Friday, September 20, 2013

20 wounded, 3 dead on Thursday: Are Chicago homicides really down?

Thursday was a bad night in Chicago. The evening saw 23 Chicagoans shot, 3 of whom did not survive their injuries. Of those 23 shootings, 13 occurred in a single incident with a single shooter. That last one made national news, both because of the sheer brazenness of the attack and his choice of weapon. I hear a lot of people say that gangs in Chicago are armed with AK-47s and regularly use them in attacks, and although that's almost always hyperbole, in this case they would be right. The Cornell Square Park shooting saw a single shooter, likely gang involved, open fire on a crowded basketball game with an AK-47. Witnesses confirmed the weapon and police confirmed the 7.62 mm shell casings on the scene. Add that to the 10 other people shot across the city and you have an abnormally bad Thursday leading into what promises to be a predictably bloody weekend.

Was Thursday's bloodshed indicative of a more general trend in Chicago violence? Are things as bad as they look? CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel don't think so. Both men made statements on Friday about the Cornell Square incident, underscoring the tragedy but emphasizing the city's ongoing efforts to curb shootings and lower crime. McCarthy refused to let Thursday's attack undermine the work that his Department has been doing, with the Tribune stating "McCarthy argued Friday that the statistics were old news and did not represent the progress made in the city, where the murder rate has dropped by 20 percent over the past year."

McCarthy's claim is not a new one. For months, the City has been touting a historic decline in homicides, with April's count standing out as the lowest in decades. And to be sure, there is statistical reason to believe his claim. As of September 1st of last year, Chicago had suffered 366 homicides. In 2013, we were "only" at 287, and that does represent the 20% drop that McCarthy cites. But does that drop hold up over a multi-year perspective?

We can obtain a little perspective on McCarthy's 20% drop by looking back over a longer period of time. No one cares if Chicago improves from year-to-year. We care if those improvements are enduring ones over a longer period of time. The table below gives monthly homicides for the past 7 years. Data only goes through September 1st of any given year. Homicide totals represent all murders from the 1st of the month to the last day, and cumulative totals are given at the end of each column. Looking at the 2013 column, I have highlighted values based on their relationship with 7-year averages for each month. Red highlighted values were unusually high (1+ standard deviation over the average), Green values were unusually low (1+ standard deviation below the average), and Blue values were about average for the period.

2007-2013 Chicago homicide totals
through September

2013 201220112010 2009 2008 2007
January 43 402820243522
February 14 292525262021
March 16 522231213537
April 24 413048414734
May 44 513948474835
June 43 474654455349
July 51 495842586645
August 52 573760515146
TOTAL 287 366285328313355289

(Why not a 10 or 20-year perspective? The 7-year lens is partially based on patterns of crime across the city. There was a marked shift in the types of crime that occurred between 2005 and 2007, both based on the overall economy, Chicago Housing Authority demolitions, policing, gang fragmentation, etc. This is an example of trying to inform a quantitative dataset with qualitative observations)

The biggest takeaway from this table is that 2013's total numbers are suspiciously similar to those of 2010 and 2007. That's worrisome because both of those years, although individually lower in homicide totals, did not signal a reversal of the Chicago crime tide. 2007 preceded the awful 2008, a year which saw consistently high homicide totals throughout the entire summer. July 2008 was the worst July since the early 2000s. So although 2013 is a marked improvement from 2012, there is little to suggest that it signals a broader shift in the cycle of Chicago murders. Next year might look like 2009 or 2011. Or it could look like 2008 all over again.

There is also a more sinister conclusion that we might draw from the table. Homicides between February and April of 2013 were at historic lows, indicated by the green lettering. But starting in May, homicides climbed back up to their average values (indeed, they are slightly above average for the period). Now we find ourselves in September where our annual total is back to what it was in 2010 and 2007. This may suggest that whatever factors kept crime down in February-April stopped having an effect in May. Weather is one explanation; April alone saw the most rainfall in over a century, and not even criminals want to be outside in a Chicago downpour. Policing is another. McCarthy and Emanuel have been advertising their hot-spot policing strategies (and a dozen other strategies) for months now. And of course, there are a half dozen other explanations that might account for the drop, including subtle economic or housing shifts, fluctuations in drug markets, incarceration and the incapacitation effect, and so on. But whatever those factors might have been, they were not sufficient to keep crime down starting in May. 

