Should we be good victims?

Earlier this month e-mails were circulating about a string of assaults in Silver Lake followed up by a community meeting on the topic. I heard through the grapevine that some suspects were arrested and all was right with the world. Or something. Anyway, I just received an e-policing newsletter about a robbery in my neighborhood 2 days ago which says it’s not known if it’s related to the earlier attacks. The e-mail is after the jump, but it gives a few tips:

  • At night, walk in groups of two or more.
  • Park in well lit areas.
  • Do not carry an excess amount of cash or credit cards.
  • Avoid distractions. Do not walk while talking on a cell phone or listening to MP3 players.
  • If approached, comply with their demands. It will help preveny[sp] possible injury.
  • If you become a victim, immediately call 911.

The first 4 are obvious and fairly good advice but I really have to take issue with sending out e-mails telling people basically to be good victims. Telling people not to resist makes it easier for criminals to function – the less resistance they have the better. I mean seriously, pretend you are a criminal and tell me which sounds more appealing to you? Option A) tell someone to give you their wallet and they do and you walk away with all their cash, credit cards and whatever else they have in there or B) tell someone to give you their wallet and before you finish your sentence they hit you with something and run away. Criminals rob people because they think they can get away with it and telling people to comply only fosters that idea. I’m venting here but honestly I’d rather live in a neighborhood where people weren’t afraid to stand up for themselves than one where they are sending e-mails around about how scared they are. I’m not saying fighting back solves it, but at least it gives you a chance and some self respect. Complying without any resistance is just giving up. I’m not just making this up, when I lived in Chicago I was mugged twice. Once I gave up everything in my pockets and the guys got away, the second time I fought back and kept everything and watched the guy get arrested. Guess which time left me feeling better about myself?

Here’s the e-mail I received:

2001 Hyperion Av 2/14/09, 2315 1143 09-1106863
The victim had just left the Hyperion Tavern and was standing on the sidewalk. The suspect vehicle described as a late 90’s Honda 4 door blue or black containing three suspects parked near the victim’s location. Suspect 1 exited the vehicle with a baseball bat and asked the victim what he had in his pockets. The victim removed his wallet and keys from his pockets and suspect 1 grabbed the property. Suspect 1 returned to the suspect vehicle and the suspect fled the area.
It is not known at this time if this robbery is related to the recent series near Hyperion and Rowena. Please forward any information to the Northeast Division Gang Impact Team at (213) 847-4263.

Please insure that you do not become a victim.

At night, walk in groups of two or more.
Park in well lit areas.
Do not carry an excess amount of cash or credit cards.
Avoid distractions. Do not walk while talking on a cell phone or listening to MP3 players.
If approached, comply with their demands. It will help preveny possible injury.
If you become a victim, immediately call 911.

64 thoughts on “Should we be good victims?”

  1. Good points, LM and Burns! I just finally got through reading this entire thread and have to say that, as with most things that hit a sensitive bone, the point of the original post has been conflated into an issue identity and identity politics, when frankly, that’s not the point.

    The point is, taking away someone’s option to fight back creates complacent victims – NOT that you ARE a complacent victim if you CHOOSE not to fight back. At least, that’s what I took away from Sean’s post and ensuing comments.

    Identity aside, everyone seems to agree that your options are: (1) Fight and win; (2) Fight and lose; (3) Exercise your reasoning abilities – and avoid being a complacent victim – and consciously decide that the optimal choice is to surrender your possessions, and win; and finally, (4) It must be said that you could exercise the same reasoning abilities, choose surrender as your optimal path, and still lose, because some crazy people are like that.

    Finally, just to try to wiggle out of this (probably unsuccessfully, because identity issues always narcissistically make their way back to the same topic), I would add another suggestion: when you’re walking anywhere, look ahead. Oprah had a show on decades ago about Who Makes the Best Victims (complacent or not), and she invited former repentant muggers and rapists to ask them how they picked their victims. They all agreed that people – especially women – who looked down when they walked conveyed a lack of confidence and made them easy targets. I don’t watch Oprah often at all, but that’s the one of the very few Oprah things that has stuck with me throughout my life. Obviously, this is not going to ward off all predators, but it is just one more easy thing we all can do as part of staying vigilant and aware.

  2. Common criminals tend to choose the path of least resistance. If they see a car with a club on the steering wheel and one without, they’re more likely to steal the one without the club. In cities like Chicago and Washington DC where citizens can’t legally own handguns, criminals know that they are likely to be the only ones with guns. In cities that allow concealed carry permits, it’s harder for the criminals to figure out which are the low-hanging fruit.

    This certainly isn’t meant to sidetrack this thread to the CCW issue; that’s a loooong discussion for another time. The point is that a blanket policy of submission creates a passive populace which, over time, encourages criminals. If they understand that no one is likely to resist, then everyone becomes the easy mark. On the other hand, if the criminals don’t know who is likely to resist, then everyone is safer.

