Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chicago violence really down? Not quite


Apart from the Blackhawks' run at the Stanley Cup, Chicago has no bigger news story than its supposedly declining homicide rate. Aggressive Chicago Police Department strategies have cut down homicides by 34% from 2012 totals. At least, so the CPD would have us believe. Numerous national news outlets reported on the drop over the past few weeks, lauding Mayor Emanuel and Superintendent McCarthy for their tenacity and ingenuity in handling Chicago's violence. But as any longtime, or even transient, Chicago resident knows, our city's crime has a nasty habit of defying interventions and maintaining old trends. With daily headlines reminding us of the 1 or 2 dead and 10 others wounded, two such stories the last week alone, is it possible that violence has really declined as much as the CPD and the City would have us believe? Or is there another side to the story that the papers and police aren't talking about?

In this article, I offer an in-depth analysis of Chicago's 2013 violence drop. As is often the case with most social science statistics, there is both fact and fiction to the CPD reports. Although citywide homicides and shootings are indeed down, the trends vary widely from neighborhood to neighborhood. As a result of CPD strategies (and likely other factors), some communities have experienced precipitous declines in area violence - the infamous Englewood and West Englewood, for example. But other communities have not seen their violence rates move at all, such as North Lawndale and Humboldt Park. By focusing on some historically high-crime neighborhoods, I show the divergent trends of 2013 crime, demonstrating that a citywide crime drop does not necessarily mean reduced violence for all of the residents that live in violent communities. This will help explain how crime can be both down across Chicago while we simultaneously have Saturdays where 6 are killed and 26 others wounded in less than 12 hours.

METHODS 
All crime data is taken from the CPD Clear system, filtered by description and community area. The brunt of this study will take the form of time series analysis, looking at crime trends over time. It is important to offer a few words of caution when using any time series evaluation. Tracking any real world phenomenon over time is fraught with statistical peril. Wikipedia-statisticians across the internet are always keen to point out that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. In something as complex as crime rates, that is even more true than in other areas of data analysis. An array of factors, including weather, population, and unemployment all contribute to crime rate fluctuations. In Chicago especially, temperature and precipitation have a huge effect on crime rates.

But temperature and rain/snowfall are constant across the city. They explain citywide crime but not community-specific incidents. So when some neighborhoods enjoy crime declines while others suffer from violence spikes, we need to turn to something else to explain the change. This is especially important if crime was on an upward trajectory before reversing its course. In this case, a police intervention seems the likeliest candidate. The increased police presence and focused police strategies are notable factors that are common to all of the neighborhoods in which crime fell, and absent from all the neighborhoods in which crime increased.

THE STRATEGY: MORE POLICE, LESS CRIME
Both Chicagoans and non-residents alike have probably heard of the notorious Englewood and West Englewood neighborhoods. For decades, these paired community areas have exemplified the violence, poverty, and inequality of Chicago's South and West Sides. They have also accounted for a disproportionate share of the city's violence. In 2013, the This American Life radio show, a product of WBEZ, did a two part story on West Englewood's Harper High School. The story received national acclaim, with thousands of listeners tuning in to the experience of the young men and women of one of Chicago's worst neighborhoods. This nationwide publicity, coupled with crime statistics from previous years, made these neighborhoods the perfect testing grounds for Garry McCarthy's strategies: foot patrols, overtime authorization, gang audits, and a variety of other programs. At the core of these deployments was an old police adage, one put into practice in NYC: more cops means less crime. It's a theory supported both by common sense and the evidence. 

As Frank Zimring explained in his study of the New York City crime drop of the 1990s, more police do, in fact, lead to less crime. Although there are other unintended consequences of additional officers and increased patrols (e.g. discrimination, clogged courts, increased costs, etc.), the principal effect of the policy is to decrease crime through police presence, rapid apprehension of criminals, and deterrence. More police officers taking to the streets was one of the chief causes of the NYC crime drop; from early 1990 through the mid 2000s, the City saw an 80% reduction in felony rates. A comparable police-saturation program in a violent Pittsburgh neighborhood led to a 34% reduction in shots-fired and a 71% decrease in area gunshot injuries.

McCarthy expected similar successes in the targeted Chicago neighborhoods. By deploying additional officers to these neighborhoods and authorizing millions of dollars in overtime spending, McCarthy sought to reduce their crime. The following section gives examples that are strongly suggestive of his success.