Chicago crime is obviously too big of a monster to discuss in a single post. Just discussing citywide homicides barely qualifies as an analysis, let alone a comprehensive and decisive one. The street-level patterns of policing, shootings, drug markets, personal disputes and drama, cliques, and countless other factors all need to be considered in assessing Chicago crime. Regardless of how you tackle the problem, however, a clear trend would almost certainly emerge from your investigations: Chicago is basically the same today as it was in 2007 or 2011. Next year might be the same as this year. Or it might be another 2012.

This all gives us a little perspective both on McCarthy's claims and on the Cornell Park shooting that led off this article. On the one hand, McCarthy isn't fooling anyone when he talks about a lowered homicide rate, although no one can blame the man for trying to inspire public confidence in his officers and strategies. But on the other hand, no one should look at Cornell Park and declare that Chicago is in a state of emergency. Certainly, no one should be calling for the National Guard, although that will inevitably come. Chicago is more or less the same as it ever was, which should be as much cause for bitter relief as it is for justified anger.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Techniques: Gun to the chest disarm


Defense against a gun to the chest. In this article, I will go over the attack, the disarm, some training tips, and general points to remember in learning and doing the disarm. The above video goes through the disarm (you'll have to jump to 7:41 to see it in action). Thanks to Mike Lee Kanerak for the technique, thanks to Randy Proto for uploading the video, and special thanks to Prentiss Rhodes for teaching me this and most everything else I know about self-defense.  

One of the first techniques that self-defense students want to learn are gun disarms. There's an interesting criminological point here because most Chicago robberies do not involve a firearm. In 2012, just 40% of all reported robberies saw the perpetrator(s) using one or more guns. Handguns are even less prevalent in Hyde Park robberies, where only 30% of such crimes involved these weapons. Statistics aside, if you get robbed at gunpoint, you aren't going to care about the official Chicago Police Department tallies. Unlike strongarm or snatch-and-grab style robberies, getting robbed at the point of a pistol is a uniquely helpless experience. You can fend off a guy who grabs or slaps you. You can chase down a kid who filches your iPhone. But a guy with a Glock represents a much more serious threat, even for experienced martial artists.

Whenever facing a weapon, especially a handgun, the best option is always to immediately comply and then to flee as fast as possible. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. You might be unable to flee, whether in tight quarters or a closed space. Or you might be unable to comply with his request. He may want your child, your significant other, or you yourself. He may be dissatisfied with the contents of you wallet, or annoyed with your reaction. He may be intoxicated, not thinking straight, and unable to realize that you aren't resisting. And, more frighteningly, the crime being threatened might not be robbery. 2012 saw about 1340 criminal sexual assaults across the city, of which about 100 were committed with a gun (looking only at reported data). Statistically, it's a small chance that this might happen to you, but if it does, you won't care about the probability of your situation.

In this article, I go over the most basic gun disarm in the Haganah curriculum: Gun to the chest. Haganah, a martial art system in the family of Krav Maga, emphasizes gross-motor motion, stress training, and strength-agnostic techniques. These moves are designed for anyone, regardless of size, muscle mass, or experience. I vouch for any of them both in the gym and outside. These techniques, however, require ample training and practice to work outside of a class. If you are interested in this disarm, and other techniques like it, this article is just an introduction. There is never a substitute for formal training (shameless promotion for UChicago Self Defense Club!). And even then, this disarm should never even be considered unless absolutely necessary. Just in case that disclaimer is unclear, here is the full one that I gave before my last gun disarm piece:

  • Don't try this disarm in real life. Period. You should (almost) always acquiesce to a criminal's request, especially if it is just for your property. Home invasions, abductions, and sexual assaults get in trickier territory, and as a general rule, you will always do what you feel is necessary to stay safe and survive. If you ever envision yourself disarming a gun for any reason, be sure to have practiced it under the lowest and highest levels of stress for many hundreds of hours beforehand. Don't ever try it if the extent of your martial training is YouTube and blogposts.

