Assessing the Antagonist
I will always be grateful to my father for teaching me the fundamentals of defending myself, especially when outnumbered. Dad’s Oklahoma-defense-philosophy was simple: When confronted to fight, backed into a corner, and unable to talk your way out of the situation, assessing the antagonist in the group and (at the point of attack) neutralizing that particular individual is probably the best hope for a decent outcome. The hostile group may eventually get the best of you, but in the immediate the leader will pay the price for the engagement. This proactive principle targets the leader (or bigmouth), which seems the best chance of persuading him/her to back down and call off the rest of the pack, perhaps even before a fight occurs. In short, look for the bigmouth (shot-caller) and give him/her the fattest lip first to discourage his followers from engagement.
As a Christian, I am not opposed to this principle of self-defense. Turning the other cheek in religious persecution for one’s beliefs is not the same as fighting on a battlefield as a soldier, confronting an armed suspect as a peace officer, or defending oneself as a private citizen from predatory thugs, muggers, or bullies. Nothing I have read in Scripture implies that believers are required to become perpetual victims for opportunists and criminals. Abiding by and respecting the law (to the extent that the State does not violate or supersede God’s commandments) includes an expectation of justice, which is the enforcement and adjudication of the same. Self-defense has been a reasonable justification for taking the life of another as a general rule of law (and in the Old Testament) for thousands of years.
But this targeting principle of which I speak has been helpful in other circumstances. For example, when I worked as a gang detective in the 1990s, targeting the leadership structure of criminal street gangs with special prosecution efforts effectively minimized the activity and recurrence of street crimes in Upland, California from those targeted gangs. In other words, when the focus of criminal prosecution and longer prison terms affected the gang leaders negatively, the gang’s followers most often positively ran for cover. In some cases, larger gangs in Upland moved completely out of the jurisdiction because of suppression efforts. Smaller gangs disintegrated and disbanded entirely due to receiving hefty criminal sanctions, suffering attrition because of long prison terms, and failing to replenish their ranks due to the inability to recruit new members because of longer incarceration rates.
And applying the principle of assessing the antagonist was very helpful in the very last crowd control situation I had to deal with before retiring from law enforcement about a month later. Even though I have mentioned the event in a past article, revisiting it may be helpful for those officers and deputies currently working in prisons, jails, and patrolling the streets. Certainly, the principle may not be effective in all circumstances, but as observed in the Black Friday story mentioned below, it worked in my favor.
In November 2009, I was the graveyard field supervisor for the Upland Police Department (in Upland, California) on the eve of the Black Friday sales event at the local Wal-Mart store at Foothill Boulevard and Benson Avenue. During the holidays, primarily because of vacations and officers calling off sick, both our swing and graveyard shifts were understaffed. In years past, Wal-Mart had closed its doors to customers on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday) to prepare its sales event the following morning. Because bargains could be had at very low prices, preceding years developed a pattern of large crowds of customers lining up just outside the doors at least twenty-four hours before the Black Friday opening (so much for celebrating Thanksgiving.)
But preceding the 2009 Friday event in Upland, Wal-Mart management made a decision to remain open on the Thursday of Thanksgiving Day. And that was where the problem began. The majority of Black Friday shoppers lined up outside as usual. But a smaller group of thrill-seekers and bargain-hunters saw an opportunity to remain in the store as Wal-Mart employees were trying to set up for the Black Friday sale. In other words, those shoppers camped out directly inside the store nearest the items they wanted to purchase. Of course, management did not foresee the error in judgment of allowing customers to remain in the store until the sale set up. And a mini-riot ensued that caused a call to our Department for help.
By the time of the arrival of my officers, most of the problem had moved to the outside of the store. Employees had managed to escort the remaining customers to the front of the long line outside. Naturally, those campers outside were unhappy with Wal-Mart management for allowing the customers ejected from the store to take cuts in front of the line. When the police call came out, I had six officers and myself to handle a disturbance involving about two thousand unhappy campers. And I prayed that God would grant me the wisdom to handle the situation as well as protect my officers who were greatly outnumbered. Since the focus of the problem was at the front of the line, our deployment was there at the point of attack.
In spite of the Wal-Mart manager’s speech to the crowd (and perhaps because of it), a group of about one hundred customers closest to the doors became very agitated. As the supervisor, I had to determine whether or not a mutual-aid call to surrounding agencies would be necessary. So, I made an announcement to that group with my entire shift standing next to me. In essence, the crowd had one of two options—behave themselves and allow Wal-Mart staff to complete set-up so that the sale could go on, or I would call down the agencies from all over the West Valley to break up the crowd and send everyone home empty-handed.
After my announcement, the crowd seemed to settle down except for one bigmouth hidden from my view inside the cluster of patrons. He yelled, “Forget that! Let’s burn this place down!”
In my meanest and most authoritative voice I yelled back, “Who said that?”
As God is my witness, as if the Red Sea were parting before Moses and the Israelites fleeing from the Egyptian army, the crowd suddenly parted and standing in isolation was the lone agitator of the crowd. All eyes and fingers pointed to him. Assessing the agitator, I saw that he had no support from the surrounding crowd. Immediately, my officers stepped into the gap and nabbed the loud mouth and escorted him off the property, to the applause of the crowd. And just like that, peace was restored and the sale went on.
I am not an advocate of looking for a fight. But I do approve of standing one’s ground while it is still defensible. And in twenty-eight years of public service in law enforcement, God always helped me through each and every confrontation I faced. I am grateful to God the Father (and my earthly Dad) who taught me to trust their words of wisdom.
If you exercise faith and have the courage to stand up, God is always there for you. Stand up and be counted.
God awaits your call.
(Copyright 2014, Gregory Allen Doyle)