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80-year-old woman escapes attempted murder with car horn

June 2, 2013

An 80-year-old woman escaped certain death last week when she blew her car horn in self defense while she was being strangled from behind.

The elderly woman was visiting her deceased husband’s grave in a South Carolina cemetery. As she grieved her husband at his graveside, a 15-year-old male slipped into the back seat of her car.

image of honking car horn, which can save your lifeWhen the woman returned and stepped back into the driver’s seat, the young man sat up, wrapped a power cord around her neck and attempted to strangle the life out of her.

Instead of trying to pull the cord away from her neck, which is your gut reaction when being strangled, she bared down on the steering wheel horn. The noise attracted the attention of a nearby couple, and the male of the two ran toward the car to help the woman. The teen strangler saw the man coming and made a run for it.

The victim in this case deserves a round of applause and a great big hug. She’s an 80-year-old grieving widow who had the presence of mind to make a very good decision during what was surely the most frightening moment of her life.

Lessons learned for self defense:

  1. Lock your car doors: Whenever you leave your vehicle unattended, lock the doors. If you read the details of this story, you’ll see that the reporter quoted someone who lives nearby the cemetery, and he talks about how safe the neighborhood is and how nothing like this has ever happened. (That’s one of the top themes of violent crime stories.) I don’t care if you’re living in a town called Utopia with protective angels floating above everyone’s head. Be prepared.
  2. Look in the back seat before getting in: Even if you’re sure the doors were locked, just glance in the back seat before getting in. It’s not being paranoid. It’s being safe.
  3. Make a scene: If you are attacked in public, even if it’s a thinly populated public area, make as much noise as you can. Attract attention to yourself. This woman used a car horn. You can also scream, yell, carry a keychain alarm, kick over a garbage can … anything to make noise. The last thing the thug wants is for someone else to see him in action.
  4. Use your car as a weapon: In the above case, it appears that the alleged criminal had no intention of forcing the woman to go anywhere. But in cases where the criminal holds a gun or knife to your head and forces you to drive somewhere, you’re in trouble. If you comply, there’s a good chance you will be seriously injured or killed. Law enforcement officers say you should never leave the initial crime scene. Since this is such a high risk situation, a high risk response is called for. First, buckle your seat belt, even if he warns you not to. He’s probably not going to hurt you for doing it. Then start the car and begin to comply with his directions. But as soon as you are in a public area, slow down the car to less than 20 miles per hour and run into something to cause a fender bender. A tree, a utility pole, a concrete-mounted postal service box, almost anything that will stop the car. Your goal is to call attention to yourself by safely crashing your car. You will survive the impact. Others will come rushing to your aide. And the crash will throw such a giant wrench into the criminal’s plans that he will likely jump from the car and run.

Luckily, the case of the 80-year-old didn’t get that far. She stopped the attack cold by making a scene — laying on the horn and calling attention to herself. With that simple action, she probably saved her life.

The details of this case were reported by live5news.com. The teen has been captured and charged with attempted murder.

Top three surprising places to have your purse stolen

May 27, 2013
Photo of women in line for holy communion, a time when purses can be stolen from the pews.

The last thing on the mind of these women is whether a thug is stealing their purses from the pews. Photo by Susan Watts, New York Daily News.

Whether you carry a small purse with only the essentials, or your bag is stocked for any and all occasions, most purses carry money, credit cards and personal identification — just what the common thief needs for a big payday.

Officer Michael Thomas of the Ross Township Police Department identifies the three most common — yet least expected — places where common street thugs are targeting your purse.

Here’s where to watch your purse extra closely:

