Monday, October 28, 2013

Man shot 3 times near 54th and Cornell


This past Sunday (10/27) at 8:55 PM, a 55 year-old man was walking at 54th and Cornell when he was shot three times. The victim had previously been in an argument with another individual, and police believe that the shooting was related. The Chicago Tribune reported on the story Sunday night before condensing it into an article with all the other weekend shootings. The map below shows the location of the shooting in East Hyde Park. You can also see UChicago in the lower left corner of the map for reference.



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NO CAUSE FOR ALARM FROM THE AVERAGE CITIZEN
In many respects, this incident is similar to the murder that happened around 52nd and Blackstone back in April. It was a relatively isolated incident that was unlikely to affect the wider community in any way. The victim and perpetrator were almost certainly uninvolved with UChicago, and had absolutely no interest in involving either residents or community members in their dispute. So that should be some small comfort for those who live near the 54th and Cornell area, or those who are just generally worried about urban violence. Similarly, although many students might turn towards the default "Gang-related" explanation to explain this shooting (as with most Chicago gun incidents), that is probably off base. The shooter and/or victim may have gang affiliation in some sense, but the shooting does not presage some explosive Wire Season 3 style of gang war that is soon to sweep the mean streets of Hyde Park.

NO UCPD ALERT...AGAIN
That said, there are still some causes for alarm. For one, the UCPD again did not send out a security alert. I am on the UCPD text alert program, and didn't get so much as a word from them. This is in stark contrast to the time that a water main burst on 56th and University, which led to over a half dozen texts updating me every ten minutes on the status of that all-important pipe. But nothing on the shooting.

On the one hand, the UCPD is right to not incite a panic. UChicago students are notoriously alarmist in interpreting urban violence, and the last thing the UCPD wants is some rumor about an impending gang war right off the 6 bus stop. Moreover, it's the sort of incident that makes Hyde Park appear much less safe than it actually is. Our neighborhood is one of the safest in the city, but stories like this can tarnish an otherwise golden reputation. Besides, no one wants students fleeing from UChicago or choosing not to apply just because two gentlemen happened to get into an argument within 2 miles of our campus.

But on the other hand, the UCPD has a responsibility to the community and the student body to keep us safe. Retaliatory shootings are all too common in Chicago; indeed, the April murder near 52nd and Blackstone was itself revenged in a later murder in the exact same area. Our city's criminals are notorious for indiscriminate trigger-pulling and terrible aim, with bystanders and residents having as much (if not more) to fear than the actual target. Bullets that miss their mark are liable to careen through living room windows, front doors, passing cars, and anyone who happens to be walking home at night from the library. Students need to know where these incidents occur so they can make informed decisions about how they conduct themselves through the neighborhood. By not alerting the student body to this attack, let alone the community at large, the UCPD is not living up to its mandate of protecting students. That is not to knock the UCPDs other work, which is professional, commendable, and extensive. But it is to criticize their handling of this particular incident, at least from a public relations perspective.

Be extra alert and cautious when walking in the East Hyde Park. Although a retaliatory shooting is unlikely (The shooter/victim may not even have lived near here), it is nonetheless possible.

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
Reported
Date/Time
Occurred
CommentsUCPDI#
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. 

AVOID ENGAGING MULTIPLE ATTACKERS ALONE
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.

NEVER ENGAGE MULTIPLE ATTACKERS IF MULTIPLE VICTIMS ARE PRESENT
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.

WHAT IF THE ATTACKERS INTEND SERIOUS HARM?
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.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Weekend robbery near Logan Arts Center


In an effort to prompt more self-defense focused talk, I am going to make some small changes to the UChicago Crime Report posts that I tend to put up following an incident. Instead of just reporting on the crime, I will try and identify one self-defense theme. The crime itself will just be an entry point for that theme.

The theme of today's UChicago Crime Report: "The safe area paradox". In unsafe locations, you are often more aware that you could be attacked or robbed. Criminals understand this and try to strike in LESS risky locations, when targets are less aware and lured into a false sense of safety.

