Stay safe at night
Hide your wallet.
Town at Night - Oil of Oblivion
Some years ago I used to finish work at 10pm, then walk through town to catch the bus home. I'd walk past drunks, bouncers, gangs of police officers, under age drinkers, people looking for a fight, and the occasional outright loon.
In three years I got yelled at a lot, mostly by kids trying to impress their mates. I got jumped once, by a 14 year old who weighed about as much as a small girl. When he failed to knock me down from behind, he wisely decided to find something else to do.
Once, a young man who just happened to be passing by said he could kill me. Given that he looked as if he needed a hot meal and a good night's sleep, I politely disagreed with him.
Another time, I walked behind a lunatic and his girlfriend, and watched him smash his heavy bag against doors and windows along a whole street, only stopping to raise his hand to me when I passed by. His girlfriend kept him from doing anything foolish, apologized for him, and they wandered off into the night.
What's my point?
You can get through most of an average day with no trouble, but come the night and the dispensation of oil of amnesia in the local hostelries, and people turn into full fledged bedlamites. Not all of them, by any means, but a statistically significant number. Enough to make walking through any built up area at night a little challenging.
Simple rules for safety.
But in all that time, I never came to any harm. It didn't hurt that I was male, adult, fit, and healthy, but none of those things would have helped if the odds were too great or the situation too volatile. The place in question - a market town with a bad reputation for drink related violence - was not a good place to be at night.
So how did I escape personal harm?
Through simple rules of behaviour that immediately lessen your chances of coming into contact with violent morons:
Fly under the radar.
AANEFUTRP. As acronyms go, it needs work. Bear with me.
FUTRANEPA? Nah. Never mind. Just read the following rules and suggestions, and see how they might apply to you.
NOTE WELL: Cultural differences count.
What follows is good advice for anyone living in the UK. If you're a US citizen, like many of the readers of this site, things are a little different, for one obvious reason: yours is an armed society.
It's not my place to argue the merits or otherwise of that fact, but it does change the circumstances if you happen to live in the US and you're attacked on the street. Running from an armed attacker might get you killed - but then, so could doing exactly what they say. Carrying a gun might save your life... or it could be what makes you a target. The consequences of your decisions and actions are more immediately apparent, but inherently less predictable.
With that in mind, read on.
Wherever I go these days, I see kids checking their phones, all their attention focused on a little lighted screen. And the odds are they also have earbuds in, listening to music.
Don't do either of these things when you're walking the streets alone at night. That little screen light can be seen a long ways off. Want to get mugged? Wave your expensive and easy to resell phone around, and be oblivious to what's happening in the real world.
Put your phone away, take the earbuds out, turn your music off. Be completely aware of what's going on around you. That way, if trouble starts to develop, you're prepared to deal with it early on, while you still have options.
Simple point to remember? Pay attention to the street.
Put your phone away.
Avoidance is obvious. As in, don't go looking for trouble. It'll find you soon enough. See a group of young men strutting down the street, drunk and loud and aggressive?
They're looking for trouble. And any excuse will do. Because then they'll have a reason to gang up on someone and just maybe kick them to death.
(Which actually happened in town some years ago. A man out for the night with his wife asked a loud drunk to mind his language. Whereupon the drunk and his two associates killed him. They're probably due for parole about now. I suspect their victim is still dead.)
They might not mean to kill anyone, and they'll be sorry tomorrow, especially when they're all sobering up in custody and trying to blame it on each other, but you'll still be dead. There are six of them and one of you, and if you're not a heavyweight karate champion in competition form who also happens to be carrying an axe, give them plenty of room.
If they can surround you, and decide to, you're in big trouble. If they have to struggle to reach you, they'll pick an easier target, or they'll have to come at you one at a time instead of in one big murderous bunch, which again gives you options.
Simple point to take away? Cross the road early.
Sounds like the same thing, but it's not. Sometimes an eejit will try to verbally start a fight. If someone does this to you, you can be sure of two things:
1. They won't be alone. They'll have a crowd of their drunken friends itching to back them up.
2. They're probably drunk, or drugged, or otherwise disinhibited, and thereby a danger to themselves and to you.
It's not just the harm that can befall you that you should consider. What if you hit the idiot and he dies? Say goodbye to your life for a while, and hallo to the prison system, until a group of your peers who hadn't the good sense required to get out of jury duty gets to guess whether you meant to do harm or not. Good luck with that.
So what's the solution?
Do not engage.
Did they insult you? You've heard worse.
Did they insult your mother? They don't know your mother.
Did they insult your manhood/ sexuality/ courage? There are many of them and one of you. Who is the coward?
Did they insult your wife or girlfriend who happens to be with you? That's because they want an excuse to kill you. Refer to the murder case described above.