  3. “Once again though I want to point out I’ve never once said anything about a good or bad victim, nor have I blamed the victims which I get the feeling, possibly incorrectly, that you think I am.”

    I’m sorry, what is the title of this article?

  4. The quoted email does not have a “do not resist, ever” policy. It says that complying with the demands of an attacker will help prevent possible injury. From what I can tell, that’s advice which is based on statistical likelihood.

    And that advice gives people a choice. If you don’t care at all about preventing possible injury, then there’s no reason for you to comply with the demands of an attacker. Do whatever you feel is best. But being fully informed, you should know that you are more likely to get injured.

    Calling that advice “complacency” or “surrender” or “do not resist, ever” is a strawman.

  5. A side statement I have to carrying protective weapons either the deadly or the deterring variety: just because you have them doesn’t mean you’ll use them. I speak from recent experience having been in an illuminating situation with a very hostile 6’9″ motorist who threatened to kill me after I protested his harassment of me for riding my bike on a residential street.

    Unbeknownst to him I had pepper spray (mounted to my bike frame) in one hand and a recently purchased stungun (in a case on my belt) in the other — both very legal to possess. Both purchased and carried specifically to protect myself from just such assholes.

    Though I clearly felt my safety was endangered, I did not employ either device. I wasn’t frozen in fear, because I kept arguing with the jackass. But I was frozen in indecision, not convinced I had sufficient cause to do him harm.

    In the end and just as well, the situation de-escalated because his primary offensive weapons were ignorance and a bunch of talk. Maybe if he’d emerged from his car with a bat or more than just a loud mouth that would have triggered me to act defensively, but that’s just a hypothetical. What was all too real was realizing that just because you have means of self-defense at your disposal there’s still another threshold to climb in using them.

  6. I think assuming that someone willing to steal your wallet is also willing to murder you is a very large stretch.

    This may be the central point of disagreement. For most people in most situations, this is a very large stretch. But for someone who’s decided run up on a stranger in the dark with weapon, it only the rather small stretch between armed assault and manslaughter. Maybe the bullet grazes your leg, maybe it hits a kneecap, maybe it hits and artery. Or maybe it misses entirely and you walk away. It’s a very serious gamble.

    I’d appreciate it if you don’t call those of us who choose not to gamble with our lives “good victims.”

  7. Zota – since you seem to like to twist things up, let me clarify for you:

    “comply with their demands” – this is the language in the e-mail, it does not suggest this is one of many options, but rather presents it as instructions.

    “complacency” – I’ve not said the e-mail tells people to be complacent or that if they do not resist they are complacent, I’ve said advice like this creates an era of complacency.

    “surrender” – this is word you used and I copied you to try and use similar language. It’s not a word I would have used on my own and I shouldn’t have used it just because you did.

    “do not resist, ever” – this is an overreaching generalization of this kind of advice. It’s used frequently in discussions of self defense which is how I’m using it here. Any kind of advice telling someone to comply with an attacker without direct knowledge of a specific situation would fall under the ‘do not resist, ever’ generalization since the person giving the advice could not have any foresight into the situation.

    “good victim” – again, I’ve never called anyone a good victim, rather asked if this e-mail is suggesting we all should be one. As I’ve said repeatedly a good victim would not be someone who made any decisions on their own but rather followed the instruction of an attacker to the letter because they were advised to by an outside source, not because they felt it was the best course of action.

    You may not be aware of this, but the supreme court has ruled in several instances that law enforcement has no duty to protect private citizens. This should be kept in mind when considering any advice from law enforcement sources – they have no duty to protect you so what is their motivation? They are assuming the mugging is going to happen no matter what, I’m suggesting it can be discouraged.

  8. I misinterpreted you as suggesting that not complying with armed attackers was “surrender” when what you actually called was “just giving up.” My apologies.

  9. Zota – are you reading anything here or just making it up as you go along. The e-mail doesn’t say “armed attackers” anywhere, this is something you brought into it. The e-mail said “if approached, comply” it’s doesn’t say if approached by one person, by 5 people, by unarmed, by armed, or anything. Simply says if approached, comply. My issue with that is and has been from the start it’s not giving the person a chance or opportunity to think for themselves. It is telling people to give up. Again, since I’m certain at this point you’ll forget my last comment – someone who thinks for themselves and makes their own choice isn’t giving up – this e-mail isn’t advising anyone to think for themselves, its advising them to give up no matter what.

  10. Sean, “armed attackers” is not something you brought into it.

    The email you posted described an attack by three people, one of whom had a bat. The email you posted references the “recent series” in which groups of two or more people attacked individuals with “guns and other types of weapons.

    I’ve read everything you’ve written here. Maybe you should too.

  11. I can’t really give advice on what to do in this situation, you
    never know how you’d react until your in it. But whatever you do,
    do it fast, whether it’s punching the clown, or empting your pockets.

  12. Perhaps the public could be better served by everyone sharing their experiences here about what has, and has not, worked for them in the past in terms of staying safe and surviving a confrontation.

    I’ll start.