Incident Location Date/Time
Reported
Date/Time
Occurred
CommentsUCPDI#
Robbery 6000 S. Ingleside (Public Way) 10/11/13 5:00 PM 10/11/13 5:00 PM Male snatched cell phone from the hand of victim walking on the sidewalk and fled with companion / Companion detained by UCPD / Suspect taken into custody by UCPD and CPD officers on 10/12/13 C01061
(Source: https://incidentreports.uchicago.edu/viewReport.php?reportDate=1381467600)

At first glance, it's a pretty unremarkable crime with a pretty unremarkable narrative. Victim is walking down street with phone. Perpetrator snatches phone and runs. Police apprehend perpetrator(s). Lots of snatch and grabs end this way, even if the initial victim is not the one to help apprehend their thief. The most obvious self-defense tip we could take from this incident is probably about phone use. But like the incident itself, that's hardly a remarkable piece of advice.

What is fairly noteworthy is the time of the incident. As anyone who walks around Logan in the late afternoon will notice, 5:00 PM is a fairly high-traffic time. It's not bustling like the quads at 11:50 AM on a Tuesday, but there are always people and cars traveling around at that hour. It's definitely not deserted like a sidestreet after sunset; there's even a blue light phone right on the Ingleside corner, and lots of cars going down 60th street. Even if the incident occurred down Ingleside itself, that's still less than a hundred or so feet from the multi-million dollar Logan Arts Center, not to mention Midway Studios. Indeed, the UCPD headquarters is itself a block away from there!

LURED INTO A FALSE SENSE OF SAFETY
The "public way" on 6000 S. Ingleside does not fit our picture of an unsafe location. Even a starstruck first-year who has never lived in a city before would be cautious walking down a dark street at night (perhaps especially such a student). We all hold our bags tight on the Red Line. We often have our keys out as we walk up to our door at night. For all the UChicago students I have seen at the 55 bus stop off the Garfield Green Line, I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen them on a phone. When it comes to identifying these kinds of unsafe locations, most of us are pretty good at noticing the obvious ones (even if the risk calculation is loaded with hidden assumptions).

Unfortunately, many criminals know how the average victim is going to make such risk assessments. They can predict that we will be more cautious down deserted residential streets in the dead of night and more cautious at a South Side bus stop. In turn, they can also predict that we will be less cautious when just leaving a business on 53rd street and turning towards home, or when we are shopping downtown with our friends. It's not true of everyone, but it's true of enough pedestrians to be an operable rule. And that's the paradox: In many "safe" areas, we are actually less safe than when we are in supposedly "unsafe" ones because we let our guards down. For many robbers, the area around 6000 S. Ingelside would be an ideal robbery location precisely because it is "safe" enough that most potential targets will be unaware and unprepared.

CRIMINALS SELECT "EASIER" TARGETS IN SAFER AREAS
For the average student of self-defense, or average reader generally, the key is to maintain a casual baseline of awareness at all times, and then only heighten that awareness in uniquely risky situations. If you are in a safe area, you will still have that baseline vigilance. If you are in an unsafe one, you just heighten it. That perpetual awareness will often be enough to deter or identify threats before they strike because anyone attempting to commit a crime in a safe area needs to find only the easiest targets.

For a robber, there is a tradeoff in selecting a crime scene in a seemingly safer area where you will be less aware. There are more witnesses, more potential cops and cameras, and a generally less favorable environment. That's worth it if you can quickly snatch a phone and flee unimpeded, but it means criminals need to be more selective in their targets. On a dark street with no bystanders, you can reasonably stick up a group of 2-3 people with a gun and make off with their belongings before anyone notices. You an also wrestle for an iPhone if no one is around. But try that on Michigan Avenue and the National Guard will be there in 5 minutes. We know that robbers won't avoid safer areas, but it turns out that they will avoid the tougher targets in those safe areas.