  1. The local grocery store: When your purse is in the child carrier of the grocery cart and you turn your back to look at produce, the thug can either grab your entire purse or reach in and snag just the wallet. Either way, your valuables are gone before the carrots hit the cart. To be safe, make sure your purse is zipped or clipped closed and tie the strap around the grocery cart handle. Better yet, keep it closed and strapped to your shoulder, the way you would walking down a city street.
  2. Department store dressing rooms: If you’re shopping with a friend and trying on clothes, don’t make the mistake of leaving the purse in the dressing room while you walk out to show your friend your latest fashion find. That’s an open invitation for an attentive thief to grab your stuff and disappear. Also watch closely for dressing room partitions that don’t reach the floor. If you leave your purse on the floor, the person in the next cube can reach under and grab it — even while you’re changing. Keep your stuff secure by hanging the bag on a hook and taking it with you, even if you walk out for just a minute.
  3. Church: It’s unbelievable but true. Catholics and other Christian denominations have holy communion during services. Feeling comfortable in church, women leave bags unattended in the pews when they walk to the front for communion. The crook simply snags the nearest bag and walks out casually, long before the woman returns to notice the crime. It may feel awkward, but the best way to beat this crime is to simply take your purse with you during communion. (Another church-related crime, mentioned in this New York Daily News article, is theft from vehicles. When you park in the church parking lot and enter the church, the enterprising thug knows exactly how long you’ll be in there — usually an hour or so. That’s plenty of time to break into a car, steal valuables and even drive off with the car itself.)

As far as purses go, Officer Thomas recommends a simple method to keep them safe: leave them at home. Under most circumstances, the only thing you need when you leave your home, he says, is money, a credit card and a driver’s license. Clip them together with a money clip and stick it in your pocket.

That may not sound convenient for many women, but neither is loosing money, canceling your credit cards and replacing your driver’s license. Keep it simple, and keep it safe.

Police Hosting Self Defense Class in North Hills of Pittsburgh

February 20, 2013

The North Hills of Pittsburgh are not known for rampant crime. But just because the northern suburbs are cozy and relatively safe doesn’t mean you’ll never cross paths with a maniac. Just scan the crime news for the last five days:

  1. Tuesday morning a 26-year-old in Richland Township allegedly shot his grandmother to death.
  2. A man was convicted Monday for raping two women in Ross Township and one in Hopewell Township.
  3. Over the weekend skeletal remains were found in a wooded area of Cranberry Township.

Sound like the North Hills you know and love?

Of course not. That’s because most of us don’t pay enough attention to the dwindling number of media outlets that broadcast suburban crime news. And because of our lack of awareness, we think we’re safe. We let our guards down.

If you read through the stories here on Fight-Back Files, the most common quote you’ll hear is some version of “I never thought this would happen in my neighborhood.” Here’s your chance to face reality and get prepared.

Image of seal for ross township police

Self defense class scheduled in Ross

The Ross Township Police Department will host a personal protection and self defense class on Saturday, March 2, in the Ross Township Community Center, located a few miles north of Pittsburgh off McKnight Road.

The program will be taught by Hank Hanasik, owner and chief instructor of Team AMS (Academy of Martial Science). Ross police will assist. The class is free. No registration is required. Class starts at 12:30 and will last about three hours. And there’s a lot to cover.

The program is called SAFE, which stands for Self Awareness Fighting Exercises. The curriculum includes the following:

  1. Environmental awareness, which helps you stay out of harm’s way.
  2. Personal awareness, especially your ability to recognize your personal limitations and how to compensate for them.
  3. Law and society, a lesson on when it’s legal to use aggressive action and when it’s not.
  4. Self defense, which will cover simple self defense techniques and the use of environmental weapons, which are common objects like pencils or rocks.

Did I mention that this was all free?

Please take advantage of this opportunity and take the class. The North Hills may be a nice area to raise a family, but criminals still lurk among us. Know what to do if one crosses your path.

For more information, contact Officer Michael Thomas at the Ross Township Police Department: 412-931-9070, x128.

Teen boys protect woman and kids from crazy attack — but did they take it too far?

February 15, 2013

A recent case in Florida shines a blood-red spotlight on the slippery slope between the justified use of force and criminal behavior.

It involves three male teens. Male teens are driven by testosterone-fueled combustion engines. That can be a benefit, and that can be a liability. Here are the details: (Read the full report in the Tampa Bay Times.)

beaten-man

The accused, after a beat-down. Photo copyright Pasco County Sheriff.

Insanity in Action: Attack on Children

During sunset at a Florida park, the crazed-looking man to the left declared himself to be President Obama and insisted he was on a mission from God to cleanse the world of drug dealers and prostitutes. Unfortunately, a young mother and two toddlers were standing nearby, climbing on playground equipment.

