Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Queer Leathermen Address Crime Prevention, Self-Defense


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Photos, top to bottom: John Graham, “Papa” Tony Lindsey (file photo)

The San Diego League of Gentlemen, a Leather organization for Gay, Bisexual and male-identified Transgender men, held a meeting June 1 to discuss crime prevention. The first half of the meeting showcased San Diego police officer John Graham — who, 17 years earlier, had become the first member of the San Diego police force to come out as openly Gay — discussing strategies you can use on the street to avoid becoming a victim of crime. For the second half, League founder “Papa” Tony Lindsey showed a few basic self-defense moves in case you are attacked — but he stressed that the only way to get really good at self-defense is to take a class and get enough practice that the moves become instinctive and you can perform them immediately when you need them.

Graham said that the San Diego police department began teaching prevention techniques to its own officers and to taxicab drivers about two decades ago because “we had two cabdrivers killed every year for some time and several officers killed and injured in the line of duty.” The essence of the system they came up with was a color code for states of awareness, developed by police firearms instructor Jeff Cooper, through which, Graham said, “We reduced officers’ injuries in the line of duty, and then trained cabdrivers.” (He explained that police officers, firefighters and cabdrivers are the most frequent victims of street attacks.) After 17-year-old John Robert Wear was knifed to death in Hillcrest in 1991 by Gay-bashers (according to reports at the time, Wear wasn’t Gay but his killers thought he was), the police department decided to teach the awareness technique to the general public.

According to Graham, the technique involves being aware of your situation and your general likelihood of being attacked. “If you’re in a safe place, like your home with all your doors and windows closed, you can be in ‘grey condition,’” Graham explained. “If you’re out, you have to be in ‘yellow condition’ and really pay attention to your surroundings.” Other color codes in the system include “red condition,” when you’re actually being confronted by a potential attacker and the “fight, flight or freeze” instinct kicks in; and “green condition,” once you’ve successfully either subdued an attacker or escaped without injury. “If you use the awareness training,” Graham said, “you shouldn’t have to get hands-on” with a potential attacker.

Graham asked for audience participation to identify the factors you should be looking for in “yellow condition” when you’re accosted by someone who might be hostile. Among them are the person’s size, any weak spots you can use against them, anything that can be a weapon — either for him or for you — whether there’s a safer zone to which you can flee, and whether there are other people around who might help either you or your attacker. Aiming his discussion particularly at people who go out to bars and stay until late night or early morning, Graham warned, “Alcohol affects your awareness, as does traveling in or too a dark area. Criminals are looking for an easy target.”

When you’re actually on the street, trying to evaluate whether a particular person might be a danger to you, Graham said, “Eye contact and verbal cues can be very important. There are also clues in looking at an individual’s posture. If I stand, I’m vulnerable, but I can also tell the person I trust them. If I cross my arms, it’s also a sign of trust because it’s harder for me to get my weapons. If I want someone to back away, I can bring up my hands or step back with non-verbal cues that tell them to keep their distance. If someone’s being very aggressive and loud, I want to say, ‘Back away,’ very loudly because I want to attract attention and have witnesses.”

Indeed, Graham stressed that criminals often use awareness techniques similar to the ones he was teaching as a way to prevent becoming a crime victim, mainly to pick out the weakest possible targets and the ones least likely to fight back or escape successfully. “Criminals are the best people at reading people,” he said. “The criminal is looking for non-verbal cues. If you look down, that’s a cue to the criminal that they’re in control.

Another safety tip Graham gave is “travel in pairs. Most people don’t, except criminals. John Wear was alone, and he was attacked by a group. The situations here the past year have also been individuals attacked by groups.” Graham said that those “situations” — street attacks in Hillcrest and outside Balboa Park during the 2006 Pride Festival — were often attributed to gangs but almost certainly weren’t because, “typically, gangs are all of one race, and these were people of different races, individuals coming together to commit these crimes.” Usually, Graham said, in a group attack “the first person will actually do the attack and the second person will be looking out for citizens or police.”

When actually confronted by a potentially hostile person, Graham explained, “the most important thing to look at is their hands, because it’s the hands that will kill you, either outright or with a weapon. After that we look at the waist because that’s the best place to conceal a weapon. That’s where we search first. At a mall I once saw people who looked like Asian gangsters and were wearing down jackets” — loose-fitting clothes excellent for concealing weapons underneath — “and within 30 minutes after I spotted them, they started a fight. These are all things you have to analyze.”

Lindsey began his presentation by telling the group that despite his massive size — “I’m 6’5”, 280 pounds and carry myself like a security guard” — nonetheless, until he started studying self-defense and martial arts, “I’d been assaulted two dozen times,” mostly by drunks who wanted to take him on because of his size. When he finally started studying at the now-defunct American Kenpo Karate school, because of his size and build he was frequently asked to play the part of an attacker in class exercises. “I got to learn how to deal with big people by being the bad guy,” he said. “I had to learn to fall in a particular direction without hurting myself.” He said this is a valuable skill even if you never have to fend off a criminal assault; “When I go rollerblading and a wheel locks up, it doesn’t hurt me because I know how to fall.”

According to Lindsey, the reason you need to take classes in martial arts to learn the self-defense skills is that you’ll only learn the moves if you practice them again and again. “The point of the classes is to make you repeat yourself and repeat yourself and repeat yourself: how to kick, how to block and how to keep your eyes on the person you take down. I haven’t been to karate class in seven years, but it’s helped me. The assaults don’t happen anymore because of how I carry myself. … Knowing through practice, through repetition, is really important. When you know 18 ways to kill someone without using weapons, you won’t have to.”

Lindsey said that, contrary to common belief, “Big guys like us have weaknesses like you wouldn’t believe — and it’s not the crotch. It’s our knees and elbows. I still can’t bend and stand on my knees on a hard surface — on a bed, yes, but not a floor. Our biggest weakness is our momentum. Inertia is not on our team; it’s on the smaller person’s. Do what you can to hurt the kidney. It will hurt like hell and slow them down. If they come at you in a straight line, go in a circle. If they come in a circle, go at them in a straight line. You want to change the direction of the attack.” Lindsey also said the knee and the shin are weak areas in case you need to repel an attack.

According to Lindsey, much of karate training is blocking — though blocking has its limits. If someone comes at you with a baseball bat, don’t try to block it; that’s a good way to break your arm. “You have to get him before he starts his swing and do whatever you can to make him stop.” Lindsey recalled his karate teacher telling him that 1970’s martial-arts movie star Chuck Norris “only had one or two good moves, but he was really good at them,” and said that what he got out of that advice was “to look at what moves I was really good at and practice them over and over again. I found I was really good at the pivot-back and fist, and I won every karate tournament I entered because that surprised people. Find your best move, practice it, get really good at that one thing, and it will become ingrained in you and you’ll always know it when you need it.”