By maintaining your casual level of awareness, you will appear to be such a tougher target. Make eye contact. Give a friendly nod and a Chicago-style "How's it going?" Don't be buried in your newest Apple device. Don't be so engaged with your friends that you can't observe other pedestrians. If criminals are eying you, there is a good chance they will realize that you might be more trouble than you are worth and just move on to another target. Of course, don't confuse "tougher target" with "brawling asshole". If you carry yourself like you are built to brawl and ready to rumble at any time, chances are good that you will have plenty of brawls and rumbles over your life. But that's not good self-defense from either a philosophical or technical perspective. Similarly, don't conflate awareness with paranoia. Awareness is the casual observation of external details and casual interaction with those details. Paranoia, however, is the obsessive focus on external details and the over/mis interpretation of those details as signs of danger.

Until next time, be sure to keep aware at all times in all locations, especially in those that might otherwise seem safe.

Friday, October 4, 2013

5 reasons to join the UChicago Self-Defense Club


FALL 2013 CLASS SCHEDULE
Monday, 6:00 - 7:00, Ratner Dance Room
Sunday, 2:00 - 3:00, Ratner Dance Room (Challenge Class)
No experience required!! Bring athletic clothes.

UChicago Self-Defense Club starts next week. For anyone who is interested in learning both the physical and mental strategies of self-defense, this is the club for you. Self-Defense club teaches students techniques from the Haganah and Krav Maga systems, both of them Israeli martial arts renowned for their practicality and effectiveness in real world encounters. It's always hard to start a new club at school, especially a martial art if you have no/limited experience, so here are five reasons that Self-Defense Club is the right club for you:
  1. ANYONE CAN DO IT REGARDLESS OF EXPERIENCE OR SIZE/STRENGTH
    Haganah and Krav Maga are designed to be used by anyone regardless of their experience, size, fitness, or strength. If you are ever attacked outside of the gym, there is a good chance that your opponent will be bigger and stronger; there are no weight classes in a real fight. Because of that, our techniques use simple body mechanics that work independent of size and strength. We will also help improve your fitness and strength levels so you can be even more effective as a martial artist.
  2. EASY TO LEARN, EASY TO EXECUTE
    It takes years to really learn a martial art, let alone to master it. At the Self-Defense Club, we understand that our students have many responsibilities in their lives and that they can't all train 3 hours a day to take home the title belt. Our simple techniques can be learned in only a few classes, although it will still take lots of practice to get them right under pressure. This martial art is designed so that the average civilian can pick it up and learn it with only a few classes per week.
  3. PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THE REALITIES OF URBAN CRIME
    Hyde Park is a pretty safe neighborhood, even if some of the surrounding communities are not. And for the most part, the only fights that the average UChicago student will get in are while playing Super Smash Brothers in their dorm lounge. But this is Chicago, and urban crime and interpersonal violence are daily realities of our city. It pays to be prepared for the realities of urban crime. Self-Defense Club gives you both the physical and mental skills/strategies that you need to avoid bad situations and get out of them if they come up.
  4. OVERCOME FEARS, BUILD CONFIDENCE
    The thought of getting attacked is scary, no matter your age or gender. At Self-Defense Club, we train you to overcome your fears in stressful situations, giving you the confidence and courage that you need to prevail in a violent encounter. We work with students go gradually help them face their fears and become more self-assured in their own capabilities.
  5. RELIEVE STRESS AND HAVE FUN!!
    At the end of a long week of midterms and papers, it's a lot of fun to just come to class and smack a punching bag around. The class environment is inclusive and casual, and it's a great place to unwind after a tough day in the Reg. 
We will be at the ORCSA RSO Fair TODAY from 3:00 PM until 5:00 PM. Come on by to learn more or sign up for our listhost. You can also email me at slardner@uchicago.edu or our club president, Merry Herbst, at mherbst@uchicago.edu. And bring/tell a friend about us!

