomenon.

If I had to condense the history of gang fragmentation, and the RedEye article itself, into one paragraph, I would quote the following:
After Hoover and other gang leaders were taken down in a federal drug-trafficking, extortion and criminal enterprise case in 1997 — Hoover is now in the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colo. — a steady splintering of the Gangster Disciples began that has increased in the last decade, experts said. 
Younger gang members have not adhered to the organized leadership structure set up by predecessors. That has led to a fresh spasm of violence as the lines marking gang turf are blurred and former members of the same umbrella gang became rivals.
Simple and largely accurate. There are only a few elements I would add to this narrative. For one, this splintering process was never confined to just Gangster Disciples (in fact, my major critique of the article is its overemphasis on GDs, but this was probably done for a combination of brevity and sensationalism). Gang leaders from the Latin Kings to the Conservative Vice Lords toppled in the face of increased policing, enforcement, and prosecution, often on both the state and federal levels. With more adult gangsters going to prison, there were more openings in street drug markets. Young men filled in the gaps, albeit without the "old school" cultural norms of their hardened predecessors. The result is just exactly what you would expect if you suddenly handed a Glock and a fistful of hundreds to a 15-year old.

Cabrini-Green: 2005
The second element I would add regards the dissolution of Chicago public housing complexes. When the federal housing officials took a close look at the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) in the 1990s, they saw nothing but fortresses of illegal activity full of broken elevators and leaking pipes. With tens of thousands of residents living in such conditions, the government worked with the CHA (much in the same way that the North "worked" with the South during Reconstruction) to effect the Plan For Transformation, a ten plus year agenda to rehabilitate public housing and relocate residents to new, mixed-income developments.

"Cabrini-Green": 2011
It would be impossible to chronicle the staggering effects of public housing transformation across the nation, or in Chicago more specifically. But in this post, one effect must be made clear. With the demolition of apartments and row houses came the relocation of their residents. Many of those residents were average, low-income families. But some belonged to well established gangs that ruled those projects for years. Those criminals weren't just moved out of a neighborhood. They were moved in to another one. This put the relocated gang members into direct conflict, indeed competition, with extant gang populations.

Once you get fragmentation, you get violence. Uptown GDs gun down Edgewater Stones just as often as Woodlawn GDs go after the GD group down the block. With the gangster of the 1970s and 1980s behind bars, drug corners can be held by young men in their 20s, or even younger. Lacking the old school rules in an increasingly competitive and hostile environment, violence is almost inevitable. As to the law enforcement perspective, it is just plain hard to police so many small groups. There are over 600 factions in the city by the last estimate. As Garry McCarthy laments, "They're splintering off into smaller gang factions, and that's getting more difficult for us to track and predict what's going to happen next."

With all that history in mind, it is easy to look back at WBEZ's map with a raised eyebrow. Given the historical splintering of gang organizations, is is natural to expect a similar fragmentation in their territory. When you look at the map, however, you still see large tracts of land controlled by single groups. Does that mean the WBEZ map is just plain wrong? Or is there some other story behind the images?

To get some perspective on that question, one needs to know that WBEZ was not even the original source for the map. Reporters at the station simply recreated a graphic that already existed in the Gang Book 2012, a recent publication of the Chicago Crime Commission. The CCC is itself not above criticism, especially given its entrenched bureaucracy and shady political allegiances, but the group does have a strong, academic understanding of Chicago's unique gang dynamics; I own the book and would have paid even more to have it. Even the CPD uses that map, or at least a variation of it, as a quick reference guide to gang activity (at least, only those officers who don't already have it memorized). Smart, experienced researchers made the graphic, not just journalists looking for a quick sell.

Simply put, there is nothing wrong with the map itself. It is largely accurate even months after its publishing, and it is a great guide for social workers and public servants alike. Or rather, it is a great guide ONLY if you understand the consequences of gang fragmentation and how that affects the subsequent gang territory that is indicated on the map.

To explain the unique context of the map, let's take a look at an area that lots of UChicago students focused on: The South Side of campus.