THE ATTACK
An attacker holds a handgun to your chest and makes demands. The gun might touch your chest or be an inch away. It might be aimed at your stomach, your ribs, or your collar bone. The handgun itself could be an automatic, such as the archetypical Glock or Colt M1911, or a semi-automatic revolver. Your attacker might hold the weapon in his left hand or his right hand, or even gripped in both if he has been watching too many action movies recently.

This disarm is that it works from a variety of angles. The attacker does not need to hold the gun at the geometric center of your sternum for this move to be operable. As long as the attacker is standing somewhat in front of you pointing the weapon generally towards your front, the disarm can work. Of course, regardless of the angle, it is critical to remember that you should never attempt any disarms unless the gun is touching you, or otherwise extremely close (a few inches at most). We don't live in the Matrix and we don't have the movie-enhanced reflexes of Chuck Norris or Jet Li. We definitely don't have the armored skeletons of a Wolverine or a T-800.

Additionally, as mentioned in the intro, only attempt the disarm if you have no other options at your disposal, or if you have only bad options. If the attacker is demanding your brand new Nokia, it's probably time to think about a new phone. If the attacker is demanding that you walk to the nearby alley or his car, then the disarm comes into play.

POINTS TO CONSIDER
  1. THE TWO DANGERS OF DISARMS: 1 - GETTING SHOT
    It's almost not worth mentioning, but I need to do my instructor's duty and say it anyway. Don't get shot by the attacker and don't shoot yourself. Similarly, don't put yourself or the weapon in a place where you can get shot. That means you need to watch the gun's line of fire during the entire disarm so it never crosses your body or limbs. All good gun disarms keep that line of fire away from you at all times; there is never a "split second of risk" where the gun is aiming at your own vital targets.

  2. THE TWO DANGERS OF DISARMS: 2 - SHOOTING SOMEONE ELSE
    The second danger, however, is definitely worth mentioning because many martial artists forget about it. I see a lot of wild disarms that involve kicks, crazy grabs, other flailing limbs. At some point during such a disarm, the gun will be pointed in a random direction at roughly chest level. That's fine in the gym, but not fine if you disarm a guy in front of a playground. Even in a low-traffic area, it's neither morally nor legally acceptable to redirect the line of fire away from your chest and into a family's living room. Or at a passing vehicle. Martial techniques can't just be technically effective. They must also be safe and legal. As such, this disarm, and its practitioners, take extensive steps to prevent collateral damage.

  3. DEESCALATE. THEN DISARM
    If your attacker wanted you dead, he probably would have just shot you from a doorway as you walked by. In holding the gun on you, your attacker is trying to establish dominance, to threaten you into agreeing to a demand. That demand could be "give me your wallet", in which case you are (hopefully) likely to comply. But it could also be "walk to that doorway over there", in which case you need to make some quick decisions. In either case, however, your attacker wants something else besides your life in that first moment. Use that time to deescalate and gather your bearings. Temporarily agree to his demands or, at least, appear to agree to his demands. This gets him to calm down and tricks him into thinking that he has "won".

  4. AN ATTACKER WILL NOT PLAY NICE
    It's rare that an attacker will just hold the gun at the perfect distance and sit there as you steel yourself for battle. He might tug at your shirt. He might slap or hit you in preparation. He might stand far back or he might be spitting in your face. Although you don't necessarily need to replicate every conceivable situation when training, you should be mindful of these variations. Practice recovering from a blow, whether physical (a punch to the jaw) or psychological (a slur or insult). Practice closing distance or luring an attacker to come closer. Learn when you can't attempt the disarm at all. These skills won't be needed in every situation, but when you do need them, you want them to be part of your muscle memory.
IN-DEPTH DEFENSE
This Haganah disarm varies from those I have seen in Krav Maga and in other martial arts. It's not a big difference from afar, but from a mechanical standpoint, it's a decisive one. So although it may look familiar to experienced martial artist, you will notice the big difference in step 4 below. I'm going to illustrate my verbal explanations using screen captures from Mr. Kanerak's video, complete with fancy MS Paint vectors and symbols. Again, thanks to Prentiss Rhodes for teaching the disarm to me over many years of training, and for Mr. Kanerak and his system for making the move available to the public.