The man approached the three, calling the 4-year-old daughter a prostitute and the three-year-old nephew a drug dealer. The young mother scooped up both kids and tried to make an exit, but the man tried to grab both toddlers from the woman’s protective grasp, tugging on their hair and arms.

That’s when three male teens peeled off from a nearby group and quickly approached the scene. They surrounded the mother and her children, forming a barrier between them and the suspect’s insane actions.

The mom and children were able to jump into a car and get away, thanks in part to the bravery of the teens. They used their natural bravado to prevent what could have been a major tragedy. And for that, they are to be applauded as examples of good citizenship. They were heroes. But there’s more to this story.

The Attack on the Suspect

The suspect in this case left the park, but he later called police from his home to report that he’d been beaten by a group of teens. The mug shot above seems to be proof. The police say they have no legitimate connection between the teens who saved the woman and the teens who beat the man. They say the suspect’s statement was too incoherent to gather evidence.

But it makes you wonder. Why did the teens allow the suspect to leave the park? They surely had cell phones, and they could have called the authorities, reported the incident, restrained the man and put him into the legal system. But that didn’t happen. The man ended up in his home with head and face contusions.

Again, the teens who protected the woman have not been charged with any crime. (The suspect, on the other hand, is charged with attempted kidnapping.) But if they did in fact beat the suspect, they did so after the threat to the woman and children had passed. It’s possible that the suspect attacked the teens and they were defending themselves. It’s also possible that they decided to take revenge on the man and deliver their own form of justice.

Criminal Behavior is Not Self Defense

I know many readers of this blog will applaud that, but we can’t cleanse the world of criminals by becoming criminals ourselves. If the same teens who protected the women and children are the same teens who beat the suspect, then they probably did it as sport. In that case, they would be guilty of assault and battery. They would have turned themselves from heroes to villians.

Fight-Back Files is based on the principle that it’s sometimes necessary to use harsh and damaging force to protect yourself or someone else from the injustice of the world. But beating somebody for sport is not self defense. Beating someone for sport on the street  — as opposed to fighting in a ring with the intent of winning a contest — is simply a crime.

What’s the best martial art for self defense?

January 26, 2013

In the mind of a criminal, you are prey.

Just like a cheetah crouching low in the brush eyeing the gazelle, a criminal stands back and watches you walk to your car, or jog onto the wooded path or fumble with your keys at your front door. When he senses the time is right, he pounces, covers your mouth, threatens your life and pulls you out of site … into the brush.

big cat searching for prey

Photo by Jim Bender

It happens in less than 10 seconds. Maybe less than five. And you have the same amount of time to get away. If you can’t do it in those first few seconds, you’re going to need more than skill to survive unharmed. You’re going to need luck.

I don’t count on luck.

That’s why we train in self defense. And that’s why so many people ask, “What’s the best martial art for self defense?” The question, as we shall see, is the wrong question to ask if you want to survive.

The Stun and Run Self-Defense Plan

You have only two steps in your self-defense plan: stun and run.

To stun someone is to shock them, to render them momentarily unable to think straight. It has two components: surprise and pain.

The criminal has chosen to attack you because he believes he can overpower you. He believes you are a “good victim.” Just like the cheetah zeroes in on the gazelle with the injured leg, the criminal senses something about you that will make his job easier.

He is not expecting you to put up a strong fight. That’s why YOU have the advantage of surprise.

When he pounces, you don’t hesitate. You attack.

Surprise!

But you just don’t attack. You attack to cause pain. You drive a knee into his groin. Or you crush his nose with the heal of your palm. Or you scratch his eyes. Or bury an elbow into his solar plexus. Or you throw him over your hip to the concrete. Or wrap your fingers around his trachea and squeeze with everything you’ve got.

The criminal is momentarily stunned, his grip on you loosens, and you run as fast as possible to a lit, crowded or otherwise safe place.

He’s going to get his senses back in two or three seconds, but you? You’re going to be out of reach.

Which martial art is the best for self defense?

shadow illustration of front kick

Now which martial art is going to teach you how to do all that?

Is it karate? MMA? Tae kwon do? Krav maga? Boxing? Kung fu? Judo?

