Tuesday, October 22, 2013

4 Hyde Park robberies: Multiple attackers and multiple victims

Chicago's citywide violence was relatively low this weekend, which was to be expected from the cool weather that saw temperatures drop into the 40s. Hyde Park was mostly exempt from what little violence did occur (as it often is), except for four high profile incidents. All four of these robberies involved multiple perpetrators, and three involved multiple attackers and/or handguns.

The theme of today's UChicago report: Multiple attackers and multiple victims.

Even for experienced martial artists, dealing with multiple attackers is a challenge. Add in weapons and you have a nightmare training scenario on its own. But add in other victims on top of those other challenges, and you either have the makings of the next Bourne movie, or just the worst possible self-defense situation you can find yourself in. 

Incident Location Date/Time
Information Greenwood between 61st & 62nd 10/18/13 4:56 PM 10/18/13 4:50 PM Two unknown males, one armed with a handgun, took property from two victims walking on the sidewalk off campus / CPD case HW498185 C01087
Information 50th between Dorchester & Blackstone 10/18/13 7:22 PM 10/18/13 7:20 PM Four unknown males, one armed with a handgun, took property from four victims walking on the sidewalk off campus / No injuries / CPD case HW498272 C01088
Information 5446 S. Greenwood (Stout Park) 10/20/13 8:01 PM 10/20/13 7:20 PM Two unknown males used force to take laptop computer and ID from victim sitting in the park off campus / Victim recovered the laptop, but subjects fled with his ID / CPD report C01096
Information 62nd between Ellis & Greenwood (Alley) 10/21/13 8:29 PM 10/21/13 8:25 PM Unknown male, armed with a handgun, took cell phone and cash from two victims in the alley / CPD case HW502246 C01101
(Source: https://incidentreports.uchicago.edu/viewReport.php?reportDate=1382072400 and https://incidentreports.uchicago.edu/viewReport.php?reportDate=1382245200)

All of those incidents are fairly outrageous, especially for a neighborhood that prides itself on low crime stats and extensive police presence. Crimes like these were more commonplace back in 2007 and 2008, when I first arrived at UChicago, but increased UCPD patrolling, along with on-campus security guards and cameras, went a long way towards preventing them. These incidents are certainly an anomaly for the neighborhood, not a pattern or norm, but that doesn't make them any less scary. For the self-defense reader, the big takeaways from these incidents concern the dangers of multiple attackers and the uncertainties of multiple victims. 

As a general martial rule, never engage multiple opponents. It's the sort of rule that is so obvious to the average martial artist that I am hesitant to even mention it. The Harrison Fords, Chuck Norrises, and Jackie Chans of my youth tricked me into believing that those kinds of one-against-many encounters (whether two or three on one, or twenty) are winnable for the protagonist. That's true in a movie specifically because Indiana Jones is the protagonist. Unfortunately for the aspiring hero in all of us, real life doesn't make distinctions between the star and the hapless extras. There is no narrative arc that demands your survival, nor plot device/hole that gives you the skills needed to prevail. That's true of any self-defense scenario, but especially important against multiple attackers. After all, self-defense is all about gaining control over a bad situation. Add in more attackers to a situation, and it becomes exponentially more difficult to control.

This is just as true for martial artists, even experienced ones, as it is for the average untrained reader. Indeed, it might be especially true of martial artists, who often have an inflated sense of their own skills. I have definitely been guilty of this in the past. The vast majority of martial training is focused on the one-on-one confrontation, whether in a ring or outside of the gym. We train with single partners, we hit single targets, and we spar and compete against single opponents. Teachers demonstrate techniques against one student, and students pair up in one-on-one groups to try the maneuvers. Self-defense classes are essentially structured to avoid multiple attacker situations. Even if we do appreciate all of the dangers and complexities of multiple attackers on a mental level, we tend to not incorporate them in our physical drilling. Or we incorporate those realities at unrealistic speeds and distances.

With the right practice and training, you can definitely become more prepared for these scenarios. But you probably won't ever be "ready" for them.

These cautionary words assume that you are the only victim in an encounter. It assumes that you can move around freely, take angles away from your attackers, pin them down, focus one assailant, and control their distances. It assumes you can strike at the opportune moment, and it assumes that you can escape when needed. Those aren't safe assumptions given the chaos of multiple attacker incidents, but they are reasonable objectives and goals that you can work towards as a defender.

All of that completely changes once you add multiple victims. 

If alone against multiple attackers, your responsibility is to survive and not do anything illegal. It's fairly simple and training helps you to accomplish both. If in a group against multiple attackers, your responsibilities are the same, but now you must also ensure all your companions survive as well. Training will still let you rely on your own skills, but your training has zero effect on the competence or reactions of your group. They might get in the way of your movement. Your attackers might ignore you and turn on them. They might get caught by a stray shot or a wild punch or cut. They might panic and run past you, knocking you over and disrupting your technique. You will never know what the other victims will do, which eliminates all the reliability that you try to train in practice.

As the martial artist in a group of victims, you have a responsibility to your friends. Their safety and survival needs to be as important as your own. To some extent, many of the techniques I teach are designed to minimize bystander risk if executed in public. Gun disarms make sure that the line of fire doesn't redirect into the crowd. Knife disarms keep the weapon in control so it doesn't flail away into a witness nearby. But the best way to keep others safe in such a situation is just not to engage at all. If there was ever a time to comply with an attacker's demands, especially if they are about money or cellphones or property, then it is when you are with a group of people. Even if you are the world's foremost expert on multiple attackers, you should back down when the safety of your companions is at stake.

That said, sometimes the demands or threat will be too great to ignore. If attackers demand you to surrender your wallets, then your first thought should be about getting to a phone to cancel your cards. But if the demand is to get into a car or walk into an alley, then you have to balance the risk of compliance with the risk of engagement. Legally speaking, again coming from the non-legal advice of a social worker, if you can articulate a clear danger that justified action, then you might be legally permitted to engage. If three male attackers tell your two female companions to get up against a wall, then the law would likely approve of your intervention. But if it's just a robbery, as in the case of these incidents in Hyde Park these past days, then don't engage.

Until the next time, stay safe and stay alert. Especially if you are in a group with others, the obligation is often on you (whether as martial artist or reader of this blog) to have your eyes and ears open for potential danger.

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