As our (cheesy and giggle-inducing) slogan reminds us: Expect the Best. Prepare for the Worst. Join the UChicago Self-Defense Club!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Is self-defense racist? Reconciling profiling and protection

A common question in self-defense class is about a situation familiar to many Chicagoans: "I am walking down the street and a group of guys is approaching me, making me feel uncomfortable - What do I do?" It's a seemingly innocuous question with a seemingly simple answer (get away!). But as a discerning reader might notice, the question's phasing obscures an unspoken assumption. What the questioner really means to ask, at least in most cases, is this: "I am walking down the street and a group of black males is approaching me, making me feel uncomfortable - What do I do?" This is a very different question, even if the discipline of self-defense would probably offer the same answer (get away!). That is because the objective of self-defense is always your personal safety, but that feels little different than saying that the objective of Cabrini-Green is to give poor people temporary housing before they find a job. In both cases, the initial good intentions have a harmful effect.

When it come to self-defense as a practice, the uncomfortable fact is that it can inadvertently, or even explicitly, sanction racism as a means of ensuring safety. That should be deeply dissatisfying to both the experienced martial artist and the general reader. In this essay, I analyze this fundamental problem of self-defense and try to offer us some answers to it. Specifically, I offer two new ways of practicing self-defense, one that tries to mitigate racist assumptions, and one that tries to do away with them altogether. In an era of Henry Louis Gates and Trayvon Martin, this essay will let us reflect on profiling, racism, and the assumptions that we make in the name of "safety". It is also, in no small part, a personal reflection on my own struggle to reconcile the demands of self-defense with the path of a social worker.

Why is self-defense racist?
Self-defense, much like public housing, is not inherently racist by design or nature. But like public housing and other similar programs (e.g. welfare, food stamps, the justice system, etc.), self-defense is incidentally structured in such a way that it can easily become racist without explicit intention. As a bit of setup, we should understand "racism" to be simply the prejudicial treatment of others based on their perceived race and those assumptions associated with that race. Entire classes, books, and careers have been dedicated to the term, so for this essay's purposes, we will only use this more colloquially accepted definition. The operative word here is prejudicial in the literal sense, i.e. making an early judgment (premature-judgement). Returning to self-defense, the allegation is that self-defense conditions us to make such early judgments on a number of characteristics, the most notable of which is race.

Before we can discuss how to extricate ourselves from the potentially biased traps of self-defense, we must understand what those traps are and how they arise. Self-defense skills can generally be divided into three categories.
  1. Resolution
    The most obvious when "self-defense" comes to mind - Using your physical techniques to subdue or escape from an attacker. 
  2. Deescalation
    Defusing or talking-down a conflict as it threatens to grow into a violent encounter. 
  3. Prevention
    Averting conflicts before they start through awareness, avoidance, and rapid information gathering.
Most self-defense systems and training focus primarily on the second two phases, with only minimal time spent on the critical "prevention" step. After all, learning how to safely and vigilantly take an evening stroll in Chicago (keep your phone in your pocket!) is far less interesting than roleplaying how to verbally calm a belligerent ("My bad, man. Long day today and I zoned out. How's it going?"), which is itself less captivating than learning how to punch, kick, or throw that adversary to win a fight. This is an unfortunate feature of practicing self-defense, because prevention is the most important means of protecting oneself from violence. There are three reasons for this:
  1. Prevention techniques are low-risk
    By keeping your phone in your pocket while walking, the only thing you risk is responding to a text two minutes later. By wrestling a mugger on a sidewalk, you risk everything from getting stabbed to getting sued. 
  2. Prevention techniques have a high chance of success.
    You will avoid 100% of confrontations on the street by turning around thirty seconds before they start. You will be very lucky to just get hospitalized if you try to win a brawl against two robbers. 
  3. Prevention techniques are easy to learn
    It takes ten seconds every day to remind yourself to keep your phone in your pocket. It takes hundreds or even thousands of hours to train a physical technique to the point where it can be reliably used under stress.
So why do these safe, effective, and easy techniques get overlooked? In my experience, it is because we do not feel a need to codify or condition our gut intuition. We instinctively know when we feel unsafe. Everyone has felt the prickles on your neck or the roiling in your stomach just before something dangerous happens. If we already know when we feel unsafe, why waste time learning a formal "prevention" skillset? Why not learn all the complicated, technical pieces of self-defense which we weren't actually born with?

