Violent encounters with random strangers…

This morning on the way to work, I came across a situation and was left thinking of what responses were possible.

An obviously drunk man of about 30 carrying an open tall can of beer in his hand came up to a younger (maybe 16-18 year old) boy and started belligerently berating him on the subway in between stops. He threatened the boy that he would find and later kill him. That revenge is sweet. All sorts of angry banter. The boy sat quietly, looking down at his phone, earphones in, mostly trying to ignore him.

The man then swaggered down the subway car, stopping at least 3 times to yell at other passengers, his voice growing with each passing taunt and his aggression level clearly rising.

The boy looked up at me and the numerous other passengers in the vicinity as the man turned his back and just shrugged his soldier and shook his head and mouthed– I don’t know him at all.

At first when I saw the confrontation– I had an assumption that the two males knew each other– and had perhaps had some previous violent background (such as gang affiliations), but as the man continuously walked up and down the subway car continuing his anger on other unsuspecting passengers, I realized that this was not the case.

I thought about the possible responses to this I could have taken and weighed each option over in my mind.

The man’s growing anger was clearly making the passengers extremely uncomfortable. The boy seemed seriously concerned, as did the other objects of his anger. Would it escalate? Would it come to the man becoming physically violent? The car sat in silence, people nervously exchanging glances outside of the man’s gaze—and others burying their noses deeper into newspapers, books or electronic devices.

The man had a beer in his hand– so he obviously got past any “security” on the TTC; did he have a knife or other weapon in his pocket? Would he be willing to use it should the situation escalate?

Would any other passengers speak or stand up against his abuses?

Would the man get off at the next stop?

Would anyone alert TTC authorities?

If I said something, what would I say? What would/could I do to de-escalate the situation?

In the end, I did nothing and I felt disappointed with myself at this response. I exchanged glances with other worried passengers, and watched as the belligerent man got off at the next stop.

Situations like this happen and often times fear holds us back from action. Fear held me back from action this morning. I was afraid that my doing something would escalate rather than de-escalate. I thought about trying to calm the man down, but ultimately thought against it, worrying that his response would turn violent against me. Sometimes there is no reasoning with people because they are emotional beyond reason. I don’t know this man and what he’s capable of.

What would you do/say? How would you respond?  How can we step in to de-escalate violent confrontations with strangers in our lives?  Is avoidance the best policy?

[Please see http://apeaceofconflict.com/2012/05/08/violent-encounters-with-rand...]

Views: 502

Tags: avoidance, conflict, resolution, strangers, violence, violent

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Comment by RichardKane on May 10, 2012 at 10:32am

Thank You pcdn for being patient toward my lack of total computer literacy involving delayed appearance of comments.

Comment by RichardKane on May 9, 2012 at 1:18pm

I think the needless guilt Rebecca Sargent felt in not making a scene points to the overly narrow definition of what a peacemaker is. Someone distracting two of their children that seem about to be in a fight, or even yelling a nasty expatiate and nasty insults and running away to stop two people larger then themself from fighting. Sometimes attempted peace efforts are the opposite like people hurling insults at a foreign country so we here in America can get along better. Left out of the excerpt of my points posted by autonomous is how impressed I was about Ron Paul raining on the Republican hate debates and the US Black Muslims removing little kids from the street during tense confrontations Israel kills children made the tension between Israel and Palestinian much worse before someone started removing rock throwing six and seven year olds from the streets,

http://readersupportednews.org/pm-section/77-77/11309-ron-paul-has-done-more-for-peace-than-people-who-dedicated-their-entire-lives-working-for-it



