Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lessons from the DC Metro (video)

[Content warning: violence, language]

UPDATED: Adding comments and other feedback.


Attack at DC Metro station

The video posted here is likely from a bystander witnessing an attack at a Washington, DC Metro station. According to the story (posted here), it was in public, and no one assisted the victim. My summary:

  1. Victim is minding his own business.
  2. He is also distracted, not paying attention.
  3. He is cornered, and then distracted again.
  4. Unable to defend himself effectively, he tries to enlist aid in a busy public place.
  5. No one comes to his aid.
  6. Law enforcement takes a report.

Does that seem accurate?

Several thoughts, all my opinion as to what happened, and what we should all take away as lessons:

First, there are bad people in this world, who love to hurt others because they either don’t see them as human (and worthy of respect), or don’t care. My opinion, but justified in the newspapers and television every day. The beginning of awareness is knowledge that there is a potential threat and that may change your behavior.

Second, awareness of possible danger is fundamental to avoiding it. My friend tgace wrote an excellent, profound post early in his blogging career, Self-defense “magic formula”, wherein he shares this nugget:

As a LEO I believe I can give you the “magic formula” to avoid 99% of “street attacks”:

Don’t participate in illegal activity. Don’t hang out with people who attract trouble (need I clarify that?). Don’t hang out in places that attract trouble. Don’t get drunk or high. Don’t tolerate domestic violence, call the police and/or leave the abuser. Be alert to your surroundings and if something “feels” wrong…leave. Many people stick around thinking that they are being needlessly paranoid.

The point is that survival is almost always our choice. Our victim made a choice, probably out of ignorance, but chose to pay more attention to his book than the people (potential threats) around him. He was struck from one side, then the other, even while we was responding to the first. He had lost the initiative, which is always key to winning. The reason that most criminals continue to be criminals is that they get away with it. That’s because they act, rather than react. By knowing that you are already a step behind, you should be encouraged to at least be aware to give yourself some kind of chance.

Additionally, if something does happen, you’d better believe it. One of the most common responses by victims of violent crime is “I can’t believe this happened to me.” But that’s after the fact. The real problem is that many of us have that outlook during an attack, or while it’s developing. This is an extension of the first two points: 1) no conception of the predatory nature of others, and, consequently, 2) being unaware of what’s developing or happening, as in, “Someone’s approaching me with a closed fist and a scowl.” Another aspect of this attach was that the attackers were “kids.” If you have any ideas that kids, women, or smaller people won’t attack someone else, let this scenario be your education.

His reaction of asking for the attackers to stop had the same effect it almost always does – encouraging the attack to continue. As someone who’s taught dozens of women’s self-defense courses, it’s important to understand that one of the last responses that works is begging the attacker to stop. Additionally, the presence of others, adds the mob mentality to the situation, which makes extreme violence more likely regardless of the age and sex of the attackers.

So enough Monday-morning quarterbacking here. What is the proper response to an attack like this? First of all, let me say that these are my opinions only, as stated before, and should not be considered advice. That said, I would:

  1. Be aware of possible danger – even in public places. Look around, make brief eye contact with everyone around you to let them know that you are aware of them, and that you’re not afraid.
  2. Have an out – an exit strategy is more important in self-defense than anything else. How can you extricate yourself? Where are the exits? Is there anything in the way of your escape (especially threats)? Make a note of where, and how far they are, and make sure you don’t get disoriented.
  3. Arm yourself. That may mean whatever is appropriate for your environment and potential threats. It may, or may not be permissible to carry a weapon, so consult with your attorney or state and local codes. My intention is to say that we should do what is necessary and legal to protect ourselves. In this guy’s case, it may be beneficial, in hindsight, to take some courses on effective self-defense. In other words, be armed with knowledge and ability to defend yourself and your loved ones.
  4. Don’t count on help. The reason that the bystanders did nothing to help is probably more the rule than the exception, and is well-documented. In other words, you have to rely on yourself first, and if someone helps, all the better. This includes assistance from, or protection by, law enforcement. How many crimes in progress are interrupted by police officers, as opposed to solved after the fact? I’d hazard that most arrests are for suspects to crimes not witnessed by officers, meaning you’ve got little chance. In the case of our Metro patron, the fact that the attackers were so brazen as to do this with witnesses all around them means that they weren’t very afraid of getting caught.
  5. I’m going to stop here - I’d suggest you read this, then comment. I’d love to get your feedback as to whether there are any other lessons here. I will update the post and add your suggestions with credit.

