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Colorado Batman shootings, terrorism, crime and you

July 26, 2012

The most important news story about the mass shooting in a Colorado movie theater during the new Batman film is also the one that will get the least attention.

That’s because it doesn’t say much about the crime … no dramatic details, no crushing stories of loved ones lost to a madman. But it does say what we could do to decrease the risk of future tragedies.

graphic depicting DHS campaign to encourage suspicious activityAs security expert Jeffrey Slotnick explains in the Christian Science Monitor: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a football game, Disneyland, Six Flags Over America, or a rock concert. We need to be more vigilant. Americans simply don’t have the luxury of walking around any more without paying attention to what might be going on.”

Slotnick doesn’t mean that we have to act like paranoid fools. He means that we have to pay attention to our environment, sense when something is amiss and report suspicious activity to authorities.

As the investigation into the alleged shooter continues, there will be plenty of second-guessing in the media. Random observations about the shooter will emerge that will make many Americans think, “Why didn’t they report that to someone.”

Hindsight is 20/20. Americans are privileged to live in a society that is relatively (and I repeat, relatively) safe from violent crime. Most of us don’t think about being shot to death in a movie theater. Or on a college campus (Virginia Tech), or in high school (Columbine). And we most certainly don’t think about airplanes flying into our office building on a sunny, blue-skied morning.

This willful ignorance, and I use the term ignorance without negative connotations, is exactly what terrorists and psychopaths need to successfully execute their crimes. They need a public ignorant of the risk of violent crime, ignorant of the risk of terrorism and ignorant of the small clues that point to big, deadly plans.

Most of the time, the criminals get what they want. But every once in a while, one or more of us stand up and take responsibility for someone else’s safety.

  • On Christmas Day in 2009, an al-Qaeda terrorist attempt to blow up an airplane approaching a Detroit airport was prevented when passengers noticed the terrorist trying to detonate plastic explosives in his underwear. Passengers identified the threat, tackled the suspect, snuffed out a small flame and saved themselves and the crew.
  • In New York City in 2010, a terrorist plot to explode a car bomb was foiled when two street vendors noticed smoke coming from the vehicle and reported it to authorities.
  • In Seattle last year, a jihadist plan to attack a Military Entrance Processing Station was averted when one of the men who was being recruited to participate in the crime decided to report the plan to authorities.
  • In Colorado late last year, a man who attempted to sexually assault a woman in a grocery store restroom was tackled and restrained by shoppers and employees as he tried to flee the scene of the crime.

When we talk about “fighting back” here at Fight-Back Files, we most often are referring to protecting ourselves in the face of a violent physical attack. But we can’t limit our idea of fighting back to protecting only ourselves, and we can’t limit our idea of fighting back to physical self-defense.

As the Christian Science Monitor makes clear, we as Americans have a collective responsibility to help keep one another safe. That means looking out for yourself and those around you. That means noticing the signs of impending mischief and reporting it to authorities before the crime takes place.

Remember: The perspective of Fight-Back Files is that training in physical self-defense is the only sensible response to a dangerous world. But if you are in a situation where you have to defend yourself physically, your personal protection strategy has already failed. The safest way to defend yourself is to never be in a position where you have to defend yourself.

That’s where our collective common sense comes in. Don’t pretend that a violent personal crime or bigger tragedy could never happen in your neck of the woods. It could and it will. Stay alert for mischief. If something seems odd or amiss, report it immediately to local authorities.

These are not new guidelines. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched a campaign last year to encourage citizen participation in our collective safety. The campaign is called “If you see something, say something.” Good advice.

To see more videos from DHS, check out the department’s YouTube channel.

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