When I was in grade school the class was about to make a substitute teacher cry I succeeded to make the biggest loudmouth's girl friend to put up her nose and he shut up putting a wall of silence around me until that teacher told me to shut up and the class laughed, and when she said why do you listen to that troublemaker they laughed so hard that she gained control and I was proud. Much later at the confrontation over the Move back to nature group and the city of Philadelphia, that then inspired children, and the kids taunted a black police officer saying you belong on our side of the street then they told me I belong on the other side but when I started to cross an officer began shaking his club at me and the kids starting laughing. Again I was proud to stop a riot except after I was arrested. Later a sharp antagonist pointed out that the Black Muslims had time to get the kids off the street without my calming efforts. Any ways I have ideas of creating peace that make more sense than a old friend Cathy Chang who set herself on fire but I this point have no intention of doing something that will make people mad at me unless a doctor a some future date says I have only a few more weeks to live. The reason why we don't know how much it hurts for insults to be hurled at Islam, is that they respect Jesus and thus don't hurl touchy insults at Jesus in response to that which are hauled at what Islam holds sacred.

Comment by RichardKane on May 9, 2012 at 4:21am

This is Richard Kane in PA again. Sorry about computer literacy issues I never intended to make snackman link enlarged and the Ron Paul a peacemaker link small here is another Ron Paul the peacemaker link, a you tube video. I'll make sure its not enlarged this time.

http://phillyimc.org/en/ron-paul-created-some-peace-raining-republi...



When I was in grade school the class was about to make a substitute teacher cry I succeeded to make the biggest loudmouth's girl friend to put up her nose and he shut up putting a wall of silence around me until that teacher told me to shut up and the class laughed, and when she said why do you listen to that trouble maker they laughed so hard that she gained control and I was proud. Much later at the confrontation over the Move back to nature group, that then inspired children, and the city of Philadelphia, the kids taunted a black police officer saying you belong on our side of the street then they told me I belong on the other side but when I started to an officer began shaking his club at me and the kids starting laughing. Again I was proud to stop a riot except after I was arrested. Later a sharp antagonist pointed out that the Black Muslims had time to get the kids off the street without my calming efforts. Any ways I have ideas of creating peace that make more sense than a old friend Cathy Chang who set herself on fire but I this point have no intention of doing it unless a doctor a some future date says I have only a few more weeks to live.





Anyway like most of the universe is dark matter and energy most peace-work is invisible. Anyway I hope people click on Ron Paul for new ideas on creating peace,

http://readersupportednews.org/pm-section/77-77/11309-ron-paul-has-...

Comment by Germain INDJASSA HIBALAYAM on May 8, 2012 at 10:38pm

Right, these are the kinds of situations we face everyday and most of the time, we choose to walk away, pretending, it's not our business and yet violence here is violence everywhere.

Comment by Rebecca Sargent on May 8, 2012 at 6:16pm

@Erica — yes, this was my thinking in some ways. That as long as the situation remained verbal, it was probably in everyone’s best interest to just stay silent. But at the same time, I thought perhaps this might escalate in front of me to the point of hurting people physically and then what are my response options.

@ Gbawu F. Woiwor I thank you for your suggestions– but I don’t think I will ever approach a situation like that with martial arts...  I am searching my brain to look for the most non-violent approaches if at all possible. Can we calm the belligerent person down in any way and model a different behaviour? Staying silent in this instance, was perhaps the least-violent approach in this case– as luckily it didn’t escalate into anything further. If it had escalated, I’m not sure what I would or could reasonably do.

@ Jaroslav Petrik It’s a tough question, but I believe that the power of modelling new types of behaviour can change how we interact with each other in future actions, like they do in the Theatre of the Oppressed. The problem is, you could try to verbally de-escalate the situation and that sets the whole thing off even worse.

@Anonymous I do like the simplicity of the snack-man maneuver. Physically separating, or creating separation between the two parties can be quite effective. Thanks for sharing that!

@ Brandon Williamscraig Thank you for sharing!

Comment by Lindsey Rosenbaum on May 8, 2012 at 5:42pm

We can learn something from every single experience we have each day, and i applaud you for doing just that. You can't be upset with yourself for not responding properly, like you said, you didn't know how. If you were meant to act, you would have known, and perhaps thats why this happened-you can think about it, get other peoples perspectives. You may not have been meant to act in this situation, but maybe you are in the future. Getting feedback is exactly what you need to ensure that you are prepared, and know that by sharing this story, you are inviting others to  consciously think about these kind of violent encounters. That alone will help the world become a little more peaceful in more ways than we can even imagine. 