As you might imagine, the prevention process is much less straightforward than we initially believe. Although all humans are equipped to rapidly make judgments as part of self-defense, we rarely understand the structural processes underlying those judgments. It starts with gathering information about impending violence. Sometimes, the indications of present danger are obvious, such as an approaching man shouting at me to stop looking at him when I am clearly not. But in my experience, the clues are much less clear. A jacket in mid-summer. A shadow where it shouldn't be. A car driving too slowly. Because the indicators are so subtle, we need to take more time to gather, interpret, and process them. Therein lies the danger, because for every additional second we spend in this information-gathering process, we lose an additional second to act preemptively. This suggests a self-defense continuum, with "assessment time" on one end and "information quality" on the other. If I take 1 second to gather information, I have lots of time to act, but my information might be misleading or incomplete. If I take 20 seconds to assess, I have plenty of information to work with, but potentially little time to respond. Because personal safety is the primary aim of self-defense, we are encouraged to err on the side of worse information and more action time. If I am wrong and end up running away from a guy who wasn't actually a criminal, no one suffers any physical harm. If I take too much time assessing a suspicious character and get held up at gunpoint, prevention has failed and I need to deescalate or resolve. This demands rapid judgments, and with rapid judgments come assumptions.

This talk of assumptions returns us to the essay's fundamental question about race. In my Chicago experience, one variable stands before all others (e.g. clothing, time of day, age, etc.) as a quick way to make a judgment about others: Skin color. In Chicago, race and skin color are often understood  indicators of criminal involvement. To some extent, there is some statistical backing to the association between race and crime. The overwhelming majority of arrested Chicago criminals are black males. This is especially true of perpetrators who commit the sort of street violence that self-defense is tasked with preventing, e.g. robbery, theft, battery, and stranger sexual assault. In 2010 alone, 88% of arrested robbers were black males, and although that number itself obscures the racialized policing of the CPD, it is nonetheless telling. We hear lurid tales of black criminals in local media. All of the most dangerous Chicago neighborhoods are overwhelmingly black and poor. Most of the apprehended robbers on Chicago's Magnificent Mile, the iPhone thieves and mob attacks, are also black. Although there are important nuances to these incidents and crime stats, it is tempting to ignore those nuances when you are walking to your apartment at 10:30 PM and just focus on the skin color of the alleged perpetrators.

Self-defense is structured to preference quick judgment that give you lots of time to act. Unfortunately, skin color is much easier to observe and "measure" than something like predatory disposition, criminal history, or whether or not a person is armed. If most criminals in Chicago are black, then an uncomfortable and tempting argument can be made that we should be more cautious around black Chicagoans. We can easily refute that in a classroom or essay, but it's harder to do at 2:00 AM on 61st and Kenwood. It's hard for me to tell an 18 year old freshman from Montana to ignore her gut feelings when walking home from a party. And because self-defense logic is structured to preference safety and time-saving mechanisms, all of us can easily ignore the inherent bias in this strategy and just excuse it in favor of our safety.

Two ways to escaping the profiling trap
Self-defense is structured to permit racism, and I am deeply unhappy with this line of thinking. My goal is to offer us some ways out of this, but not by using moral arguments - those arguments have already been made by thinkers much more familiar with their sociological and philosophical fields. Instead, my goal is to muse on martial strategies for eliminating self-defense racial profiling while not compromising your safety for a greater ethical good. Although I personally have no issue with pursuing an ethical principle at expense of my own safety, I cannot in good faith teach that to students. As such, our solutions must be as safe for students as they are sensitive to our city and its citizens. Here are the two that have worked for both me and my students/colleagues in the past:
  • GATHER BETTER INFORMATION
    No matter how we spin it, self-defense is always going to be an exercise in rapid information gathering and quick judgments. As such, profiling on quickly-assessed features is inevitable. The key is to profile not on skin color (a detail that is not itself indicative of criminality) and instead to profile on characteristics that are more consistent cues of danger. By profiling on these variables, you will not only enjoy greater personal safety, but you will also minimize your own bias and complicate your image of what makes an urban criminal.

