Friday, September 05, 2003

Violence, Violence, It's The Only Thing That'll Make You See Sense

Say Uncle has an interesting post on violence and confrontation, inspired by a post from Kim du Toit, Texas blogger, on the needed consequences of rude behavior. Basically, Kim argues that measured violence in response to exceptional rudeness is a necessary part of civil society. Unc gives some of his own examples of applying that principle.

Back over thirty years ago, I saw a trucker administer something like that. He was tooling down a major thoroughfare (we were slightly behind him) and going up a hill. A junker car came from the merge lane, going very, very slow and pulled right in front of him. The trucker had to gear all the way down to a stop and then work back up the gears -- on a hill! We went for a mile or so down the road until we all hit the same light. The trucker leapt out of his cab and ran up to the open driver's-side window. He reached in and started punching the driver with everything he had; the driver's wife was screaming so loud we could hear her. After he was done, the trucker got back into his truck and drove away. I can still see the trucker's right arm pistoning down on the driver's face to this day.

Was that right? Did the driver even know who the guy pummeling him was? Was it a balanced response?

Unc (and Kim) make a good point about willingness to intervene. But Kim doesn't seem to recognise the risks as Unc does. He jokingly warns that it'll kill him one day. He's probably right.

I knew a woman, petite, wiry, mousy and only 4' 10". But she was black-belt karate and fully capable of self-defense or incapacitation. It goes to show that you just don't know what you're facing. The scariest thing is: what if they have a gun? I can't speak for Knoxville or where Kim lives, but here in Memphis you just don't know. Lots of folks own guns and carry, legally and illegally. Many more, as the newspapers attest, are willing to go home to retrieve their firearms and return to even the score. Very few folks here in Memphis are willing to do what Kim suggests because it quite likely can result in death.

I've been lucky to this point. I've lived in Midtown Memphis for fifteen years without incident. I don't own a car (by choice, not legal consequence) and have to walk or take the bus most places. Two guys once tried to cut me off on a main street, but I got past them to safety. I'm six foot even, and my weight has gone from 240 to nearly 300 pounds during that time. I'm told I have a hard, don't-fuck-with-me face when I'm out walking, and I walk with determination, all of which may play a part. More than once, I've been asked if I was in the military. Bearing, apparently, carries a message.

One thing I've noticed is that black folks will call me "Big Man," obviously due to my size and a common nickname for large men. I suspect this also carries some subconscious level of respect and lack of desire to mess with "the Big Man." I once went into a convenience store. There was the guy behind the counter, a cop on break, and a street wino begging the cop for change. The cop was laughing and then pointed to me. "I'm a cop. I could run you in. Why don't you ask that guy?" The wino flicked a glance at me, then said, "Nah, man. He's a narc."

I've been asked a few times to stand with someone having problems, and have made myself available to some who have expected trouble, to be the big intimidating guy, but I've never been in a situation where intervention was called for. I'm not sure I'd do it. In Memphis, the odds are pretty high I'd get killed, on the spot or in retaliation. It's also likely that both parties in the situation might tell me to "mind my own bidness." That happens alot, especially when color is a factor. It is, unfortunately, a serious factor to weigh in deciding whether or not to step in.

I agree in principle with Kim, but I think American society has crossed a line or two in the past twenty years that makes her proposition too great a risk for the individual. Because that's what it's likely to be, at least at first and if there's not a crowd. Getting a critical mass of people to be willing to do it is what's needed, but finding volunteers to face deadly injury or death as we approach that point will be hard. And of course, there are the lawyers; and the bureaucrats all too willing to step in.

I'm not quite sure where the answer lies. Kim's right that we've abdicated our responsibility to the police, but we've been encouraged to by liberal weenies, educrats and social engineers. It's put the wrong burden on the cops, who shouldn't be doing this. It's been a process and a gradual shift over time, with many other factors we've not discussed also playing a role. We may be too far along for less than revolutionary steps.

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