Wait … it’s coming … just another second … the answer is ….

They all do.

That’s right. Every legitimate martial art, all the traditional Asian arts, western boxing, all the integrated components of MMA — they all teach you at least a few ways to escape an attack. And that’s all you need.

Remember, you’ve got about five seconds to get it right. That means you have time to throw two, maybe three techniques.

After that, the criminal is on to you as a fighter and you’ve lost the element of surprise. If you haven’t gotten away, things are going to get ugly.

So the question to ask is not which martial art is best for self defense. The question is which martial arts school is going to give you the opportunity to train regularly in an effort to develop your self defense skills.

To protect yourself during an attack, the most important thing is not what techniques you use, but how well you use them.

As some of the more intelligent martial artists say, it’s not a martial art that wins the fight, it’s the fighter.

Do not be distracted by martial art schools that claim to be “the best.” It’s nothing but marketing hyperbole. Do not be distracted by “what works in MMA.” (Self defense is not MMA … although I pity the criminal who attacks an MMA fighter.)

Clear the grime from martial arts marketing and martial arts culture and make a choice not on martial art styles, but on the simple idea that you must train, train regularly and train hard to develop effective self-defense skills. And you must train even more for those skills to become second nature.

From Tae Kwon Do to Krav Maga (and back)

I learned this lesson personally over the last couple years.

I started my training in traditional tae kwon do. Not the tae kwon do you see in the olympics … that school of tae kwon do has evolved into a sport that looks more like a high-energy kicking contest than it does a martial art.

tae-kwon-do-board-breakingMy tae kwon do is the old-fashioned martial art — lots of kicking, of course. That’s what separates tae kwon do from other striking arts. But we also spend a respectable amount of time training boxing skills, forearm and elbow strikes, knee strikes, a few joint locks, takedowns, even a couple nasty bone-breaking techniques. We also spar full contact and work a lot on footwork … something that many martial arts schools don’t do, and something I think is invaluable.

Even though I had a good thing going, I was seduced by krav maga. I LOVE krav maga. It’s relatively simple, brutal and perfect for self defense. So after I took a few krav maga classes, I decided I would switch my primary art from tae kwon do to krav maga. Here’s the post that explained my intentions. That post has become one of the most popular posts on this blog.It was published a little less than two years ago. You know how many times I’ve been to krav maga since then? About once a quarter. The class days, the times, the location — they just didn’t fit my life.

I was seduced by a martial arts style, when I should have been evaluating my choices on more practical criteria.

The most important qualities in a self defense school

My old tae kwon do school is less than 10 minutes from my house. The krav maga school? About 25 minutes without traffic, 45 during rush hour.

My old school offers nine classes at different times throughout the week, offering lots of flexibility to fit into my schedule. The krav maga school only offers two classes per week I can attend, and neither is convenient.

I’m now back to my old tae kwon do school, I train two to three times per week … and I’m much more prepared now for an attack than I was in the 18 months I was a “krav maga student.”

The difference in my ability to defend myself now is not the martial art I’ve chosen as my base. It’s the smooth integration of a specific school — location, dates, times — into my life.

I will continue to cross train — krav maga, a little western boxing, hopefully some muay thai — but those are just periodic visits to learn the very basics of a new martial language. My native language will continue to be tae kwon do — not because I believe it’s a superior style, but because I know I can make it to the school to train on a regular basis.

Even if there was such a thing as the best martial art for self defense, you’re still an injured gazelle if you can’t make it to class.

12-year-old girl uses pink skateboard to pummel pervert

November 16, 2012

A 12-year-old in New Zealand escaped an attempted abduction when she used her pink skateboard to beat her attacker.

Her fast and aggressive response, which likely saved her life, was triggered by lessons on stranger danger she had learned from her parents.

photo of girl who fought abductor with skateboard

PORTRAIT OF A FIGHTER: A 12-year-old used her skateboard to pummel a man who tried to abduct her. Photo by Kent Blechynden via the Dominion Post.

The Dominion Post says the young girl was walking to get an ice cream cone when she noticed a man following her in a car. He stopped, jumped from the car and grabbed the victim’s shoulders to pull her into the car.