THE GOOD: CPD REDUCES VIOLENCE IN TARGETED COMMUNITIES...
Many violent neighborhoods have experienced significant improvements in the past 5 months, likely as a result of improved police strategies. Although other factors may have contributed to these crime drops, the CPD intervention was the most high-profile, expensive, and potentially impactful candidate for the reduction.

The four tables below show a 7 year perspective on shootings/homicides in four different neighborhoods, all of which received special CPD attention in the past few months. I give 7 years of January-May data to show that 2013 violence was substantially improved from all the forgoing years. In each row, the  bolded number in parentheses indicates the cumulative number of incidents in that year to-date.

West Englewood: Shootings/Murders in January-May, 2013-2007

2013 201220112010200920082007
January 4 (4) 14 (14)11 (11)6 (6)4 (4)2 (2)4 (4)
February 1 (5) 5 (19)4 (15)4 (10)11 (15)3 (5)3 (7)
March 6 (11) 17 (36)6 (21)5 (15)7 (22)13 (18)7 (14)
April 4 (15) 7 (43)10 (31)14 (29)12 (34)14 (32)8 (22)
May 9 (24) 10 (53)16 (47)8 (37)7 (41)14 (46)7 (29)

By the end of May 2013, West Englewood had a combined total of only 24 shootings and murders. By that same time in the previous 5 years, the neighborhood had consistently had over 37 such incidents, with most years having more than 40.

Englewood: Shootings/Murders in January-May, 2013-2007

2013 201220112010200920082007
January 5 (5) 6 (6)7 (7)2 (2)4 (4)6 (6)6 (6)
February 4 (9) 3 (9)5 (12)5 (7)5 (9)4 (10)2 (8)
March 3 (12) 17 (26)5 (17)7 (14)2 (11)8 (18)8 (16)
April 6 (18) 5 (31)2 (19)10 (24)8 (19)14 (32)4 (20)
May 6 (24) 8 (39)9 (28)10 (34)16 (35)10 (42)7 (27)

The Englewood crime drop was less pronounced than that seen in West Englewood. Cumulative incidents in 2013 are more or less on track with both 2011 and 2007 totals, but still represent big improvements over other years. We might have expected West Englewood crime to displace to Englewood, but if criminals did try and move operations, their progress seems to have been halted by the CPD. The fact that Englewood violence is at a 7 year low is, on its own, encouraging.

Austin: Shootings/Murders in January-May, 2013-2007

2013 201220112010200920082007
January 8 (8) 8 (9)9 (9)7 (7)3 (3)13 (13)13 (13)
February 5 (13) 2 (10)4 (13)6 (13)10 (13)7 (20)4 (17)
March 4 (17) 13 (23)10 (23)14 (27)12 (25)13 (33)16 (33)
April 10 (27) 11 (34)9 (32)16 (43)10 (35)14 (47)9 (42)
May 8 (35) 11 (45)18 (50)17 (60)19 (54)13 (60)13 (55)

Austin's raw number of incidents might still appear high, with 35 by the end of May. Given both the population of Austin (98,000 residents) and its land area (7 square miles, one of the four largest in the city), however, the reduction to 35 incidents is a promising one. It might be expected that such a large neighborhood would be resistant to increased policing, with too many criminals and too much area to cover. The numbers suggest, however, that this was not the case. The March totals alone showcase the effect of the CPD intervention, with that month being the height of the overtime expenditure on additional officers. To some extent, this drop might be a function of weather. But this March crime drop was not common to all neighborhoods in Chicago, even though the inclement weather was. This suggests that something unique to Austin drove down violence, and that was likely the police presence. 

Woodlawn: Shootings/Murders in January-May, 2013-2007

2013 201220112010200920082007
January 0 (0) 9 (9)3 (3)5 (5)1 (1)6 (6)1 (1)
February 0 (0) 4 (13)6 (9)2 (7)3 (4)3 (9)1 (2)
March 1 (1) 11 (24)10 (19)6 (13)2 (6)3 (12)7 (9)
April 2 (3) 11 (35)4 (23)3 (16)7 (13)5 (17)4 (13)
May 5 (8) 12 (47)6 (29)7 (23)10 (23)1 (18)7 (20)

It would have been hard for the CPD to make up a success story like Woodlawn with such persuasive statistical backing. The crime drop in this neighborhood has been truly remarkable. Obviously, the 2012 spike was an anomaly, and we shouldn't judge the CPD's 2013 success on its ability to reduce 2012 violence. But even before 2012, Woodlawn had a fairly high rate of violence relative to its small population. All of that has turned around in 2013, with persistently low incident rates throughout the year. CPD foot patrols and additional hot-spot policing have undoubtedly played an impact in keeping Woodlawn violence so low, given that this is one of the only differences between the neighborhood from last year to this one.

