Self-protection leading to arrest
Recently a friend of ours, a man of 74 years, came back from a trip to Europe. He lives with his wife on the top floor of an apartment building, in a wing that is pretty empty: One apartment is empty, one apartment is being renovated, and one apartment is occupied by a flight attendant who is usually somewhere else.
Since before his trip, he and his wife have had a problem with people being on the building’s roof at night, making a lot of noise. When people have come down from the roof, and he has asked them to be quiet, he has been insulted and, in some cases, threatened. The building super said that when people are on the roof our friend should call the front desk, which will, in turn, call the super.
On this particular evening, still somewhat jet-lagged, they heard people on the roof, and he called the front desk to ask them to find the super (who never responded). He eventually heard the people come down from the roof, and opened his door to see a man with two children. He asked the man, as usual, to be quiet. The man said, “Nobody tells me what the fuck to do,” and continued down the hall. Our guy, not thinking clearly, was afraid the man might not leave the floor, so he went to his closet and got a tree-pruning tool – the first thing he came upon in his closet – that he held by his side as he went into the hall to make sure the man left.
The man, in fact, got into the elevator with his children, and pointed at him, saying, “I’ll be back for you. I’ll get you.” Our guy went back in and called the police. A while later the police showed up and arrested our friend, dragging him off in handcuffs.
At the very best this will be a costly and frightening experience for him and his wife. At worst, it will be much more than that. In retrospect, he wishes he had not opened the door after he called the super.
The problem, of course, is that we all have the nagging belief that we ought to be entitled to do something when bullies kick sand in our face. While this is admirable, there are a lot of constraints on your options if you are not the bad guy, unless you are a cop or willing to face criminal prosecution. Most jurisdictions have very strong views that only the police should be able to protect you from violence. Indeed, some have posited that the reason the passengers who fought-back on Flight 93 did not receive posthumous honors was because it was felt this would encourage a repeat of that sort of vigilante justice, rather than leaving these situations to trained professionals.
This being the reality, what should you do when you, or some other person, are threatened, but not actually facing danger of injury, death, or great bodily harm? Walk away, without doing anything confrontational.
Our guy did the right thing in calling the super. He should have called the police when the super didn’t come. He should subsequently have asked the building to alarm the entrance to the roof – a very common practice – to discourage people from going to an area where there should be no access. We suspect that a few calls by the building to the police when the alarm was set off would soon discourage recreational use of this prohibited area.
Certainly in a situation where no serious danger was faced, he should not have grabbed a tree trimmer, a device that is not considered an acceptable emergency safety tool used by nice people. And while letting a potential- attacker see the pruning hook to discourage an attack may have seemed reasonable to our friend’s jet-lagged brain, closing the door would have been a better choice in this jurisdiction.
And don’t worry about looking like a sissy. Someone known to us came home from a trip some years ago to discover that his front door was unlocked (it later turned out his roommate simply forgot to lock it when she went out). As chance would have it, he was wearing a ballistic vest, had a gun in his bag, and was trained for house clearing. Did he go in? No! He went back outside, flagged down an RMP, and let the officers go in.
It is also important to note that in the case of unavoidable confrontations there are emergency safety tools that are significantly more socially acceptable than a pruning hook. As an example, even here in New York City it is possible to legally own capsaicin-based personal defense sprays (although most of those sold here in Gotham are actually sold outside the law, which requires paperwork by the FFL or pharmacist making the sale). A tool that is legally available is always a better choice than one that is not legally acceptable. And it is a lot easier to explain why you were prepared to spray someone than it is to explain why you were prepared to prune (or stab or whack or hack) them.
Finally, note that if you plan to have an emergency safety tool at your disposal it is a good idea to know both when it is appropriate to be used, as well as how to use it effectively. We would strongly urge anyone who thinks they might want to defend themselves to read our book The Seven Steps to Personal Safety, which is the leading book on dealing with violence. Although the book is in print and may be purchased – and we encourage you to buy many copies – the next edition is always available, pre-publication, as an Acrobat file, and may be downloaded in its entirely. Reading The Seven Steps could help you avoid a needless confrontation, or successfully survive a confrontation that cannot be avoided.
We hope that none of our readers will ever have to deal with violence. And we hope that none of our readers create a situation where they will be victimized, as was our friend, by not understanding how the game is played.