She immediately kicked him and hit him with her skateboard. That was enough resistance to thwart the perpetrator’s plan. He threw the girl to the ground and made an escape. She still bears a scrape on her left knee from hitting the ground.

If it had not been for her parents’ lessons on stranger danger, this story may have had a grossly different ending.

Talking to children about the dangers of the world — and how to respond to them — can be an uncomfortable prospect. Most parents would gladly face that discomfort if they truly believed that their children were in danger. Yet too many, especially those who live in “safe” parts of town, do not consider the threat to their children serious enough to address the issue head-on.

The parents in this story did. And today their daughter is alive and well because of it.

Thanks to the girl’s quick thinking, she not only kicked the assailant, but she created a weapon out of the skateboard. That’s what we call an environmental weapon, and it’s an improvisational skill that can be the difference between escape and victimization.

Here at Fight-Back Files we’ve seen an endless variety of daily objects turned into protective weapons. Rocks, pens, bug spray, sticks, a can of soup, dirt — it really doesn’t matter as long as the object has the potential to cause pain or injury. Read more Fight-Back Files coverage of environmental weapons:

  1. Can of chunky beef stew stops attempted robbery
  2. Pittsburgh woman fights off attempted rape with knees and keys
  3. Woman sprays rapist with bug spray to escape
  4. Woman stops attempted kidnapping with pen stabs and punches
  5. 66-year-old female bashes bad guy with a rock
  6. Creative 14-year-old fights off abductor

Details of attempted abduction reported by the Dominion Post. 

Defying all logic, thug tries to rob Pittsburgh martial arts studio

November 5, 2012

Seriously?

Why would anyone choose a martial arts studio as a robbery target? It seems improbable for even the most brain-dead street thug, but that’s exactly what happened in Squirrel Hill, a suburb of Pittsburgh, on Halloween night. Maybe it was a Halloween prank. But I think not.

dumb move -- thugs tries to rob Pittsburgh martial arts studioA man walked into a kung fu studio near closing time brandishing a gun. As the gunman approached the instructor, the instructor took him down with either a twisting head lock or a twisting choke … it’s hard to tell. Watch the video from WPXI-TV and judge for yourself:

Pittsburgh martial arts instructor takes down street thug

The only possible explanation I can imagine for such an ill-conceived move is bravado. Not many martial arts studios have money laying around. Maybe crooks don’t know that, but it should be obvious that restaurants and convenience stores have more cash on hand than a place with relatively fewer customers. And it’s hard to imagine that anyone would consider a martial arts studio an easy target, not even a common thug.

It must come down to bravado, some street-hardened tough guy trying to impress his buddies by saying he’s going to hit the martial artist on the corner. There’s no other explanation … just pure, animalistic chest thumping to prove himself the alpha dog of the group.

Well … this alpha dog went running from the Pittsburgh studio as fast as his legs could take him … no money, no pride and no self-respect.

More Fight-Back Files on martial artists who fought back against crime:

Soldier, MMA fighter beats the daylights out of street thug

October 11, 2012

This one isn’t recent news, but I had to share because … well, it’s just funny.

The “victim” in this case wouldn’t go on camera, but he claimed to be a soldier and a mixed martial artist. It doesn’t appear as if the journalist tried to verify those claims, but I think the before/after photos of the perpetrator speak for themselves.

The crazy twist here — if you watch the clip — is that the martial artist complied with the attempted robbery by handing the thief $30. He did the right thing. When a guy holds a gun to your head and demands money, don’t be a fool. Just give him money. But the thug, apparently not satisfied with $30, pushed the “victim” for more.

And more he got.

For more perspective on mixed martial arts and self-defense, read “Are Traditional Martial Arts Necessary for Self Defense? here on Fight-Back Files.

Now on with the show ….

To catch a criminal, make him bleed

September 13, 2012

One of the smartest tips for catching a criminal came from a woman in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA, two years ago after she narrowly escaped an attempted rape:

“If someone attacks you, try to get their blood on you so [investigators] can get DNA.” (Read Fight-Back Files coverage of the attack here: Pittsburgh Woman Fights Off Attempted Rape with Knees and Keys.)