  1. DEESCLATE: "Hey man, whatever you want"
    Almost every disarm starts with this simple acknowledgement because deescalation is almost always the most important first step. For one, it calms your attacker down and encourages him to lower his guard. If you don't look like you are prepared to resist, he is naturally less likely to expect resistance. Equally important, this phrase acts as a cognitive trigger for you to get ready to do the disarm. It activates your muscle memory, centers your breathing, and generally prepares you for the impending engagement. Finally, it signals to any bystanders that you are the victim in the confrontation. This will help both during the event itself, in case you need reinforcements to subdue the guy, and in its aftermath, when you face the police and (in the worst case scenario) the courts.

  2. DEESCALATE: Raise hands an inch or so below the gun
    Part of deescalating is in physically signalling that you are complying with your attacker. A nonthreatening "hands up" gesture is a good way to do this. But you never, ever want to bring your hands over the gun and into the attacker's line of sight. He's just as panicked as you are, if not more. Any sudden jerk of your hands might cause him to panic and fire the weapon, and shooting your hands towards the air is a great way to get the bad guy to jump. If the gun is held at your solar plexus, bring your hands up to your stomach and hold them there in a nonthreatening gesture of compliance. If the gun is held at your shoulder, bring your hands up to your chest. Keep your palms open and stay calm. This will not only relax the attacker but will also bring your hands closer to the gun for the next step of the disarm.
    (NOTE: Mr. Kanerak brings his hands too high in the video)

  3. Grab the gun's barrel with your dominant hand and press it DOWN to the opposite side
    Time to redirect the line of fire. Shoot your dominant hand towards the gun barrel and grip it tight. Press it away from you, angling down as you do so.

    Grip circumference in green.
    Line of fire in red (angling away)
    Sounds simple, but there are a few points to consider when doing this step. Let's first talk about your grip on the gun. You want your fingers wrapped around the top of the barrel and your thumb gripping its underside, right in front of the trigger guard. The image to the left illustrates how the grip looks from one angle. This grip has two effects. The first is to securely redirect the line of fire while keeping the weapon under control. The second is to, potentially, jam the gun when it fires; the slide on top of an automatic, or the cylinder on a revolver, won't be able to rechamber the next round with your hand on it. Of course, the gun might not jam, but it's an added defense screen if you are trying to execute a disarm in a populated area.

    Now let's think about the trajectory of the gun as you press it away and down. The two panels below give a side-by-side progression of how the gun travels away from you as you push it down. You will notice that the defender is sliding in as he does it, but for now, just pay attention to the angle and path of the gun. That first movement, indicated in the left panel, is to push the gun away from you (in the direction of the camera/reader) while simultaneously angling it down. You then slide in, continuing to press the gun down and out to the side. The red line of fire looks like it hits the defender, but that's just a trick of the onlooking perspective; in reality, it's probably about a foot away.
    Left panel: The fat green arrow on top indicates the forward press towards the camera.
    The second green arrow shows the downward angling of the barrel.
    Right panel: The defender continues to press the gun down, redirecting the line of fire,
    while also sliding in for the next step.
  4. Still gripping and pointing the barrel down, slide in and go forearm-to-forearm
    Astute readers or experience martial artists might wonder why the attacker doesn't just yank the gun out of your grip. Indeed, there is an entire video of a Krav Maga disarm where the instructor justifiably criticizes this maneuver just because it is so easy to get the gun away. That's where our slide comes in, and that's why the slide is arguably the most important part of the entire disarm. 

    Solid green arrows show the pressure both
    down to the ground and into the forearm.
    Dotted arrows show the slide.
    By sliding into the attacker, we accomplish two objectives. First, we close the distance and position ourselves for the upcoming punch. Indeed, it puts more mass behind that strike. Second, and much more importantly, we can use our body weight and strength to keep control of the gun in that critical moment where the attacker will pull away. This is only achieved through the forearm-to-forearm contact that we can leverage in close quarters. The image to the right illustrates this position. In this position, the gun is no longer the property of the attacker. It is the shared property of defender and attacker. When the attacker tugs back, the defender can press into the arm and shuffle with him. When the attacker pulls to the front, trying to realign and re-angle on the defender's chest, that defender can stay on the outside by pressing into the arm. It's a lot of weight on the attacker and a lot of control on the weapon, but we only have it if we keep forearm contact.