UPDATES from comments and other feedback:

  • Rick, don't be stupid (you can’t put a price on wisdom, AKA common sense- Nathan)
  • Elias The only thing I disagree with, is the part where you said that asking the attackers to stop is useless. It is probably useless as far as stopping the attackers goes, but it might be necessary from a legal point of view. (Excellent point, and great advice- Nathan)
  • Via Facebook:
    FB User Good tips... now what would master pak do if (for the sake of argument) a little girl started wailing on u? How would u get them to back off, without looking like a grown man beating a little girl (..bitch...) it would be hard for me to run away, but having an angry mop push me on the tracks doesn't sound good either...

    Master Pak- Ignore the little girl and take out the biggest one and be sure to drop him. I'm pretty sure I can push her hard enough to fall or sweep her to be out of the picture if I can't be scary enough yelling at her. I yell pretty damn loud. if she comes back, I can whip her jacket over her head a la hockey fight style to temporarily subdue

Remember, the nature of self-defense is proactive.

For more information:

See the original post Man attacked by kids at L'Enfant Metro
Multiple Attackers

Hat tip to my friend and peer Jhon Pak, whom I’m betting would not respond in the same way!


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Rick said...

Having grown up in Detroit during some tumultuous times, I think the two major components to effective self defense are:

1) be aware of your surroundings
2) don't be stupid

Icepak said...

I agree with everything you wrote. You have to be aware and count on yourself when it comes down to it. Always be prepared!

Elias said...

The only thing I disagree with, is the part where you said that asking the attackers to stop is useless. It is probably useless as far as stopping the attackers goes, but it might be necessary from a legal point of view.

Nathan Teodoro said...

Rick- Can't argue with that at all. I wish I could be as succinct!

Icepak- That's the key.

Elias- Excellent point. It is always a good idea to ensure that you are seen as defending yourself, and not attacking.

Anthony said...

Fantastic post. I am from DC and know that Metro station very well. Most of Dark and generally not great places.

I have seen this video many times, and I used it as a real life example recently. One thing I make point of is the fact that the victim immediately made himself the victim. I grew up in NYC and have seen this scenario many times. A person sees a group of a**holes and proceeds to bury his/her head in something as to avoid eye contact, which is exactly what a criminal is looking for.I have to say, my mother taught me as a child to look everyone in the eye, once I started studying MA,I realized that the lesson i learned as a child protected me as a "Trained Adult".

Nathan at TDA Training said...

Thanks Anthony. As a former DC-area resident, I can relate. I know the Metro concept has the "mood lighting," but incidents like this may encourage riders to ask for some improvements in that area.

As to the victim's demeanor, I agree: his first mistake was to avoid the eye contact, whether it was because he was reading or not.

As you imply, I tend to scan, make eye contact, and move on. The other person and I both know I am aware of his presence. Just that little habit would probably have prevented this. Probably. For the rest of the time, that's where your martial arts will probably help a great deal.

Thanks for the great comment, and please join us here or on Facebook.

Colin Wee said...

Nat - Thanks for pointing out this fantastic post! Just to add another angle to your statement "there are bad people in this world" from a WSD instructor's point of view. In my classes (or when I used to give them), I'd state that sometimes bad things are not only done by bad people. Most of the time victims think they learn self defence or some tactical response against an evil looking mother in some dark alleyway. When trouble starts knocking on your door however, and it doesn't look like that evil mother ... well, they find their guns pointing in the wrong direction. Gichin Funakoshi, in his 20 precepts communicated that when you step out of your home, you need to view everyone as a possible enemy. While you really shouldn't need to be jacked up like that all the time, mental readiness is a very important SD tool that should be communicated to all students and practitioners. Colin

Nathan Teodoro said...

Thanks for reading, and for the comment. Agree 100% with your point.

Nathan Teodoro said...


Your comment, "don't be stupid" reminds me of what I always said at my women's self-defense seminars, which was along the lines of, "You should be able to walk anywhere you want in nothing at all, but don't be stupid." How many violent or property crimes are just because of stupidity (leaving doors unlocked, keys in the car, flashing cash, etc.)? I'd bet most.