These four neighborhoods all experienced significant drops in area violence. All four of which were targeted by high-profile police interventions. Although this is not conclusive of a direct effect (as the Wikipedia statisticians will remind us), it is strongly suggestive. A cursory examination of other factors that could reduce crime just doesn't account for the sheer magnitude of the 2013 drop. Population changes obviously might reduce crime, but it is extremely unlikely that the population changed so dramatically in the course of just 6 months. Weather patterns would reduce citywide crime (this April had the most rainfall on record), but that doesn't account for the huge crime drops in March that we see in four specific neighborhoods, drops not shared across the city. All factors considered, the likeliest explanation for the crime drop was the new CPD strategy, which is good news for both these communities and for Mr. Emanuel and Mr. McCarthy.

THE BAD: ...AND HAS NO EFFECT ON OTHER NEIGHBORHOODS.
The problem with the "more police, less crime" philosophy is that it is a) expensive and b) limited by the number of officers in a department. With only about 13,500 officers on the budget, the CPD has one of the highest per-capita manpowers in the country (NYC has about 400 officers per 100,000 residents, whereas Chicago has 500) but also one of the lowest per-square mile staffing. Chicago, at 234 square miles, is a huge city. Although not all of those miles cover high-crime neighborhoods, the most violent communities tend to be spread across large swaths of South and West Side land. It is impossible for the CPD to deploy officers uniformly across these areas, and crime rates reflect this uneven pattern of deployment. Neighborhoods that did not receive special attention from McCarthy's expensive 2013 strategies have had unchanged rates of violence from previous years. On the one hand, the entrenched crime of these communities suggests that the improved violence rates in other neighborhoods are more than just chance (as in the previous section). But on the other hand, it shows that Chicago violence is incredibly resilient to law enforcement intervention.

The tables below show the per-month and cumulative shootings/murders for a variety of Chicago neighborhoods. These areas did not receive special CPD attention in 2013, and although officers in their districts have worked tirelessly to lower crime rates, violence remains deeply entrenched in these communities.

Humboldt Park: Shootings/Murders in January-May, 2013-2007

2013 201220112010200920082007
January 9 (9) 5 (5)6 (6)13 (13)2 (2)6 (6)9 (9)
February 4 (13) 5 (10)5 (11)6 (19)5 (7)2 (8)0 (9)
March 4 (17) 6 (16)6 (17)11 (30)4 (11)2 (10)4 (13)
April 7 (24) 10 (26)5 (22)8 (38)12 (23)11 (21)9 (22)
May 11 (35) 8 (34)12 (34)12 (50)15 (38)5 (26)11 (33)

Humboldt Park epitomizes a neighborhood that is completely resistant to policing and crime prevention strategies. Combined shootings and homicides in 2013 are virtually identical to levels in 2012, 2011, 2009, and 2007. With 50 total incidents, 2010 was a particularly bad year, but such abnormal spikes should not be benchmarks of improvement. Simply put, Humboldt Park violence is no better or worse than it was 7 years ago, with no combination of police, social service, and community intervention having any effect on crime.

Greater Grand Crossing: Shootings/Murders in January-May, 2013-2007

2013 201220112010200920082007
January 7 (7) 6 (6)6 (6)9 (9)5 (6)1 (1)4 (4)
February 2 (9) 4 (10)2 (7)4 (13)6 (11)0 (1)1 (5)
March 3 (12) 6 (16)6 (14)0 (13)7 (18)5 (6)6 (11)
April 9 (21) 7 (23)10 (24)7 (20)11 (29)11 (17)16 (27)
May 7 (28) 13 (36)3 (27)4 (24)6 (35)11 (28)11 (38)

A neighbor of Englewood and Woodlawn, Greater Grand Crossing has violence rates that have been in constant flux for the past 7 years. 2012, 2009, and 2007 appeared high. The remaining four years are all about the same, with totals hovering around 28. This is exactly the sort of pattern that you don't want to see as a police commander, because it is impossible to determine if your forces are having an effect on area violence. Greater Grand Crossing's 2013 looks to be just a repeat of three previous years, so if the CPD is doing anything new, it isn't having much of an effect.