    Plant that foot in the direction of the solid
    green arrow. Slide back foot in along dotted
    arrows. Keep forearm pressing down.
    At the end of your slide, you should be in the position shown at right, with your foot planted close to your attacker and your weight pressing down into the gun and forearm. As a small criticism of the video, I would prefer for the defender to bring that trailing foot more towards the back wall, so you are totally off the line of fire and in a much sturdier and more balanced stance. Under pressure, you are unlikely to have the presence of mind or even time to slide in so much. But if you overcompensate the slide in training, you will hit it right on the mark in an engagement. If you train it too short in training, you might not slide at all when your heart rate hits 220 and you revert entirely to bad muscle memory.

  5. Slide in and strike opponent's neck (the "triangle") to "short-circuit"
    With your weight pressing into the weapon and your body to the side of your attacker, fire off a punch with your opposite hand. Your target is the bundle of nerves, arteries, and veins on the side of the neck called, in our system, the "triangle".

    The attached picture shows the strike in action. If the forearm-to-forearm contact is the arguably most important point of this disarm, then the short-circuit is the runner up.
    Strike to the triangle. Don't forget to pivot
    into that punch to guarantee stopping power

    You never want to get into a wrestling bout with your attacker, especially when he has a gun, and especially if there is a difference in your size and strength. My partner and co-instructor weighs in at 120 pounds at 5'2". If she is held up at gunpoint by a 6'3", 230 lb man, the last thing she wants to do is wrestle him for the title belt, let alone for an active firearm. The short-circuit gives you an extra second to work while your opponent takes a stunning blow from the punch. When aimed at the triangle, the strike will cause your target to wince, shrug up, see stars/lose vision temporarily, and generally cause pain and damage. MMA superstar Rashad Evans talks about this punch in his Black Belt magazine article on winning a street engagement, and we put it to good use in Haganah. Make sure you are pivoting into the punch with your downward leg, as shown with the arrow in the accompanying photo. One punch not cutting it? Fire a second or third. I generally train a 3 punch barrage before moving to the next step.

  6. Reach under the gun and grasp the weapon
    Now it's time to take the weapon away from our attacker. Draw your punching arm back and position it at chest height before shooting it under the gun. Your hand must go UNDER the gun and not in front of the barrel. Once under, you are going to grab the back of the gun and slide (the hammer) and hold tight.

    The three panels below illustrate the path that your hand will take to get under the gun and where it stops at the end of the step. Even though you (hopefully) short-circuited the attacker, he can still tug the weapon away, so maintain your side stance at all times. Note that this movement is executed very quickly and is only broken down here for the sake of illustration.
    Left panel: Hand aims under the gun while keeping the line of fire away
    Center panel: Reach under the weapon. Do not reach in front of the barrel.
    Right panel: With your hand under the gun, reach up and grasp the rear of the barrel.
    Once you get under the weapon, the grab is fairly simple. You are just going to take that hand which reached under and hold down tight on the back of the weapon. For gun savvy readers, your hand will go right on top of the hammer (being sure to not place fingers actually underneath the hammer). For those who are less familiar with firearms, the two images below illustrate how the grab looks on the weapon itself.
    Left panel: Green arrows show the direction that your hand travels. The red circle is the
    target area for your grab
    Right panel: Grab down and apply pressure. Notice how all fingers are together and pressing down.
    Thumb is not engaged on the trapping hand (unlike with the hand grabbing the barrel)
    From this position, it is extremely difficult for your attacker to pull the weapon out, and that's ignoring the fact that you already fired your shirt-circuit strike. You have a lot of leverage and weight on the gun. Your over-under style grab is much stronger than any force the attacker can exert from his stance. Even if he has two hands on the gun you still have the superior grip.

  7. Torque weapon into attacker, break trigger finger, and slam it to ribs
    You have grabbed the weapon with one hand on the barrel and one hand, reaching under, on the hammer. With the barrel hand, lever the weapon up towards the attacker. Assist the levering by pulling the rear of the gun back into you. Once the weapon is pointing towards the attacker, slam it into the target's ribs (or other convenient, vulnerable target). Depending on how the attacker is holding the gun, this will likely break his trigger finger and/or tear the tendons. This will all have the effect of breaking your attacker's grip on his firearm.