The advice is good because it simultaneously communicates two important self defense tips:

  1. Your self defense techniques must be brutal. You don’t draw blood by slapping somebody on the head.
  2. You need to help the legal system connect the thug to the crime scene. When police find your attacker, he’s not going to go along peacefully. He’s going to lie. He’s going to establish an alibi. He’s going to get a defense attorney. Your chances of making him pay the price of the crime are much greater if his blood is found at the scene of the crime.
Image of blood stains, which can connect the criminal to the crime scene

Blood on your clothes or at the crime scene can help convict the criminal when he tries to lie and cheat his way to freedom.

A woman in Coventry, England, watched her attacker get convicted and jailed for more than two years earlier this month because his blood was found on her clothing. The man attacked the college student from behind and wrestled her to the ground. As he covered her mouth to muffle her screams, she used her teeth to clamp down hard on the man’s finger, fracturing the finger and lacerating the skin. A drop of his blood was found on her coat.

Of course, when police approached the thug and asked about his  finger, he claimed it was slammed in a car door. But when told that his blood was on the jacket of the victim, he decided to plead guilty to sexual assault.

The victim in this case did exactly the right thing. To catch a criminal, make him bleed. She clamped down like a Rottweiler on the man’s fingers, exerting so much force that the bones broke and he bled. That’s aggressive.  That’s  violent. And that’s what you need to do to survive, to get away and to convict.

Self defense techniques that produce DNA

In addition to biting, the easiest way to draw blood from a criminal is to punch as hard as possible to the nose/mouth area. If you strike the nose or lips full force you’re likely to produce at least a few drops of blood. Noses bleed easily, as do cut lips. As the victim in the Pittsburgh case did, you can also use a sharp or rough-edged object (keys) to lacerate the skin on the face.

In the absence of blood, you can get DNA from his skin– and possibly produce blood, too — by clawing the attacker’s face with your fingernails. You can get skin from anywhere on the body, of course, but clawing the face is the most likely clawing technique to disorient the attacker long enough for you to escape. Don’t take just one swipe. Use both hands, one swipe after another, digging deep.

If your attacker has longer than average hair for a male, grab a small handful (about the size of one uncooked serving of pasta) with one or both hands and pull his hair like you’re pulling a stubborn weed from the ground. (Don’t let the “serving size” trip up your attack. The point is that a smaller amount of hair will rip out of the scalp easier than a larger amount. A full handful may not work as well.) If you’re attacker is on top of you, grab and pull as hard as possible to one side with one hand. With any luck, the pain and leverage will make him roll off to that side. Then get up and run like crazy and be careful to keep the hair.

The take-away is this:  In self defense, act aggressively and violently. Make the attacker bleed, or at least get skin under your nails or hair in your hands. The self defense techniques you use to accomplish those objectives will cause pain and give you a chance to run, and later they will give the authorities biological proof that the perpetrator was at the scene of the crime.

Read more details on the Coventry crime.

Mass shootings and heroes: Should you risk your life?

September 4, 2012

As 40-year-old Wade Michael Page went on a murderous rampage with a 9 mm handgun in a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, there was one man who would rather die than see others shot to death.

Satwant Singh Kaleka, founding member and president of the temple, picked up a religious ceremonial knife and fought the gunman. It was a knife against a firearm. A deeply religious and peaceful man against an Army veteran who had lost his mind. The outcome was predictable. After a scuffle that reportedly lasted a minute or two, the religious leader was fatally shot and died at the scene.

Photo of campus of Sikh Temple where hero helped save lives

Image via CBS News. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

But during those precious few moments when Kaleka fought the battle he could not possibly win, he also distracted the gunman long enough for others in the temple to escape. He sacrificed his life so others would survive.

The early August shooting resulted in six dead and several others wounded. But if not for Kaleka’s bravery and determination, the outcome would have been worse. Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) shook the hand of Kaleka’s adult son and told him that his dad was a hero.

Turn back to the spring of 2007, during one of the worst mass shootings in American history, when a 23-year-old English major was in the process of fatally shooting 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech.

