by Jack Bragen
At some point in our lives, we are likely to live through physical danger. In some instances, the danger comes from a potential attacker. The typical attacker does this either because they gain some form of sustenance from it, e.g., a mugger who makes a living at it, or someone does this simply because they can. This piece discusses scary situations where there is a threat or a perceived threat of physical attack.
Ironically, one of the best ways to prevent a person from attacking is to be unready for it. If you aren’t expecting an attack, your body will give out peaceful messages, and this does a lot toward stopping a potential attacker. It does not work in all instances, but it works in some.
I think you will find that a different response is required for various situations and potential attackers. In this work, I have attempted to provide some material for the unhoused and some for the housed.
When I was in my twenties, I got into a couple of fights, and I have an unhealed fracture in my left eye socket as a souvenir. It causes pain and sometimes difficulty in focusing. I also have an issue with an injured right ankle, and I never saw a doctor for it. When in your twenties, you are young, but that is not an excuse to participate in violence, including when the other person tries to initiate it.
If you are unhoused, it seems as though the jeopardy is tenfold. Housed people can get into their car and lock the doors. They can get into their house or apartment and lock the doors and windows. They can get on the phone and call the cops. Unhoused people may not be able to do any of that. Thus, it may take massive street smarts and bravery, as well as a close-knit community, to deal with an attacker. In some instances, police officers who are sworn to “protect and serve” are some of the attackers.
First, you should validate your feelings if a person or situation frightens you. You don’t need to justify that. A threat could be real, or it could be perceived; you’re scared, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s valid. I get scared of people and situations, even though I’m a 220-pound, physically strong man. We all have a right to be afraid.
In part, I’m discussing de-escalation such that it never reaches the point of an attempted attack. De-escalation is based on the concept that on both sides of a disagreement, protection is desired, and fear exists. In other words, you could have two sides of a conflict, and both of which sincerely believe they are only defending themselves, and both sides are correct. Does this seem baffling to you? Maybe so, but I believe that’s how it is.
De-escalation can involve numerous methods aimed at turning an enemy into an adversary or opponent, then into an associate, and then into an ally. This can happen only when neither side of a conflict is predatory.
When dealing with a predatory entity, you either need a strong deterrent,or else you need to get the hell out of there. An example of a deterrent could be the presence of a surveillance camera. A camera may seem Orwellian, and it probably is. But why not take advantage of what’s there? Surveillance cams aren’t going away, and they can record events.
Repeatedly in my life, predatory individuals have targeted me. Rather than dealing with them through force, I’ve learned to use my wits.
Over a year ago, I was driving home from a drugstore when I suspected a car was following me. I turned into a fast-food place, and so did they. I saw that it was apparently a carload of college students. Then I went to the exit driveway of the parking lot of the fast-food place, and so did the other car. Then I turned and went to an adjacent entrance of the parking lot, and at that point I was behind them, when they were still oriented toward the exit driveway where I’d just been. This was confusing to their small minds.
I looked at them in a kindly, superior mode. They got more confused and drove off. It is possible they had recognized me from the internet.
In a past apartment building, I had a neighbor who’d been incarcerated a lot and who often relied on intimidation to get his way. I don’t go for that; I don’t let myself get dominated by someone bigger, stronger and more forceful. I just can’t go there. At some point, he tried to get aggressive with me and I gave it right back to him. It doesn’t matter if you’re smaller, older or unprepared to fight—sometimes you have to stand up for yourself.
Once you’ve reached the point of shedding your fear, it becomes possible to stop being so paranoid about supposed enemies, and you can make peace with those who are not predatory and who just want to defend themselves.
Fear is an emotion, and it can potentially be switched off if you know how. Absence of fear doesn’t mean you can overcome an attacker. Absence of fear is simply no more than that. I’m afraid of a lot of things. Yet in some limited areas, I’ve been able to overcome the fearfulness.
Mindfulness works best dealing with one situation at a time. You normally can’t flip a master switch and become “attained” in all areas of life. For most meditation practitioners, “enlightenment” happens in bits and pieces, a little at a time.
When in your car, and you see a scary person approach, you could quickly lock your door with your power locks. If you expect never to see the person again, that’s fine. But if you have to deal with that person on an ongoing basis, you have created hostility.
Locking your door delivers the message, “You are bad news,” and might not be well received. It is a snap judgment, and it is up to you to decide. On the other hand, you could as a policy lock your doors as soon as you get into your car, and this will prevent the aforementioned provocation.
Recently I was in my car smoking and a particular man approached my car. A week earlier, the same man had asked me if he could buy drugs. As soon as I recognized him, I shut my door—it had been opened for cool air—and I locked the power locks. He approached and yelled at me for about five minutes, then walked away. The man hasn’t bothered me since. It was offensive but not to the point where he would come after me. Other people could react differently.
Dealing with predatory violent people
The closing scene of the movie “Witness,” with a masterful performance of Harrison Ford, whose character hid among the Amish, was quite moving. It showed the power inherent in not keeping secrets. While having surveillance cameras may seem like Big Brother watching you, they have good purpose and good use if they are used as intended and not abused.
Human beings have a right to privacy. Yet human beings also lie, and surveillance cameras don’t lie. When an area is on camera, a violent crime could be less likely.
Having surveillance cameras in your living room is going a bit too far. In recent practice of police departments, they have access to the cameras in people’s homes. Outside of the home, however, it could be a good idea. It would provide a record of anyone breaking into the home through the front door.
When defending oneself nonviolently, thinking clearly is a precondition. This can be done. I have been able to lessen my fear to the extent that I think clearly when in danger.
It matters that you are aware of your surroundings. If you see an unknown person and they appear frightening but not bullying, a disarming phrase, like “Good morning,” can help.
But if that unknown person seems bullying and wants to scare you, you don’t owe them anything. Just walk by them and ignore them. They are worth ignoring.
If you instinctively feel in danger, it helps to gather more information about the possible threat. If you are in a car, you can drive around the block to see if there are individuals getting ready to mug you when you’re getting out of your car.
A running car with headlights, a horn, power locks, and so on, is a great tool of self-defense. I understand that many unhoused people don’t have a car, but some do, and can use their vehicle to their advantage.
If in traffic, perhaps avoid matching speed with surrounding cars. When cars hang around in a blind spot, you don’t have space to make an abrupt evasive maneuver, one that could be vital to not colliding with something or not hitting a pedestrian.
Having a cell phone entails a mailing address, payment, protecting the electronics, and keeping it charged. If you can manage all of that—and maybe you can devise a system for it if you are unhoused—a phone is a great tool for documenting police abuses of power. It can also serve for communication, which means a lot. A cell phone is essential for being housed, and it could be seen as an essential first step in a possible ladder of becoming re-housed.
Learning martial arts for self-defense isn’t going to serve you very often. It could increase the likelihood of getting into a brawl. Having a weapon of any kind is not advisable. Insofar as your legs work to run away, you should use them for that purpose. In California, we don’t have “stand your ground” laws—instead, we have laws that favor those who don’t want to fight.
Finally, having friends nearby who can help stand up for you, and vice-versa, means that an attacker is much more likely to leave you be.
Jack Bragen is author of “Jack Bragen’s 2021 Fiction Collection” and other works, and lives in Martinez, California.