North Lawndale: Shootings/Murders in January-May, 2013-2007

2013 201220112010200920082007
January 5 (5) 3 (3)6 (6)5 (5)1 (1)6 (6)1 (1)
February 7 (12) 7 (10)1 (7)3 (8)7 (8)1 (7)3 (4)
March 4 (16) 7 (17)3 (10)6 (14)4 (12)5 (12)4 (8)
April 2 (18) 8 (25)4 (14)12 (26)1 (13)7 (19)3 (11)
May 6 (24) 9 (34)7 (21)2 (28)10 (23)6 (25)5 (16)

Of all the neighborhoods discussed in this article, North Lawndale is the only one that appears to actually be getting worse. In every year since 2007, violence has been steadily increasing in small steps, following a zig-zagging upwards pattern. 16 incidents up to 25. Down to 23, then up to 28. Down to 21, then up to 34. 2013 looks to continue that trend. Moreover, over that 7-year period, North Lawndale's population continually declined while violence simultaneously rose. Although the sample size is not statistically large enough to draw conclusions from, on-the-ground reports from my colleagues confirm these observations. The gangs and criminals of North Lawndale have steadily grown over the last years while frightened residents have, when possible, left. It is too early to say with certainty, but if this trend continues unchecked, North Lawndale violence will continue to rise even in spite of police interventions.

These three neighborhoods are by no means the only Chicago communities that are unaffected by police intervention. East Garfield Park, Auburn Gresham, and West Pullman could easily have been added to this list, along with a half dozen others. Many of these communities are not as well-known as the infamous Englewood, but to those in the business of reducing violence, they continue to be household names. As 2013 unfolds and some neighborhoods improve, many others are likely to remain as violent as they were last year and the year before.

CONCLUSIONS: CRIME DOWN, BUT ALSO UNCHANGED
Overall, the Chicago of 2013 is much the same as the Chicago of 2011 or 2010. Crime may have dropped from the 2012 and 2008 spikes, but in many neighborhoods, it remains deeply entrenched. Thankfully, some neighborhoods have improved as a result of CPD presence. In some cases, especially Woodlawn, the improvement has been dramatic. When the politicians, police commanders, and pundits start to trumpet the so-called violence decline of Chicago, these are the communities that they are talking about. And to be sure, those improvements are welcome ones.

But many neighborhoods across the city are tragically resistant to police and community intervention. These neighborhoods may not have had a high-profile killing (Derrion Albert or Hadiya Pendleton), nor have they had a nationally-acclaimed radio show about their youth. A lack of public attention, however, does not reduce the violence that has become a daily reality for area residents. These are the neighborhoods that make the Tribune headlines if not in name than in consequence: Some number dead, a larger number wounded. As the summer unfolds, communities targeted by expensive CPD hot-spot policing will continue to improve (at least, until the money runs out). Meanwhile, in those neighborhoods that are not receiving special attention, violence will continue to rise. It is only May, and some of these trends are liable to change as the year goes on. But if we have learned anything about Chicago summers, it is that violence only worsens as the years goes on. If the trends so far are any indication, this summer looks to be a long one and a bloody one.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Warrior's Guide to Self-Defense Law: 3 - Defending yourself from nonlethal, unlawful use of force

 Self-defense law can be a daunting block of text, but it is also the only thing that will separate your actions between "justified personal protection" and "manslaughter". In this post, I offer a comprehensive overview of Illinois self-defense laws as they pertain to a variety of scenarios, all from the perspective of a lifelong Chicagoan and semi-experienced martial artist.

Introduction: "Justifiable use of force" and martial arts
Chapter 1: Defending yourself from death or great bodily harm
Chapter 2: Defending another from death or great bodily harm
Chapter 3: Defending yourself from nonlethal, unlawful use of force
Chapter 4: Defending another from nonlethal, unlawful use of force

All sections include both a "Simple Summary" of the relevant laws, a detailed discussion, and some illustrative examples. Note that these examples are NOT exhaustive and NOT prescriptive. There are always exceptions and complications to every situation presented. I give them as a good starting point to get you thinking, not as legal advice. Finally, as an all-important disclaimer, I am not a lawyer. This post does not constitute legal advice. For the final word on legal issues, talk to a police officer or a lawyer in your city. 