The campus was in chaos, gunshots were echoing from everywhere, but a professor in the middle of class saw tragedy coming. Liviu Librescu, a 76-year-old Holocaust survivor and aeronautics engineer, slammed his classroom door closed as the gunman approached. He yelled at the students to flee, and they ran for the windows to jump to safety. As the students emptied the room, the older man struggled to hold the door closed until, finally, the gunman pointed his gun toward the door and unloaded the ammunition through the door, into the body of the professor.

He, too, was fatally injured, yet in the minute or two that he held the gunman back, several young adults escaped the room and made it to safety. Afterward, students expressed their love, admiration and respect for the deceased professor, who they said should be remembered forever as a hero.

Moral responsibility in deadly situations

No one can question the courage and the indomitable spirit of Satwant Singh Kaleka and Liviu Librescu. They gave their lives so others may live. Both were older men. Both had come to America to build a better life. Both succeeded. They both also felt a sense of responsibility to give back to the community, Kaleka a place of worship and Librescu an education upon which students could build their careers.

Yet they also had one more thing in common: the escalation of responsibility for someone’s development to a heartfelt obligation to defend their lives.

Kaleka and Librescu are rare individuals. Not many of us have the conviction to risk our lives to save casual associates or even strangers. Thank God some of us do. But is that kind of courage the only moral choice?

Criticizing victims in the Batman shooting

In the aftermath of the Colorado movie theater shootings during the premiere of a Batman film in July, an attack in which 12 were killed and dozens injured, many critics loudly and belligerently asked where the heroes were that night. Where were the Kalekas? Where were the Librescus? The question came with a tone of condemnation aimed toward the people in the theater — the victims — for not risking their lives to stop the killer. The moral condemnation that underpins these questions assumes that putting one’s life on the line to save a room packed with hundreds of strangers is the only morally acceptable thing to do.

In some circumstances, it certainly may be, especially if you are trained to deal with the situation: hundreds of panic-stricken people scrambling in the dark, through clouds of smoke generated from smoke bombs, with gunfire puncturing the screams above the noise of the action movie, with an insane criminal brandishing multiple weapons walking up and down the aisle picking people off like it’s some kind of demented video game.

Only a very small percentage of Americans are prepared for something like that. Highly trained law enforcement officers are, but they are trained to deal with those situations as a team, not lone professionals. Trained military soldiers? Certainly. But then again, they operate as a team. Experienced martial artists? They have far less of a chance than the law enforcement officers do.

But those are the individuals who stand the best chance of taking out that gunman and going home to their families. For the rest of us, approaching that gunman is akin to signing our death certificates, just like Kaleka and Librescu did. Is that what’s required of normal citizens to escape the criticism and belligerence of loudmouth social critics?

To whom do we owe our lives?

This is not a question with a clear answer. Moral philosophers debate these topics forever, and there never is a clear conclusion. The critics who ridicule the people who attended the theater that night are puffing their chests like apes in a display of bravado that, if tested, would likely result in urine flowing down their legs before they dropped to the ground in cover — if they even had the presence of mind to take cover at all.

There were no cowards that night at the Batman shootings. There were only normal people trying to survive. And that’s an acceptable option.

Picture a father in the theater with his wife and young son, a special night for the three of them to make a memory and let the young boy enjoy a midnight movie and popcorn with mom and dad while watching a new superhero film.  Out of nowhere, smoke bombs fill the theater, gunshots crack and everyone flies into panic. People scream and run and jump over seats, others lay bleeding and dying. What does this father do? What does this mother do?

Natural instincts demand that they protect the child and get out of the theater alive. They hit the floor and lay on top of the boy. They look for the nearest escape route, and as soon as possible they get up and run, through the theater doors, out of the building, as far from the gunman as possible. The father, the mother and child escape a bloody massacre alive. Does the father go back in to fight the gunman? Does he risk facing the shooter when he would likely die, leaving a widow and a young child behind? Does he not have an obligation to provide for, protect and care for that family now and forever? Does he lay that obligation aside?

It’s a legitimate question, but no one should be criticized for putting family first. I respect, admire and hold in the highest esteem the actions of Kaleka and Librescu. But for some people, family is and forever will be the top priority. And that’s OK, too.

Details on Kaleka shooting reported by CBS News. 

Details on Librescu shooting reported by Fox News. 

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