Gang territories in Woodlawn. Red circles denote murders
The colored areas are taken directly from the gang map; I have labeled them with their corresponding "owners". The red circles denote murders that occurred in this area since the beginning of 2012. I tried to include all murders, but I might have missed one or two. Although I did not include shootings, a quick look at the data indicates that it is in roughly the same geographic distribution.

It is very difficult to classify a homicide as "gang-related" or otherwise. Gang members are often victimized by crime even though they were not involved in any "gang activity" when they were shot. Similarly, a gang member may pull the trigger on a target over a completely unrelated incident. As a general bet, I go with the estimate cited in a Chicago Magazine article on gangs: 62% of murders are gang-related (Source). I imagine that the actual number is probably higher, and also admit that the CPD official statistic is quite a bit lower (about 47% in 2010 and 2009. In Woodlawn, homicides are mostly gang-related. So we can reasonably assume that many of those red dots correspond to gang killings.

With that in mind, let's ask a question: Where are murders happening? If we went by the old school picture of gang territory, we would expect to see violence on borders between the clearly defined gang zones. I imagine that most people who see the WBEZ map assume that violence occurs where territories converge.

The data tells another version of events. Only 2 of the murders happened at gang boundaries. The vast majority happened deep in GD occupied territory.

Talking with a CPD Lieutenant at a beat meeting this summer, I learned a bit about was going on in this area of Woodlawn. Although the GDs ostensibly maintain control over the blue domain, that "control" is divided between a variety of smaller groups all subscribing to the GD title. Most of the time, however, they have no more allegiance to one another than do all the collective high school sports teams with names like the Spartans or Lions. Most of these murders are between rival GD cliques, all happening well within their own supposed zone of control.

This is the sort of logic and analysis that you need to apply to ever segment of "territory" on the map. Just because an overarching group controls an area, that does not imply there is unity or peace within that neighborhood. Indeed, those areas may see the most conflict, as no single faction holds any large tract of a community.

This Woodlawn example tells an important story about Chicago's gang landscape,and more generally about the WBEZ map. But it also hints at an interesting, and prevalent, problem in Chicago's general citizenry. Memorizing the boundaries of various criminal organizations on a cool map does not make you knowledgeable (let alone an authority) on the subject. At best, it impresses friends at a dinner party. At worse, it misleads people who really care. As we saw with Woodlawn, there is always lot more happening than the map alone indicates.

If you harbor genuine curiosity in Chicago crime, research the topic, read the literature, and talk to experts. You have an obligation to yourself and to others to possess accurate information about the problem. Reporting inaccuracies to others is dangerous when it comes to gangs and community violence. When you misinform on the score of last night's football game or a factoid from your the most recent episode of a popular show, the only thing you risk is annoying your audience. When you misinform on violence, people pursue misinformed policy. Sometimes the policies are silly (gun buybacks that get mostly broken weapons from old men). Other times they are harmful (zero tolerance drug policies in schools).

Equally valuable!
Understand your sources. The RedEye article, and other Tribune pieces like it, can be excellent introductory resources that familiarize citizens with gangs. Sadly, they tend to go no deeper than a Wikipedia page. Academic books and journals can give you a more nuanced and technical understanding of gangs, but they often presuppose basic knowledge of the topic. Also, many of the best texts are somewhat dated; it takes time to write and publish and research a solid piece of scholarship. Take their lessons and re-contextualize them in the modern world. The same goes for firsthand experience. Police officers and community members can offer insight into the everyday realities of gang neighborhoods and Chicago violence. In approaching that level of detail, however, experts on the ground often neglect the larger macro-forces at play. Essentially, all information sources have advantages and disadvantages. It is the same with gangs as with any subject you might research in a class. Stumbling around the evidence is part of the fun, as long as you maintain a direction.

The only time that we err in our research is when we willfully confine ourselves to only one subset of evidence. Worse still is to deliberately avoid evidence in favor of opinion. A UChicago example illustrates this well. I often hear people explain how the South Campus of UChicago is dangerous, a Buckleberry Ferry between criminals and civilization. It's a flat out ridiculous characterization based on anecdotal crime reports and vaguely racist and classist sentiments towards Woodlawn. Just because the average income and demographics shift at 61st, that does not imply a heightened level of danger. Woodlawn absolutely does have high crime, but it starts both south of 63rd Street and west of Cottage Grove. It does not happen at the South Campus Dormitory.