Make sure your S.O. has the sense not to take it to heart. If she gets huffy because you refuse to fight a bunch of burly beer monsters who call her names, trade her in for a smarter model. And make getting both of you safely away from there your priority.
Above all, do not take it personally. These people do not know you. Their words have no basis in fact. They don't say these things because they mean them, they say them because of what they are.
Think of it as pigeon behaviour. You see pigeons in city streets, all doing the same things, going through their handful of routines; pecking at stuff to see if they can eat it, strutting around a female to see if she will mate, forcing smaller rival pigeons out of the way. They do these things because they are pigeons, the same way that dogs bark at strangers because they are dogs, or cats stalk birds because they are cats.
In exactly the same way, violent morons will try to engage you in fisticuffs because they are violent morons. It doesn't reflect on you at all, and you should never feel obliged to respond unless and until they actually attack you.
Simple point to bear in mind? You are not morally obliged to fight every idiot who wants to take you on, and it does not reflect on you in the slightest if you refuse to engage. If you feel endangered, or merely suspect that a situation could escalate, leave the area immediately. If they follow you, head for a safer place - anywhere well lit, with witnesses and CCTV.
Fly under the radar
At night, on the streets, the sober and industrious human is in enemy territory. Solution? Don't stand out in the crowd.
What you wear matters. Avoid anything eccentric, fashionable, or expensive looking. Don't stand out. Think plain and practical, especially when it comes to footwear - always wear comfortable shoes you can run fast in if you have to. Deep treads for good grip is important, and steel toe caps are good too. One kick could save your life.
Dark clothes in neutral colours don't stand out under street lights. Avoid wearing anything loose or flowing which could be grabbed, especially if it goes around your neck. If you have a bag, keep it close, and preferably fastened to you so that it leaves both hands free. A rucksack is better than a shoulder bag in this instance.
Simple point to remember? Don't stand out.
I like your watch.
This ties in with the point above. At all times, know where you're going, and get there by the shortest well-lit route*, walking swiftly and with purpose. Stride with confidence and an upright bearing.
Don't even think of using a cash machine - they're like the urban equivalent of water holes, where predators always lie in wait. Don't window shop or dawdle. Night time streets are not the time or place for window shopping. A stationary target is an easy target, so you want to be constantly on the move towards your goal.
At all times, read the street. Be aware of what's in front of you, off to the sides, and behind you. You don't want to be obviously turning around and trying to look everywhere like a nervous meerkat, so use shop windows to get an indication of what's going on outside your line of sight by checking out the reflections.
And trust your gut. Creeped out by that one guy up ahead? Cross the road. Don't like the look of that gaggle of drinkers outside a pub? Give them a wide berth.
What eejits want is a soft, easy target, whether they're planning to rob you or mindlessly attack you. Make it hard, and stay safe.
Simple point to take away? Don't dawdle.
* I was going to say shortest possible route, but if that happens to take you down a dark alley you should probably find another way.
Get out of Dodge
This is my last point.
If everything fails, and despite your best intentions you're attacked, keep the engagement brief. Do whatever it takes to escape your attacker, and then get away from them, quickly.
The last thing you want to be is the entertainment for a bloodthirsty mob. To that end, be prepared to fight dirty, and to run for your life.
Don't know how to fight dirty? Go for the groin, knees, and ankles below the waist, and the nose, eyes, neck and temples above it. Use your feet for the first three (steel toe caps, remember?) and your hands or elbows for the rest: palm heel for the nose, straight fingers for the eyes and throat, one knuckle punch or an elbow for the temple.
Don't rely on what you learnt in any martial arts class. That stuff works great when your opponent is wearing the same pyjamas as you and has only one rehearsed response to your move. If you try a spinning back kick to the head in a street altercation, you will wake up in hospital - if you're lucky. Use direct, simple methods against soft targets, to cause maximum damage in the minimum time.
Someone grab you? Good, that means they just gave you a chance to break their finger. Grab a finger and bend it against the joint in a single sharp motion. Remember, every attack on you is an opportunity to harm your attacker:
- When they kick, take out their supporting leg.
- When they punch, kick.
- When they grab, get close and use your knees and elbows.
If they grab you so close you can't punch or kick, bite them. Losing an ear is a deterrent for most people. Or try this: slide your index finger down the front of their neck to the sternal notch, that little hollow at the base of the throat. Insert stiff finger, press down hard...
And always, always go for those weak spots, to cause maximum pain and harm: groin, knees, ankles, nose, eyes, throat, temple.
Your opponent may be determined to hurt you, but if you do some real damage first they'll have a change of heart.
Do not grapple on a first date
Don't wrestle. If your opponent is bigger and stronger than you, you're going to lose. Also, it means you're not running away, which would be a better option.
Contact of any kind should be avoided for as long as you have the choice. Even if you win, you could still lose...
Knocked that junkie spark out? Congratulations. Now you'd better get to A&E to get that cut on your hand looked at. And take a blood test to see if he gave you Hepatitis or HIV.
