Monday, December 17, 2012

What And If

I was going to write this a few weeks ago when a teenager was shot and killed by an older man over their opinions about how loud the kid should be playing his music in a public place. It never quite coalesced but it seems right to put it out here now. At the time I was beginning to deal with a neighbor who is angry with me. For a little while I didn't know whether she was a physical threat to me or not. Further investigation has brought me to conclude that she is unlikely to be physically abusive. A couple of people wanted me to prepare myself for that eventuality, though. "At least get some pepper spray!"

I thought about it. In the spirit of honesty I'll tell you that I even thought about whether I should get a gun. I ran through how I thought things might go if I had pepper spray. The woman has been waiting to catch me alone and then standing quite close to me and yelling, once she followed me home yelling all the way, after having been extremely nice in the presence of my friends. I feel I can expect that to happen again some time and there's no way to know when.

So let's say I get the pepper spray and put it in my pocket to make me feel safer when I go to the park alone. Walking tall I take up my old habits and routes and timings. Eventually she finds me alone. I know there's a danger I'll spray myself so I need some prep time. As I see her from a couple hundred yards away I reach into my pocket to get the spray and take the cap off just in case. She's much closer now. I take the uncapped vial out of my pocket to make sure it's free of all the other stuff I carry around and that the nozzle is facing away from me. She sees it. Either frightened or scoffing she continues to approach, upping her bravado to cover, and starts to yell at me. A couple of things could happen here. Seeing me armed she could strike first by hitting me or kicking my dog. I could ask her to stop yelling and when she doesn't I could spray her or I could just spray without speaking, out of panic or by accident, thus injuring her and, having struck first, I become the bad guy in a legal sense. I could accidentally spray her dog or my dog or any of the many other dogs roaming off leash at the time which they don't deserve, they're all perfectly fine and don't have any issue with me or her. No matter what happens things have escalated. Even if she just sees the sprayer and walks on by then it's in her head. Does she choose to stay away from me or does she arm herself with pepper spray or a knife or even a gun the next time she comes to the park? How does she handle those weapons? Does one of us or one of our dogs or someone completely random wind up dead at the end of a chain reaction that started with something perfectly legal and neighborly that I did that she suddenly got angry about?

When I got to that point I decided that having a weapon, even pepper spray, wouldn't make me feel safer. If I thought about it carefully enough it made me feel less safe in the long term by making me brave in the short term.

I wasn't a witness to anything but here's what I think happened in the loud music shooting. I think an older white man saw a younger black man playing music louder than the older man thought was polite. Feeling brave about having a gun in his pocket he decided to say something. Maybe he even put his hand on the butt of the gun when he approached, a little steel courage rather than liquid, if you will. The younger man, being in a group of his friends, felt the pressure of ego and the safety of numbers and refused, perhaps even saying something derogatory but perhaps not. The older man, angry now and possibly embarrassed, with a weapon at his disposal pulled out his gun and shot the younger man, killing him. He's got a lawyer now so all his statements are specifically skewed to help his legal case in this murder which means we'll never know if, after the bullets were discharged, he thought maybe he'd made a poor choice. Heck, it's possible he was as surprised by his actions as anyone else. I'd like to know, though, if he discovered what I did with my fictional scenario. I wonder if, assuming he walks free at some point, he'll ever feel safe again no matter what sort of weaponry he's packing.

I do not believe that any of this stuff keeps you safer, it just makes you feel that way in the short term. Long term, though, think about it...


  1. As someone who has actually carried a gun for self-defense, and right out in the open too, I have to say... I didn't even get the short term feeling of safety. On the other hand, it DID make me much less likely to get into shouting matches and more likely to just call the cops. Knowing that any confrontation that I started or escalated could lead to lots of dead bodies including my own changed my whole perspective.

    1. i've felt the same way. it's made me more aware of my surroundings, but doesn't necessarily make me feel any more or less safe. when i carry, my head is on a permanent swivel, so i can see and properly assess any potential dangers and get the hell out of Dodge if needed.

      i'm not out to be a hero. the gun isn't for bravado or to make me feel safe. it's there as a last-ditch safety measure in case i can't get myself out of a potentially bad situation.

  2. kabbage4:30 PM

    This is a powerful, thought-provoking piece. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. Do you have a co-op board? Of course you don't... or you would have already reported this, right?

  4. We do and she doesn't live in the complex. She's a dog park person and the one time she followed me home she stayed on the sidewalk, didn't try to come through security.