Cabrini-Green 2012? Oh wait...
False beliefs like this can lead to harmful responses. If I genuinely believed that South Campus was deep in GD territory, I might encourage students to advocate for increased security near Burton Judson and SSA. We would get more patrol cards, more security personnel, and maybe more cameras. That is great for south campus, but bad for UChicago crime. It turns out that the majority of incidents in the last few years occurred between 53rd and 58th Streets, in the heart of student apartment housing. The streets are darker, sparsely populated, and dotted with hiding spaces and escape routes.

If UCPD attentions were forced to focus on areas of sensationalized UChicago attention, the real dangers might be missed. This happens in Chicago, and you do not want to be a part of that problem. When a single robber strikes on the Gold Coast, the entire police force descends to increase the sense of safety. This happens at the expense of neighborhoods that see at least two robberies every day (Englewood and Woodlawn both had approximately 500 in 2011).

We often have the passion to advocate for our beliefs. But if we advocate for harmful solutions, our ardor can be turned against the causes that we most care for. Proper information can prevent this and ensure that you vouch for actual solutions and educate your peers about real problems.

RedEye has about as much academic credibility as Yahoo Answers, but in this case, its article on gang fragmentation proved an insightful and accurate source on Chicago gangs. By contrast, the normally incisive and intelligent WBEZ posted a map that was downright misleading and bereft of context. Both articles are potentially useful, but only with the proper knowledge at your disposal.

Be discriminating in your information sources, especially in regards to a high-stakes issue like Chicago violence. Many of us have the intelligence and passion to push for dramatic change. But it is important that our advocacy is well-directed, supported by evidence from all quadrants of the issue. We are often powerless when it comes to global issues, or at the very least we lack the capacity to effect immediate change. This is not true of Chicago crime. Individuals can make a difference in this problem, even if they do not commit themselves to social work, law enforcement, or public policy. Tutoring, mentoring, advocacy, and even honest conversation are all effective at helping the problem.

There is obviously more to the issue than the RedEye article, the WBEZ map, or anything I have said in this post. But if you want a starting point to enter this high-stakes dialogue, these are all fine places to begin.

Monday, October 22, 2012

UChicago Crime Report: Robbery at 56th/57th and Dorchester

October is shaping up to be a record robbery month in Hyde Park. In the last 2-3 weeks there have been at least 8 separate incidents. That isn't a lot relative to some of the surrounding neighborhoods, but it is a lot for serene Hyde Park. Here are the two most recent incidents.

Incident Location Date/Time Occurred Comment
Armed Robbery Dorchester between 56th & 57th 10/19/12 8:09 PM Three males, one armed with a handgun, took property from a woman walking on the sidewalk off campus / Arrest by UCPD
Robbery Lake Park between 52nd & 53rd 10/20/12 7:55 PM Unknown male and female forcibly took property from a man walking on the sidewalk off campus

Notice the location of that first attack: "Dorchester between 56th and 57th". Sound familiar? In case readers do not recall a piece of advice I said in the last post...
Take smart routes
Blackstone (like nearby Dorchester) is far too dark to walk down at night. There are no other pedestrians around, and there are too many hiding places.
The October 19th attack occurred just a block West of the attack involving the young women. That was also the same block I explicitly mentioned last week as an example of an unsafe travel corridor. Of course, not everyone on campus reads (or even knows about) this blog, but I hope that you readers who do pay attention will continue to internalize those warnings.

Dorchester, Blackstone, and Harper are all popular routes next to the Metra tracks. They lead students to local dorms, public transportation, and shuttle routes. They also apparently funnel students right to awaiting attackers. These streets are just too dark to travel on at night. Don't do it! It is never worth the 3 minutes of saved time to traverse an unsafe route. No one is around at night to intervene or summon help. There are too many shadows and hiding places. There are too many trees to adequately assess incoming pedestrians. Those roads are self-defense nightmares; avoid them after hours.