 ~CHAPTER 3: DEFENDING YOURSELF FROM NONLETHAL, UNLAWFUL USE OF FORCE ~

SIMPLE SUMMARY
If someone uses unlawful and criminal force against you without threatening your life, and there are no other ways to avoid or escape, then you may use the minimum amount of force necessary to defend yourself. Once you are safe, you must stop using such force. 

The majority of martial artists will go their entire lives without throwing a single punch outside of the gym. If we use any technique to protect ourselves, it is a fall break after slipping on Chicago's infamous February ice. Even for those unlucky few that one day must defend themselves, chances are good that their attacker will not be trying to kill or maim. He or she will punch, slap, tackle, kick, pull hair, claw, and generally brawl around. If any of this violence escalates to life-threatening levels, or involves a weapon, go back to Chapter 1. But if it stays at the brawling level, Section 7-1 considers such an attack to just be "unlawful use of force." As you might imagine, with a lowered level of aggressor force comes a lower legal limit to defensive force. 
  • Section 7-1: Use of force in defense of a person
    a)
    A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or another against such other's imminent use of unlawful force...
Unlike in Chapters 1 and 2, we are no longer dealing with unlawful force that is likely to cause death or great bodily harm. Your attacker is almost certainly unarmed, has not communicated or indicated any lethal intent, and is not trying to commit an egregiously violent crime, such as rape, murder, aggravated battery, kidnapping, etc.

In such a situation, martial artists and non-martial artists face a whole new range of restrictions. The most important: You CANNOT use any technique that is likely to result in death or great bodily harm. Section 7-1 does allow for such techniques (as discussed in Chapters 1 and 2), but ONLY if your attacker is also using such force. But in the case of generally unlawful force, (i.e. a brawl, a mugging, a snatch and grab, etc.) your attacker is definitionally not trying to kill or cripple you. As such, all of your techniques that have the potential to maim or murder must be completely removed from your martial arsenal. 

This restriction has profound implications for martial artists and self-defense training. Most of our empty-handed defenses (those used when an attacker has no weapon) need to be designed to exclude all potentially dangerous techniques. That means avoiding chokes, dangerous throws, eye gouges, trachea smashers, limb snappers, head slammers, and a variety of other moves that "are likely to cause" death or great bodily harm. 

It also means modifying the techniques that you are using to be safe, professional, and legal. At the UChicago Self-Defense Club, I teach the Haganah/F.I.G.H.T curriculum. Any takedowns and throws we use to end a defense are designed to maximize safety. In all of them, students are instructed to deliberately cradle the attacker's head to avoid inflicting a devastating cranial injury on impact. Similarly, chokeholds (such as the rear-naked) are not used to incapacitate and blackout, but rather to control and restrain. 

Some techniques are harder to categorize. Jointlocks, such as an arm bar, are an excellent example of this. In many situations, even those in which you do not fear for your life, a jointlock is a great way to end a conflict and disable your attacker. But in such cases, you must ask yourself if that jointlock was the minimum level of force needed to stop the attack. For some of us, the answer will be "Yes". Smaller and shorter martial artists might be justified in using such techniques against larger and stronger attackers, especially if they are in a compromising position on the ground, pinned to a wall, held in place, and so on. For bigger martial artists, however, this becomes a risky proposition, especially if your attacker is not as skilled, strong, or large as you. If a teenager tackles you to take your laptop bag, is breaking his arm the minimum level of force needed to stop the attack? I am 6'0" weighing at 175 lbs. If a 5'8" kid with only 145 lbs tried to wrestle for my bag and I decided to break his arm, neither the cops, the prosecutor, the judge, nor the jury would find that remotely justified.

Striking is another technique that is hard to categorize (all punches, kicks, elbows, knees, etc.), and this returns to the issue of size, strength, skill, and minimum force. If a robber punches you in the face before trying to yank away your backpack, all things being equal, you can probably punch him back to protect yourself and your property. Unfortunately, all things are rarely equal. You might be an aspiring Golden Gloves boxer, and your walloping right hook might knock your target out cold and send his head spinning to the cement. Suddenly, your case goes from "justified self defense" to "involuntary manslaughter". Elbows represent another complication. A stunning elbow to the neck might be alright to disrupt and daze an attacker. Dropping an elbow to the base of an attacker's neck, however, can risk paralysis or major trauma. In both cases, you need to ask yourself whether that elbow was the minimum amount of force necessary to stop the attack (in one of those cases, it certainly is not). 