    I was mugged in Woodland Hills by two young wanna-be gang members who had been (according to the detective assigned my case) been tasked with mugging people in order to get jumped in. It was nighttime and I went to an outdoor ATM in plain view about three yards from Topanga Canyon Blvd., right on the street. They cornered me and put something pointy to my back & instructed me to withdraw $200, the maximum withdrawal. I lied and told them I only had 100 bucks in the account. They were panicky, and the one holding the sharp object behind me was making hysterical laughing sounds, which was alarming because he ostensibly had a weapon. I’ll take an experienced mugger any day.

    Once the cash was out, they snatched it and my purse off my arm, running off & almost knocking me down as they yanked it off my arm. I looked down & realized I still had my wallet in my hand.

    What I learned:

    1. Never ever go to an atm at night, no matter how safe you think it is.

    2. And I’d seen them walking down the sidewalk before I got out of my car, but suppressed a desire to stay in the vehicle, and chose to get out of the car & go to the atm because I didn’t want to be racist & assume that just because they were two young male Latinos, they were out to commit a crime. Next time I’ll choose being safe over feeling guilty about making a discriminatory generalization.

    3. I also learned it’s ok to lie if it’ll save me some cash.

    But if I were in the same sitch again, I would probably NOT fight back or run. I’d probably do the exact same thing. Maybe if I were bigger or stronger, or if there were more people around (although we all know that’s no guarantee anyone will come to your aid), I might feel my chances were better for fighting. But I am a wee woman, and there were two of them in close range with a weapon, so I feel I made a well-reasoned decision as best I could under the circumstances.

    What have YOU learned?

  13. Knowing when to fight back requires the same skill as knowing when to break the rules.

    So I think the email is ok.

  14. I was mugged across from LACC, before “bicycle district” gentrification, when the arcades were a lot more sketchy. That’s probably where the kids followed me from as I turned onto a side street. The first one, a chubby little guy holding his sweatshirt across his face, jumped in my way repeating something — “gibber dummy?” The second guy came up quickly behind me repeating “give us the money, homey.” They were smaller than me, so I was thinking about which one I could knock over, till the third guy came up between them, calmly unfolded a knife near my waist and said “give us the money.” I pulled the loose bills in my left pocket, hoping they wouldn’t ask for the wallet in my right. As soon as the saw cash, they grabbed it and ran. They got away with $6.

    What I learned:

    1. the first guy you see probably isn’t the one you need to worry about

    2. they might take the first obviously valuable thing they can and run, so try it

    3. keeping cash separate from my wallet was a pretty good idea

    When my friend was mugged in North Hollywood, he was with his mother and wife. A single guy with a knife demanded his money, he gave it. They guy demanded his mother’s purse, she hesitated, so he grabbed her arm to yank the purse away. Seeing this, my friend kinda snapped, decided “fuck the advice” and shoved the guys arm, yelling. That’s when the other guy across the street shot him in the leg. The muggers then ran off with their stuff.

    As we were looking at the long scar on the side of my friend’s leg an inch or two from his kneecap, we discussed lessons learned:

    1. the first guy you see probably isn’t the one you need to worry about

    2. yes, there are people who will kill you over a purse

    3. when you weigh it against the use of your legs or watching someone you love bleed to death in the street, all that wussy-sounding advice about giving up your worthless crap might not actually be such a terrible idea

    When my mother was robbed many years ago, she was working late, alone, in an unlocked office [duh]. A guy walked in. She told him to leave. He pulled a gun and demanded money. She told him they didn’t have any. He asked about the safe or the register. She said their wasn’t one – it was an office, what did he think? (She said she was kind of bitchy to him, since she was tired and hadn’t really eaten.) He demanded her purse, she said there wasn’t money in it. He demanded it again, and she said fine, and handed it over. He started to walk out, stopped, turned around and shot her. The fist shot tore holes in her colon — apparently if she had eaten more recently, she would have died. The second ricocheted off her ribs and fragmented in her shoulder. There’s still shrapnel in her. Laying face down on the ground as she heard him walk up, she planned to struggle, fight to the end. But she says she heard a voice telling her to keep very still. A third shot grazed the top of her head. She played dead till she was sure he was gone.

    Now there’s a couple ways to look at this. What if she’d thrown something and tried to run as soon as he came in? Would he have just gone away? Or would he have shot her point blank in the face? Looking back, my mom actually thinks that if she’d been more compliant, he might have left quickly, rather than taking the trouble to come back to shoot her. She wonders if he really decided to kill a witness to purse theft, or if he decided to kill her just because she’d pissed him off. So hard to suss out the inner motives of sociopaths…


    1. yes, there are people who will kill you over a purse

    2. on balance, you might be a just a little less likely to end up with shrapnel in your body if you comply with the crazy gun-waving person as quickly as you can

    3. there are far worse things that can happen to you than losing your money or your self-respect

    4. if you’re in spite of everything, you’re still planning on getting into a gunfight, consider fasting

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