Praise goes out to the UCPD for making an arrest in yet another robbery. The force has fast response times, knows the area well, and is very good at its job. If you become a victim of a crime, however, the after-the-fact arrest is not going to be too much consolation. Self-defense begins well before you even see a potential threat. Always take the preliminary steps to personal safety so you don't have to play "catch up" with actual physical techniques.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

UChicago Crime Report: Young women rob students at gunpoint (and more)

The three robberies in this post happened a few days ago. One of them was so outrageous that it made the Tribune front page, at least for about an hour and a half. I apologize for not posting about these incidents sooner; I had a post started on Tuesday during the day, but neglected class readings got the better of me.

Incident Location Date/Time Occurred Comment
Robbery 5200 S. Greenwood 10/17/12 12:40 PM Unknown male took messenger bag from woman walking on the sidewalk off campus / Suspect fled in a waiting van
Armed Robbery Blackstone between 56th & 57th 10/16/12 12:10 AM Three females, one armed with a handgun, took property from a man and woman walking on the sidewalk off campus / Arrest by UCPD
Robbery 5000 S. East End 10/16/12 1:00 PM Two unknown males forcibly took a cell phone and backpack from a man walking on the sidewalk off campus

A number of you may have heard about the "Armed Robbery" incident earlier this week. It appeared in both my EveryBlock feed and on the Tribune website. The article is still there, but it is no longer linked from the homepage. Too bad really; it has some great deals about the crime that the brief Incident Report entry doesn't touch.

This is one of the rare instances where we have a fairly coherent and detailed narrative of a robbery. We have an opportunity to learn from those details and draw some self-defense conclusions.

As a quick preliminary note, I apologize in advance for criticizing the decisions made by the victims. Under stress and pressure, no one makes smart choices. The two students are not at fault, persay, for any of their actions. In general, victims should never be blamed for decisions made under fire. That being said, whenever we look back and debrief on an event, it pays to be critical and honest about what went right and what went wrong, even if it might offend.

Let's walk through the narrative.
The two students were walking down the street at 12:15 a.m. Monday in the 5600 block of South Blackstone Avenue when the 14-year-old, who is not being identified because she is a juvenile, and Simpson [one of the other attackers] confronted them and said: “Give me your bags,” according to a preliminary police report.
The 5600 block of Blackstone (Between 56th and 57th street) is a quiet boulevard with stately manors and ancient trees. That makes it a lovely place for an afternoon stroll. It also makes it a terrible walking route at midnight. The street is dark and shadowy. There are too many places to hide, whether behind cars, bushes, garbage cans, or fences. To make matters worse, the block is populated by professional adults and families, not students. No one is awake at 12:15 AM to call the police or intervene. Don't take shortcuts down potentially dangerous streets. Maybe you walk that route 99 times out of 100 without getting attacked. But that one time is all it takes.

Normally, I would be aghast that any UChicago students let a group of young people get so close to them at night. But in this case, everyone in the group was female. That is not to say that young women don't commit crimes. In Chicago, however, the vast majority of offenders are young men of color, not women. If I had been in this position, I might not have veered off course from a small group of 2-3 girls. Clever robbery tactic, but a dangerous situation for even the most vigilant pedestrian. Even if one were to identify them as attackers, it would be difficult to strike and engage a group of little girls (even little girls with gun).
The 22-year-old man handed over his brown North Face book bag with his laptop inside, but when the female student refused to give up her bag, the 14-year-old hit her several times in the head with the gun, causing it to discharge, according to the report. 
The male student did exactly what you should do in a robbery. He relinquished his property without question or struggle. There was no immediate danger to his life and he assessed (probably correctly) that the girls just wanted his belongings. If ever you doubt what to do in a robbery, this is a good reaction.