Ultimately, you need to make sure that all of your techniques and defenses use the minimum amount of force that is necessary to stop the aggressor. Because your attacker is not trying to maim or kill you, your force will always fall short of a deadly/crippling level. Be brutally honest in this assessment; you may have to toss out a number of your "favorite" techniques in the process. The examples below will help guide you in that regard. 

Defending yourself from nonlethal, unlawful force: Simple Summary
  • If someone uses unlawful and criminal force against you without threatening your life, and there are no other ways to avoid or escape, then you may use the minimum amount of force necessary to defend yourself. Once you are safe, you must stop using such force.
"GOOD" techniques that often use a minimal level of force
  • Throws in which you cradle/hold your attacker's head to lessen falling injury.
  • Pins that immobilize an attacker on the ground (rear shoulder lock, barring an arm on the ground, etc.)
  • Front kick/knees to the groin.
  • Roundhouse kick/knees to the thigh. 
  • Punches/elbows to the side of the neck (the "triangle" around the carotid artery). 
  • Palm strike to the face.
  • Stomping kick to the groin or stomach.
"RISKY" techniques that MIGHT NOT use a minimal level of force
  • Strangleholds applied for 8 seconds (rear naked choke, guillotine, headlock, triangle, etc.)
  • Stomping/side kick to the knee joint. 
  • Punch to the jaw.
  • Takedowns in which you do not control the opponent's head (tackles, single leg, double leg, ankle picks, etc.). Takedowns are generally "safer" than throws because you are controlling their lower body and they can more easily break a fall.
  • Fast jointlocks (arm bar, figure four, knee bar, etc.)
 "DANGEROUS" techniques that DO NOT use a minimal level of force
  • Strangleholds applied for longer than 8 seconds. 
  • Kicking or kneeing the head of a downed opponent. 
  • Slamming the head of an opponent into the ground, a wall, a corner, or any other hard surface. 
  • Repeatedly punching an opponent's head. 
  • Dropping the tip of your elbow into an opponent's neck or head. 
  • Eye gouges. 
  • Throws in which you do not control the opponent's head (hip throw, shoulder throw, major outer reap, etc.).
  • Any slash, stab, or cut with a bladed, edged, or sharp implement. 
  • Any clubbing or bludgeoning instrument. 
  • Shooting someone anywhere (whether leg, arm, torso, or head).
Nonlethal, unlawful use of force scenarios
  • A thief grabs your iPhone and runs. 
  • A thief strikes you in the face and tries to grab your iPhone or bag. 
  • A pair of thieves grab you while they make off with your backpack. 
  • An attacker, without provocation, punches you at a party. 
  • While riding the train, a man tries to inappropriately touch you. 
  • As you walk down the street, a 14 year-old kid slaps you in the face.
As a final note, it is critical to remember that simple deescalation tactics are often viable in many nonlethal force situations. If a man were to simply shove you at a party, you need not immediately escalate to a restraint and takedown. Walking away or talking the guy down are still options at your disposal, and it is very possible that an immediate and unwarranted escalation to use-of-force will be counted against you by prosecutors and police. Of course, talking down a guy whose hand is already on your iPod as he wrenches it away is not really an effective self-defense strategy. Just be judicious in knowing when to use force and when to deescalate or walk away, a point that returns us to basic self-defense training in the first place.

Join me next time for part 4 where I talk about defending another person from nonlethal force.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Warrior's Guide to Self-Defense Law: 2 - Defending another from lethal force

Self-defense law can be a daunting block of text, but it is also the only thing that will separate your actions between "justified personal protection" and "manslaughter". In this post, I offer a comprehensive overview of Illinois self-defense laws as they pertain to a variety of scenarios, all from the perspective of a lifelong Chicagoan and semi-experienced martial artist.

Introduction: "Justifiable use of force" and martial arts
Chapter 1: Defending yourself from death or great bodily harm
Chapter 2: Defending another from death or great bodily harm
Chapter 3: Defending yourself from nonlethal, unlawful use of force
Chapter 4: Defending another from nonlethal, unlawful use of force

All sections include both a "Simple Summary" of the relevant laws, a detailed discussion, and some illustrative examples. Note that these examples are NOT exhaustive and NOT prescriptive. There are always exceptions and complications to every situation presented. I give them as a good starting point to get you thinking, not as legal advice. Finally, as an all-important disclaimer, I am not a lawyer. This post does not constitute legal advice. For the final word on legal issues, talk to a police officer or a lawyer in your city. 