    When making rapid judgments in self-defense, we turn to skin color because it seems so easy to observe and appears so closely related to threat level. Perceived race, however, is just one of many variables that you can consider. We can also consider clothing, neighborhood, time of day, mannerisms, objects, etc. Whether or not we agree that race isn't the best indicator of criminality, we can certainly agree that there are better ones out there. I wrote an article discussing different tricks to identifying potential criminals, and those points deserve quick review in case you haven't read it. In summary, that post focused on eight different threat-level indicators that you could use in your daily self-defense routine. These included whether or not the suspect had a bag or backpack (criminals need to be quick and generally travel light), whether they were wearing unseasonably warm clothing (easier to conceal weapons and stolen items, as well as hiding facial features), the physicality of the person or group (rowdier groups can be more dangerous), and a variety of other factors. All of these details give you much more information than just race.

    Still not convinced? Here's another one: Someone constantly looking over their shoulder as they approach you. How many times does the average person scan a sidewalk as they walk down it? If I am in Hyde Park, I might do it once or twice every block, just to be careful. And I'm probably on the more-paranoid side of the spectrum. So if someone is approaching me and doing it every 5 seconds, I can assume that this man is either more cautious than me (unlikely) or up to no good. Notice that this is especially true in a safe neighborhood where there isn't as much reason to scan the area for personal safety. There is, however, plenty of reason for a robber to scan for witnesses or police.

    Your challenge is to select three or four  characteristics, like those mentioned above, and learn to rapidly identify them when evaluating a suspected threat. In a sense, this admits that it is acceptable, even necessary, to profile in self-defense. The key is to profile on those characteristics that are more likely to suggest impending trouble (guys with heavy jackets in warm weather who scan the street as they approach you on a dark evening) than just skin color. This will take some practice, both in choosing which characteristics you want to quickly evaluate, and in incorporating the judgments into your self-defense routine. Ultimately, this approach complicates and refines our portrait of urban criminals. If our crime knowledge runs no deeper than "black Chicagoans commit crime", we are doing a grave disservice to ourselves, our peers, and our city as a whole. But if we can find more nuance in our definition of a threat, we go a long way towards repairing the racialized and biased view of Chicago crime (not to mention staying safe).

  • MAKE PREVENTION ABOUT YOU, NOT ABOUT OTHERS
    In the leadup to a violent encounter, we are not the only ones trying to gather information. Suspected threats and criminals are also evaluating potential victims. They are looking for  clues that suggest an easy target and a lack of resistance, just as we are looking for clues that suggest an impending attack. One of the harder but most effective means of self-defense is by making yourself look like a more challenging target. In effect, by acting in a certain way you can prevent criminals from even considering you as a victim. This reduces the need for you to profile others based on snap judgments, and although you might still incorporate some quick evaluation in your routine, your mannerisms alone will be all the self-defense that you need.

    Whether you notice them or not, criminals assess potential targets before making a move. Just as you might look for indicators that a pedestrian is suspicious, so too does a criminal look for indicators that you are an easy victim. Some of these indicators are obvious. If you are on your phone, you are both distracted and presenting a valuable object that is worth stealing. If you are wearing nice clothes, you are suggesting that you might have money.