Unfortunately, the female student was not so compliant. Even if you intend on defending yourself and neutralizing a threat (an avenue that you should not take without reason and training), you at least want to deescalate the situation and try to calm the attacker. Your robber is probably just as stressed as you are. Their adrenaline is pumping hard, their heart rate is elevated, and they are boring in on their target. Anything you can do to relax their guard makes it easier for you to strike or escape. By refusing to give up her bag, the female student threatened the robber's plan and authority. Even a 14 year old (in fact, especially a 14 year old) is going to lash out when challenged. That effect is even more pronounced when the young person is in front of friends and accomplices. They have to save face and gain group credibility.

There is a case to be made for fighting in this situation. Perhaps you are worried that the inexperienced young girl is too triggerhappy. Maybe her demeanor makes you fear for your life even if you give up your stuff. I was not there so I don't know. But if you choose to fight, you need to try and relax your attacker beforehand. A little soothing goes a long way towards improving your survival odds.
Michelle Jones, 17, of the 12200 block of South Elizabeth Street, Nataya Collins, 16, of 1200 block of West 74th Place, and Kenyadrea Simpson, 15, of the 500 block of West 125th Place each were charged as adults with armed robbery, according to Cook County state’s attorney’s office spokesman Andy Conklin.
For most UChicago students, those neighborhoods south of 63rd street are a bedtime myth used to frighten first years. Even for those who do know about Woodlawn and South Shore (myself included, for a time), the mythical "Wild 100s" of the far South Side might as well be in Indiana, for all the traveling we do down there. Two of the alleged perpetrators in this case are from as far south as 125th street, an impressive 60+ blocks south of the actual crime.

What brought these robbers to our campus? Without talking to them, we don't know for sure. But if I had to venture a guess, it is because Hyde Park has a lot of vulnerable targets. I do not want to imply that Chicago's robbers communicate as part of some extensive fraternity of muggers. But word does travel, and we do have a lot of robbers that come from out of the area. This idea certainly has precedent; a number of South Side teens went downtown over the summer just to rob and cause trouble. (Not ALL South Side teens. Just those who were arrested for actually attacking people).

Some might allege that the three girls go to school around here. This seems unlikely. The only schools in the area that are worth traveling 65 blocks to get to (UChicago Woodlawn Charter, Gary Comer Prep, Lab School, etc.) are also schools that tend to screen out students who stick up graduate students at midnight. Admittedly, there is another reason that the girls would be attending school so far out of area; gang troubles in their neighborhood. This too is improbable; young men, not women, are much more likely to have trouble with a gang that forces them to leave a community.

Unless proven otherwise, I hypothesize that these young women did what many other robbers do. They came to Hyde Park because they know there are easy targets who don't fight back and who often have valuables on their person.

Looking back on this incident, two conclusions are clear. This is not to criticize the victims. Rather, it is to inform potential victims about unsafe behavior.
  1. Take smart routes
    Blackstone (like nearby Dorchester) is far too dark to walk down at night. There are no other pedestrians around, and there are too many hiding places. 
  2. Be decisive
    If you are going to submit to a robber's demands, do so immediately. If you are going to defend yourself (which you generally shouldn't do), relax the attacker before you escalate.
Already 2 dead and 7 wounded for the weekend, and temperatures are in the 40s and 50s. Stay aware and be cautious. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

UChicago Crime Report: More robberies and thefts

Another cold weekday night, another series of worrisome crimes. The Incident Report just keeps challenging our assumptions about crime timing and temperature.

Incident Location Date/Time Occurred Comment
Theft from Person 5300 S. Kimbark 10/9/12 10:08 AM Male subject grabbed woman's purse and fled / Suspect apprehended by UCPD officer / Charged with theft
Robbery Stony Island between 57th & 59th St. 10/9/12 6:49 PM Two males forcibly took cell phones from a man walking on the sidewalk and a woman standing at a bus stop off campus/ Both suspects arrested by UCPD

From a research and data perspective, morning attacks are always a surprise. The vast majority of crime occurs in the afternoon or evening, with peak hours generally falling around 4:00 PM, 6:00 PM, and 10:00 PM (depending on your neighborhood and area). Obviously, if you are a victim, perpetrator, or an arresting officer, the "average" incident times starts to seem silly. Each of those three roles knows that violence does not follow a schedule. But from a macro law enforcement and social services perspective, it is useful to know when most criminal activity happens.

