The illusion of safety

A person sitting on a pallet of gold in the Fort Knox vault is safe but the rent is more than most people can afford.

  • You’re either aware or you’re not aware.
  • You’re either prepared or you’re not prepared.
  • You’re either responsible or you’re not responsible.
  • You’re either trained or you’re not trained.

These are the things one must be doing every day, in every situation, to best ensure freedom from harm. “Safe” and “Secure” are overused and overly misunderstood. Safety, as it is pitched about in the media and the community conversations is an illusion. It’s an abstraction. It does not exist.

We want to be free to move about public venues playing with our personal electronics and not be physically threatened. We think that the existence of the police or other security guarantees that. And so people go about their yakking, head bopping, snapshooting, texting, getting cash from the ATM, eating lives not paying attention very far beyond their “personal space.” Then when someone grabs their toys and runs they stand around wondering what just happened. Or something worse befalls them which I won’t go into. These more serious events are well depicted on CSI and Law and Order.

Back in 2000 I was in one of the malls here. I left the store I had been shopping at and went to the ATM which was about 50 yards away in an open area back down the wing. I got my twenty bucks and receipt and stuck them in my shirt pocket and started back towards the store. I didn’t really pay attention to who was around. I wasn’t thinking about that or even that it was necessary. My mind was on the fact that I needed the cash and had to get done so I could start heading to work. When I got about 2/3 of the way back I got this twitchy feeling like someone was watching me. Then in my right eyeglass lens I sort of caught a reflection of someone getting close to me. It was then that I thought, wait a minute. something’s wrong here. I stopped and turned around. There was a man about four feet away from me. I tried to look him in the eye. We had just passed the last down escalator for that wing. He turned and went and got on it. He looked down at his feet. I kept trying to look at him…to look him in the eye until he was out of sight.

Did I feel “safe?” I don’t know. I doubt it. I did not feel afraid. Would I have won had there been a physical confrontation? I don’t know. It’s possible. But maybe not. I know from what happened that the guy who was intending on shoving me and stealing my money or whatever he was going to do did not have the stomach for facing me full on. He’s a crook, a thief. His operating method was surprise and maybe speed. I was supposed to be left $20 poorer and wondering what happened. So my “safety” began the moment I stopped and took responsibility for myself and my surroundings and it only lasted as long as I was doing that.

Where was mall security? Where were the police? I don’t know and I really don’t care. It doesn’t do me any good having them there if my attacker is running to the exit with my money and they’ve maybe just heard through the grapevine that something just happened on the second level between Space City and Gadzooks. It doesn’t do anyone any good if they’re lying on the jogging trail with a stab wound, the mugger is running away with their iPod and the bicycle park police are on the other side of the lake. It’s called crime. The US military does not swear an oath to protect you from it. The police do, but they’re not your bodyguards or personal escorts. There is no static condition of safety or security that guarantees your freedom from it. The government doctor can implant an RFID chip next to your colon and an array of billion dollar satellites will know exactly where your body is when you just bled to death from a gunshot. While this will be an aid to the authorities in getting your remains to the coroner, none of this stuff matters if you could have dealt with a situation and didn’t because you weren’t paying attention.

Here are my “security measures”:

  1. Trust no one. If you don’t know them personally they don’t have your back.
  2. Compartmentalize your head. Stay sufficiently disconnected from your toys to be aware of your surroundings.
  3. Don’t count money or have cash visible while walking around. Avoid open air ATMs.
  4. Keep your bag between you and a wall.
  5. If you’re at a restaurant take your stuff with you to the toilet.
  6. Lock the car at night and stay with it until that stupid interior light goes out.
  7. Look all around yourself all the time.
  8. Know where the exit is.
  9. Remember where you parked.
  10. Watch the watchers. There is always someone who is out of place. Make sure you see them.
  11. There are exceptions and variations to these. Try to keep that to a minimum.

Protecting yourself is your responsibility. It’s more important than feeling safe.

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