I’m not going to rehash the Martin/Zimmerman trial, there are more than enough political pundits, politicians, and race-baiters doing that already, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. No one “won” in this situation. One person is dead, one person has had his life destroyed, several families have faced unimaginable pain, and our country is more racially divided than it’s been in a long time.
I do think there is a lot we all can learn from the actions of both sides though, because there is a lot more to self-defense than accurately firing your weapon at the appropriate time. Your safety, whether armed or unarmed depends largely on your actions, appearance, and behaviors, and Heaven forbid, you are ever forced to defend yourself, they will go a long way in determining whether you receive a fair trial.
Lesson #1: Don’t be there.
As I like to say, “the best way to win a gun fight is to avoid it in the first place.” With age comes wisdom, so these days I avoid places where problems are likely, and I avoid being out when most people should be home in bed.
I’m not advocating agoraphobia, but avoiding dangerous places, especially late at night reduces your likelihood of being involved in a self-defense situation in the first place.
Lesson #2: Don’t inject yourself unnecessarily.
I applaud Zimmerman’s efforts to improve his community; he mentored troubled youth, fought police brutality, and participated in neighborhood watch, but how did that all work out for him?
I have one job and that is to get home to my family, ideally, with all my blood still on the inside. My chances of doing that drop significantly if I go out looking for the bad guys. If I see a threat, I distance myself and call the cops. If I encounter a threat, I deescalate it to the best of my ability, retreat, then call the cops. I have nothing to prove.
Don’t get me wrong; if I see a woman being beaten senseless, a man being stabbed, or a child being kidnapped, I’ll probably intervene, but short of imminent risk of someone being killed or abducted, I’m not sticking my nose into it. I did my share of that in the Marine Corps—been there, done that.
Lesson #3: Appearance matters.
Dressed like a thug with your face hidden at night gives anyone with common sense plenty of reason to be suspicious of you. On the other hand, following someone at night without wearing some sort of official uniform, while 100% legal, also gives anyone with common sense a reason to be suspicious of you.
Everything adds up; saggy pants, neck tattoos, green hair, a leather biker jacket—you may be the nicest person on the face of the earth, but thousands of years of evolution has hardwired the human brain to make an immediate judgement based on initial appearance. If you look shady, people will suspect you until you prove otherwise—if given the opportunity. I’m not a criminal so I don’t look like one, in fact, I’m your proverbial “grey man” most days. I dress conservatively (a suit or a polo and jeans), wear my hair short, and nearly always have at least one of my two rug rats in tow. No one gives me a second look.
I’m not saying you should change how you look to make others more comfortable, I’m all for personal freedom and all. Just be aware of how your appearance fits into (or doesn’t fit into) your surroundings, and if tension begins escalating, take all possible steps to defuse the situation.
Lesson #4: Behavior matters.
Anyone with a shred of intellectual honesty would be suspicious of someone creeping between houses late at night. Following someone could be perceived as suspicious as well.
But even the most innocent behavior can seem suspicious; for example, just a few months ago while sitting at the food court at the mall, I saw what appeared to be an extremely well-designed stroller for two children. This was of particular interest to me because at the time, I had one son as well as a daughter on the way (she’s now three–months old) and being able to cart two kids around in a single stroller would be unbelievably convenient. As I stared, trying to determine the manufacture, I noticed the wife leaning over and whispering to her husband while cautiously eying me. I realized what my actions must have looked like, so I smiled at both parents, walked over, introduced myself, and explained that with a second child just a few months off, their stroller intrigued me. We spent the next five minutes talking about where they got it, who makes it, how they like it, etc. Did I have to? No, but doing so did put everyone at ease, knowing that some weirdo wasn’t ogling their children.
Just like with appearance, you can act anyway you want, but be aware of how your actions may be perceived. Perceptions shape decisions everyday, and while you can’t completely control how others interpret your behavior, you can guide them in the right direction.
Stay safe, my friends. Maintain situational awareness, avoid dangerous places, and blend in.