Until you are a victim (or attacker/arrester), it is tempting to trust the data and let it inform your daily activities. Most pedestrians are more alert at 10:00 PM than 10:00 AM. The Tuesday crime at 10:08 AM suggests that time-specific awareness may not be the best self-defense strategy. As much as we researchers twitter about peak crime times and other statistics, a solo criminal will often not adhere to the expected statistical value. An individual can commit a crime at any time. It is only when looking at hundreds or thousands of those individuals do larger patterns emerge. Those numbers are supremely useful, but only for dictating policing, education, and community engagement strategies. When it comes to personal safety, they lose relevance.

Always be aware and alert no matter what time it is. At 10:00 AM, you should still be trying to identify sudden footfall behind you, screeching tires, mutters around corners, unusual shadows, and suspicious individuals. At 10:00 PM, the only thing that changes is that you need to do all of this in the dark. Your level of awareness does not change. You are just considering a few more factors.

One of the most dangerous places on the savannah is a watering hole. After a long day of walking and tromping, families of gazelles, antelopes, and all the other friendly herbivores saunter over to the oasis for a quick break. You know who else knows this? All the lions and cheetahs hiding over in the shrubbery (and the gator lurking in the reeds).

Bus stops are UChicago student watering holes. After trekking a mile from campus to the #6 stops on Stony Island in the dark and cold, everyone just wants to whip out their phone and headphones while waiting for the invariably late bus. Maybe you are just texting the bus-tracker to see just how late it is running. As long as that device is out, your guard is lowered. That is fine in the campus dining halls or right before class. But it is dangerous and oblivious on a late night street.

It does not matter if you are on a crowded or empty street (well, if you are on an empty street than everything I am about to say applies doubly). Your average driver is unlikely to notice a discrete criminal demanding your property in the dark, let alone come to your rescue if he appears armed. If you are very, very lucky, they might call 911 on your behalf. Or rush to your aid with legally registered tazer drawn. But it is more likely that they will completely ignore you and drive on by.

The UCPD is launching a student awareness campaign to reduce unsafe behavior at night. Headphone and cell phone usage is at the top of its list. This is a commendable effort, although I have doubts as to how effective it will be on most students. Sadly, a lot of community members have a dim opinion of the UCPD. But if you aren't willing to listen to an officer, at least take it from your friendly neighborhood social worker martial artist.

Stay safe!


TONIGHT (Wednesday, 10/10)
8:00 PM - 9:30 PM
Henry Crown Field House, Multipurpose Room
(Bring athletic attire and closed-toe shoes)

Tonight we will work on striking drills and two-handed choke defenses.

Monday, October 8, 2012

UChicago Crime Report: Armed robbery at 56th and Blackstone

Of all the violent crimes that affect UChicago students, robbery is probably the most common. We tend to have a lot of valuable property on our person at any time, and some of us tend to be fairly oblivious about our surroundings.

Incident Location Date/Time Occurred Comment
Aggravated Robbery Blackstone at 56th 10/7/12 7:40 PM Four males, implying they had handguns, took a book bag and cell phone from a man walking on the street off campus / All four suspects were arrested by UCPD

The good news is that the UCPD arrested the suspects and (presumably) returned the property to the victim. The bad news? Even though it was 38 degrees F outside, robberies are still occurring. There is a tendency amongst both community members and researchers to overvalue evidence. Historically, violent crimes happen in the summer. There are more robberies, shootings, and murders in that sweltering August temperature. Once the seasons turn with the leaves, there is a temptation to relax your guard, especially at night.

It turns out that criminals do not just hibernate during the cold months, even though there is a strong correlation between temperature and crime rates. It is true that there are fewer robberies in the fall and winter than in the summer and spring. But "fewer" does not mean "zero". The victim of last night's attack would probably not appreciate being told that violent crime is less prevalent in the cold. Statistics and averages don't mean much when you are confronted with a handgun.