 ~CHAPTER 2: DEFENDING ANOTHER FROM DEATH OR GREAT BODILY HARM~
SIMPLE SUMMARY
If another reasonably appears to be in immediate and imminent fear of death or serious bodily harm, and there appear to be no other ways for them to avoid or escape, then you may intervene with force that is likely to kill or severely injure their attacker IF such force is necessary to protect the victim. Once they are safe, you must stop using such force.

Observant readers will have noticed that Section 7-1 also allows for that same use of force in defense of another ("...such conduct is necessary to defend himself or another against..."). On the surface, this seems like a simple reapplication. If you see another in serious danger, you are allowed to intervene and save the day! Indeed, because the law doesn't say anything else on the topic, we might be tempted to just leave it at that and go out saving victims across the city.

It turns out that defending another adds an additional layer of complication. It can be difficult to determine what constitutes a "reasonable belief" of danger for yourself. That becomes infinitely more challenging when trying to determine it for another human being. Of course, in some cases it will be clearer. If you witness your neighbor being assaulted on her front porch in the middle of the night, you have great legal license to intervene. But in other cases, you will not know whether your actions are "necessary to prevent" harm.

Let's consider an armed robbery. If I see someone being robbed down the street from me, is he really in imminent danger? Can I really know that? If I intervene and the gun goes off, hitting the initial victim, is that my fault or the fault of the attacker? As a bystander, I definitionally have limited and/or different information than a victim. That information may not be enough to conclusively act on.

Similarly, you might not always know the full story behind a crime. This happens a lot in ongoing fights. Maybe the "victim" getting punched into the ground was actually an armed attacker ten seconds before you rounded the corner. His "attacker" might actually be successfully defending himself. Because you were not involved in the outbreak of this incident, you do not have ample information to assess whether or not there is "imminent" danger, or whether your intervention is "necessary to prevent" such danger.

But as stated earlier, there are definitely circumstances under which you would have a moral tug to intervene. Ongoing sexual assaults are one, as are most crimes involving child victims and adult attackers. Blatant robberies (such as iPod muggings on CTA trains) also come to mind, along with the random acts of group violence you sometimes see in downtown Chicago. There are some martial and tactical considerations you also need to work through (Do you really want to fight a mob of 10-15 attackers?), but you would have legal clearance to engage and intervene in these situations. You would still have to select the appropriate level of force, but any of those could very well justify a high one.

In conclusion, if you can both a) determine that another victim is in imminent and immediate fear for their life and b) that your intervention is the only thing that might save them, then you have legal permission to intervene to help them. In doing so, the prerequisites of personal self-defense still apply. You may only use the minimum amount of force needed to stop the attack (which may well be lethal force), and you must stop once the threat has been neutralized or has fled.

Defending another from death or great bodily harm: Simple Summary
  • If another reasonably appears to be in immediate and imminent fear of death or serious bodily harm, and there appear to be no other ways for them to avoid or escape, then you may intervene with force that is likely to kill or severely injure their attacker IF such force is necessary to protect the victim. Once they are safe, you must stop using such force. 
Scenarios in which use of deadly force MIGHT be justified
  • You witness a woman being assaulted in front of her apartment.
  • Two attackers draw and hold a knife or gun on an elderly man or woman.
  • A man tries to drag a child into his car (TRICKY. Is it a parent?)
  • A mob of attackers surround, pull to the ground, and start beating a pedestrian.
  • A gun-wielding attacker fires on a group of individuals in a park. 
  • A small group surreptitiously lights fires around an occupied home, i.e. arson with homicidal intent.
 Scenarios in which use of deadly force is PROBABLY NOT justified
  • Two guys get into a bar fight. (You have no idea who the aggressor is)
  • A young man grabs a CTA passenger's iPod and runs off the train. (No one is in imminent danger)
  • A small group of kids beat up another kid in a playground. (Lethal force is not "necessary" to stop the beating)
  • A child is slapped by an adult that looks to be his/her parent. (Unclear aggressor. Call the Department of Child and Family Services and/or 911)
  • A large brawl breaks out between 15-20 kids in the middle of an intersection. (Call 911. Take shelter)
  • You witness someone trying to break into a car or apartment window. (Call 911 and shout for help. If you must intervene, lethal force is not necessary to stop a break in).
  • You witness two or three individuals wrestling with someone on the street.(Unclear aggressor. 911! Make a commotion!)