    This levering motion sounds more convoluted than it actually is. With your under-reaching hand, you are just grabbing the back of the gun and pulling it towards you along the path that you took in the first place. With the hand grabbing the barrel, you are just bending the weapon into your attacker. The diagram below shows the path of the gun and the movement of your hands. It's a slightly different angle than the pictures above but it was the best image available in the video:
    Notice the line of fire that rotates around as you rotate the gun around. There was no
    clear image of the final rotation, where the weapon is rotated towards the attacker, but
    the general idea is still clear.
    Think of it like turning a compact steering wheel while you are at on odd angle. You pull the barrel towards your attacker with one hand, and you pull the hammer of the gun under and towards you with the other. In case this motion is still unclear, here's a different set of images that only show what the bottom hand is doing. You will have to extrapolate the top hand; just imagine that it's still clutching the barrel.
    Hands rotate the gun around. In this picture, the defender has removed his top hand from the gun to
    offer a better angle, so you just need to envision the hand as still grabbing hold of that barrel.
    The best of the image above is the position of the trigger finer in the rightmost panel. As you might imagine, that's about 5 pounds of force away from a snapped bone, or at the least a bundle of torn tissue. Given the angle of the gun, the tearing of the finger, and the subsequent slam, it is basically impossible for your assailant to retain weapon control at this point. You won't have the weapon in ready-to-shoot posture, but with a simple backstep and grip adjustment you will be in whatever shooter stance you prefer.

  8. Back up and disengage
    With the weapon now under your control, take a few steps back, re-rack the gun, and aim it on your attacker with your finger off the trigger. Either run, tell him to get down, or whatever else the situation demand (and the laws allow).

    I could write a whole article about firearm retention in a close-quarters scenario like this, but it's not necessary for the purposes of this disarm. Just create some space and issue your commands to the attacker. If he runs, you let him run. If he tries to negotiate with you, you back up while keeping the weapon on him. If he charges or reaches for another weapon, you do what you have to do to survive. In all cases, make sure that your finger is off the trigger. You will be more stressed than that first time you asked a girl or guy out back in 7th grade, and the slightest provocation could cause you to flinch and pull the trigger. You do not need either the moral or legal ramifications of a murder/manslaughter charge or conviction.

    If you are uncomfortable handling a weapon, keep it with you and run away. The police will want it after you dial 911, and if nothing else, you want to be sure that this guy doesn't get his weapon back for a vengeful round 2.
THOUGHTS
It's easy for me to get carried away in the disarm explanations, but that's mostly for the sake of my readership. In effect, the article is intended as a comprehensive pocket reference for the disarm and any points you might have in training it. That's not to say that this article is a substitute for physical training: It's not. But for those who have the physical training, it's a great set of reminders and tips.

This is a solid disarm and it is quite effective under stress. We have tried this with cap guns, water guns, BB guns, training guns, and actual, unloaded guns. In all cases, the technique will prevail with training and practice. The keys are in a) pressing your weight down on the gun with the forearm-to-forearm contact and b) a solid short-circuit strike. The part where most practitioners mess up is in the forearm contact, because that's the part where you are going to keep control of the weapon and prevent your attacker from yanking it away.

The other point to remember in this disarm is the line of fire. I've tried to emphasize this with the red lines in each illustration. If executed sloppily, you can shoot yourself and, probably worse, shoot someone else. When training this with your friends or in class, it's easy to forget the line of fire and focus too much on the rest of the technique. After all, plastic yellow guns can't shoot, so who cares if it is redirected into the onlooking students? It doesn't matter against a training partner, but it will matter against a real assailant with real bystanders.

It is my hope that this article gives you both solid technical tools for practicing the gun disarm, and also generalizable principles of self-defense and self-defense training that you can consider. I apologize for any ambiguities in the descriptions, and for the prose style of the article in an era dominated by video walkthroughs and guides. If my research, training, and experience has taught me anything about martial training, it is that there is still great value to the written accounts and descriptions of techniques. Although not even close to the level of mastery exhibited by a Fiore or Liechtenauer , this article nonetheless offers a meager attempt at spreading martial competency to all practitioners regardless of training. And again, any reader is welcome to join us at the UChicago Self-Defense Club for some hands-on training in this technique and others like it.