You beat the first guy? Taught him a lesson? Good. What are you going to do about his friends who caught up to you while you were doing it?
Tooled up? Oooooh, bad move...
If you carry a knife in the UK, be prepared for some serious prison time. Even if you don't use it, that little 2" locking blade you need for work and forgot was in your pocket could get you two years inside.
When I was growing up, every schoolboy was expected to carry a pen knife. Now, every adult male is assumed to be a potential murderer if they carry one, irrespective of their previous behaviour and character. Ring any bells? When the Nazis occupied France, one of the first things they did was to make carrying a knife punishable by death. Possession, under the law as it now stands, is tantamount to intent. You could argue this point by telling the policewoman who arrests you that she should be arrested for prostitution, since she's presumably going equipped for it, but I wouldn't advise you to do this.
If you carry a gun in the UK, it's a throw away the key job. That's if the police don't get a bit shooty first. They seem to have a 'Shoot first and often' policy when it comes to firearms related incidents. And that includes anything that even remotely looks like a firearm. Read this article for a horrifying example.
On the other hand, remember the old saying: better to be tried by twelve than carried by six. If you have to use force, hit hard and get away fast. Do whatever it takes. And a ball point pen in your pocket won't get you arrested, but if the sharp end ends up in an attacker's face it might just save your life. Carry something heavy and/or pointy, and preferably job related. Just not a knife.
Remember, it's not about cowardice. And it's not about honour. And it's never about a fair fight. You're old enough to know there never was such a thing. If someone attacks you, without provocation, whether they mean to rob you or do you harm, the blame is entirely with them. Your only obligation is to survive, intact. Do whatever it takes.
Simple point to remember? Fighting is your last resort. Never fight unless you absolutely have to. Then fight dirty. Really, really dirty.
What do you do if a huge angry man says, 'Give me all your money!'
Lone vigilante? If you go looking for trouble, you'll probably find it.
For a textbook example of how not to behave, watch this video. A man intervenes in a street dispute, escalates it by filming the perpetrators, then almost has to shoot someone when they - oddly enough - take offence.
Yeah, don't do this.
Call the police? Are you sure?
I've deliberately not mentioned asking the police for help. Why not? Because when I was a young man, depending on where in the UK you lived, they were the worst gang on the street. The Metropolitan police were institutionally racist and corrupt, the West Midlands police not far behind them, and the Merseyside force were avoided like the plague by every Liverpudlian I knew, who all seemed to have a horror story about them.
Is it still the same? Probably not, given the arrival of PACE and mandatory videoed interviews, but I'd still think long and hard before approaching any street officer over any matter. Some of them may be approaching sainthood in their personal levels of morality - but you can safely assume that most of them are not. There is no trouble so bad that you can't make it exponentially worse by involving the police. You hit someone who attacked you? Great, now it's your word against his as to who struck the first blow. And he's probably a veteran of a legal system which you have never had cause to become involved with...
If you get arrested in the UK as a result of a street fight, give the officer your name and address, ask politely for a copy of PACE and access to a solicitor, then keep your mouth shut. Do not speak. Say nothing. Don't antagonize anyone, and don't let them antagonize you. They're doing their job. It's just that their job and your best interests might not coincide.
DO NOT ASSUME THAT THE POLICE AND YOU HAVE THE SAME OUTLOOK OR INTENTIONS.
The police aren't so much interested in justice as in meeting targets, and if arresting and charging you gets their monthly figures up, they don't much care what you did or didn't do.
DO NOT ASSUME THE POLICE ARE ON YOUR SIDE, EVEN IF YOU'RE THE INJURED PARTY.
If you're a police officer, and these opinions offend you, you might ask yourself why someone would have this point of view. And a casual reading of the news would tell you why. Here's just a handful of links to some high profile cases:
Jean Charles de Menezes
The moral of these stories? Stay away from the police.
Once again, the cultural difference between the UK and the US comes into play. Depending on where in the states you live, you should definitely avoid the police:
'Hey, call the cops...no, wait.'
So have I scared you yet?
If that's what it takes to persuade you to adopt some simple behavioural changes that could save your life, my work here is done.
When you walk alone on dangerous streets at night -
1. Pay attention to the street.
2. Cross the road early.
3. You are not morally obliged to fight.
4. Don't stand out.
5. Don't dawdle.
6. Never fight unless you absolutely have to.
7. But if you have to - fight dirty. Really, really dirty.
And always remember: Do not fight, run away. That way you get to go home instead of ending up in intensive care, or maybe on a mortician's slab.
The UK has one of the lowest murder rates in the world - compared to parts of the US, or most of the third world, it's extremely safe - but it's still a place where you have to watch your step at night. Take simple precautions, remain alert, and maintain the initiative, and you stand a better chance of not coming to harm.