    But there are also indicators that are less easily identified. Confidence, body language, posture, tone of voice, and other mannerisms can all inform robbers that you are an easy or hard target. Indeed, many criminals are more focused on these intangible indicators than on the purely material ones. This is where you need to work to present yourself as a more challenging target. Make brief eye contact with pedestrians to acknowledge their presence. Give a friendly "How's it going?" or "What's up?" to show that you aren't afraid of interacting with strangers (and because it's friendly and Chicago is a friendly town!). Walk like you know your destination, but not in such a hurry that you can't observe potential threats or appear panicked. These are just examples and, ultimately, you will have to figure out what works best for you. In the end, your goal is to project confidence and courage so that any observers realize that it's better to ignore you and wait for an easier target.

    Critical word of caution: There is a fine line between looking like a hard target and looking like an asshole. Puffing out your chest, flexing your arms as you walk, and glowering at bystanders looks cool on the big screen, but in the real world, it just instigates fights. Potential criminals might perceive that sort of aggressive posturing as disrespectful, which is itself license to engage. Alternately, your bellicose behavior might just piss off an otherwise levelheaded dude, starting a confrontation. As a general rule, you want to look like an average guy who knows how to carry himself, not a bad imitation of an action movie star.

    So how does all this reduce your need for profiling? Proper self-defense mannerisms are not something you turn on or off as you move from one neighborhood to another, or from a predominantly black one to a predominantly white one. It's a constant state of casual vigilance and preparedness no matter where you are and no matter who you are with. It doesn't matter if you are walking downtown to grab a sandwich from Panera or if you are walking to an Englewood high school from the Ashland Green Line stop. In both cases, you would have the same demeanor and posture, and in both cases, you would give off the same confident and professional affect. There is no profiling involved because your behavior is not informed by a racialized interpretation of your surroundings. As with my previous piece of advice, making self-defense about you will help refine your understanding of criminality in the city. It  gives you the tools you need to walk Chicago with greater freedom and relaxation, which in turn helps expand your mind regarding the city's complex crime and neighborhood narrative.
Avoiding the underlying question of race?
At the beginning of this article, I stated that our purpose was to reconcile the needs of self-defense with the problems of profiling. To that end, I offered two solutions that could help minimize, and eventually eliminate, the presence of profiling in your prevention techniques. But in doing so, these two solutions leaned towards a martial and interpersonal/social approach, not necessarily a racial one. This begs the question: Am I avoiding the fundamental issue(s) of racism in these solutions?

In a sense, the answer appears to be "yes; the discussion is not explicitly racial". After all, most of my points were more martial or psychological than racial or societal. But does this undermine our end goal? The aim of these solutions is to condition people into avoiding profiling by giving them alternatives. We arrived at those solutions after exposing the structures of self-defense that lead to racism. And as we know from countless historical examples, undoing structural racism in any system takes time, effort, and above all, knowledge of the structural flaws. In this case, we have identified where self-defense goes wrong and conflates safety with profiling. Having done that, we can turn away from the racist directives of self-defense (i.e. profile) and back towards the safety ones (i.e. stay safe), adopting techniques which promote safety while not also promoting profiling. And that is where we keep the discussion focused on race, because the objective is not just to promote safety alone. If so, that would definitely be avoiding race. The objective is also to refine our understanding of criminality and Chicago's citizens, a goal which absolutely centers around race.

Most students and colleagues of mine are hesitant to think about the lofty topics of race and society when walking alone on an evening sidewalk. There's a time and a place for everything, and those kinds of questions are elusive when you are followed by a group of strangers. By focusing on these two possible techniques, you can obtain peace of mind on your walk home without having to resort to potentially racist tactics. In turn, you can ponder the deeper issues of race, crime, and American society without compromising your ideology by talking with one set of values at home, and acting with another on the street. Although it is just an entry point to the wider issues of race in this country, it is an actionable entry point that everyone can start from the instant they step outside today. From a personal standpoint, this lets me reconcile my task as a self-defense instructor and practitioner with my mission as a social worker. And for my readers, especially Chicago readers, it will hopefully give you additional tools that you can use to both stay safe and work to understand those broader issues that underpin safety and our city at large.