From a martial perspective, the only things that should change in these cold months are the tactical details of your self-defense plan. Retain your situational awareness and your intuition. If you feel uncomfortable, get out fast. If someone looks threatening, deviate your route. Only the execution of those measures will change. Here are some considerations for the coming months:
  1. Winter clothing
    When you see your breath it is time to unpack the thick coats and the clumsy gloves. They are great for keeping you warm but they represent a new set of martial constraints and benefits. Can you sprint in boots with your school laptop bag rattling in your hand? Do you lose peripheral vision in a hat? Could you execute a kick with multiple layers on your legs? Can you consistently grab or draw a weapon with gloves on? These are all important problems to ponder in colder climates. On a more positive note, winter clothing gives you additional padding against strikes and falls. It even affords (admittedly limited) armor against some weapons. Naturally, this also benefits an attacker. More layers means more hiding places for weapons and more protection against a victim. It is your job to think about all the limitations and advantages that cold-weather clothing entails in a self-defense scenario.
  2. Icy surfacesIn the gym, it is easy to become accustomed to sure footing. We often train barefooted on expensive mats that are designed with the optimal ratios of firmness to traction to padding. Even if you practice with running/wrestling shoes, you are still doing so in a controlled environment free of ground hazards. Fall and winter pose balance nightmares. Black ice, packed snow, thick powder, and even frosted sidewalks all add a whole new degree of danger to an already dangerous self-defense situation. Try and maintain your strong, athletic bases at all times during practice. If you can't stay balanced in the gym, once you get outside you are going to look like a giraffe on an ice rink.
  3. Early darkness
    Criminals and predators love the dark. Shadows offer hiding places, anonymity, and privacy in even public areas. An earlier darkness necessitates a need for earlier awareness and vigilance in the night. For example, I am more cautious walking home from a 10:30 PM bus than to a 5:30 PM class. In early October, the sun still smiles at 5:30. By December, darkness will have already set in for roughly 30 minutes. 
As always, stay safe and be aware.

And a reminder for UChicago community members: 

Self-Defense Club starts this Wednesday (10/10) at 8:00 PM! Even if you missed us at the RSO Fair, you are still always welcome to train. Remember to bring athletic clothing and closed-toe shoes. Wednesday practice will be held in the Henry Crown Field House on the left (west) side of the Multipurpose Room.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Self-Defense Club at the RSO Fair Today!

The UChicago Regsitered Student Organization (RSO) fair is today at 3:00 in the Henry Crown Field House. Self-Defense Club will be one of the tables in attendance.

Self-Defense Club
Come and learn practical self-defense techniques for real world situations! You have read the Incident Reports and heard the stories before; anyone can be the victim of a robbery, mugging, sexual assault, or worse. Even at UChicago, you should always be prepared to survive, defend yourself, and defend those you care about. As a member of the Self-Defense Club, you will learn how to handle...
  1. Chokes, grabs, and holds
  2. Punches, kicks, and strikes
  3. Tackles and takedowns
  4. Knives
  5. Handguns
  6. Gang/crowd attacks
We teach the Haganah system, an Israeli martial art closely related to Krav Maga. I have practiced Haganah for 4 years now under the instruction of Prentiss Rhodes. Classes will be co-instructed by me and my wonderful partner (and club President) Merry Herbst, herself a 2 year practitioner of the style. Our training schedule is below:
  • Wednesdays, 8:00 - 9:30 PM
    Henry Crown Multipurpose Room
  • Fridays, 3:00 - 4:30 PM
    Ratner Dance Room (2nd floor)
  • Sundays 3:00 - 4:30 PM
    Henry Crown Multipurpose Room
Classes are free to attend. All students must wear athletic attire and bring closed-toe shoes. If you plan on sticking with the club, you must obtain groin protection for your safety and the sake of effective training.


Email me with any questions or concerns, or to sign up if you can't make it to the RSO fair.

UChicago Student Activities and Resource Fair
"Representatives from several hundred student organizations, numerous offices, and community partners welcome students back to campus each year at the SARF - and help new students begin to make the most of their UChicago experience." (Source)
Time = 3:00 - 5:30
Location =  Henry Crown Field House
                   56th and University