Based on the post, i can't say that i would have responded with 100% certainty either, but if its different perspectives that you are looking for, this is mine: criticism, anger, and unkind actions are all projections of our own fears. When i really, honestly consider the snippy comments i make from time to time, i see that I'm really putting down is myself.

Just based on reading the things this man said leads me to believe that this was a mans cry for empathy, for kindness, for compassion. Something in his life has drained him of all his energy and inner peace, so to feel as if he has regained it, he tried to exert his power over innocent strangers. Its hard to not resent a person that acts that way to a child and innocent people, but at the same time, he acted like he had that much power because he feels that weak. If I was in the situation and the time felt right for me to act, i probably would have asked him why he is so angry. Not in a condescending way, not out of anger, simply a question from one human being to another. When we speak in a way that makes people feel like they are being chastised, it feed on their fear. However, i think that we can do it in the right way. He acted like that to disguise what he was really screaming and yelling for- his deep need for some love and hope. He essentially put a mask on for the world to see to hide what he is really feeling inside. When we address that mask in a real way, without any other motive than to get to what the person is really feeling, the person cant continue to act through that mask. If you think about it, when you or I or anyone is feeling very scared and vulnerable, we are usually not conscious of our actions and their affects, its possible that he really was not conscious of his violent demeanor. Simply asking him without any underlying tone why he is so angry makes him conscious. A simple shift in consciousness is more often than not all a person needs to lay their weapons down and open themselves up to healing.

Comment by Brandon WilliamsCraig on May 8, 2012 at 5:04pm

I was once on a BART train on my way from San Francisco back to Berkeley when two young men began a shouting/shoving match right over the seat of a tiny older woman dressed head-to-toe in the all-black of the archetypal Eastern European Grandmother. I'd have ignored them like everyone else, as best I could, if she hadn't looked so panicked and horrified. Not knowing what to do precisely, but sure I didn't want her to get squashed, I stood up and stepped just out of arm's length. I began nodding to each in turn, as though I were listening to them carefully and watching with great interest. One turned and said "What are YOU looking at?" To which I replied that I didn't know, which was true, and kept giving them my full attention. The speaker yelled an expletive at me and broke away to storm into an adjacent car. I looked at the other guy, who shrugged and went back to what apparently had been his seat. Could I have been attacked? I suppose so, but not without witnesses and potential legal consequences. If that had been my grandmother sitting there, now with a look of profound gratitude on her face, I would have wanted somebody to do something. 

When you ask the questions above, the one that remains unaddressed by my story is the question of avoidance being best, which seems to me only possible to answer in retrospect. In advance, all we can do is prepare ourselves to be ready to make the decision to engage or not. For me, that preparation has involved practicing what I now call Martial Nonviolence. As we see frequently on PCDN, peace has more to do with "conflict done well" than avoided, which is why I use that phrase on my invitations to students and colleagues to learn martial arts (my choice is aikido) to begin dealing with fear associated with physical conflict, and improvisation to bring imaginative options into verbal conflict, and some process art (group process design and facilitation) to bring that imagination into groups. In short, peace requires practice. If we don't practice some specific basics, then we can't expect to have tools at hand when the opportunity to call for peace or for justice presents itself.

Comment by RichardKane on May 8, 2012 at 1:34pm

(Second try),

You and all the passengers should have been proud of yourselves, unless there was someway to comfort that troubled man's internal pain.



Most peace is not made by someone declaring peace.

Note a similar subway situation when Snackman casually walked between two people fighting while munching on potato chips,

'Snackman' Casually Break Up A Fight

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/04/11/150416866/video-watch-snackman-casually-break-up-a-fight



The US Black Muslims used to call to take your woman and children off the street grabbing only the kids taunting or throwing rocks, preventing the US from resembling Israel-Palestine

Remember the anger a few years ago that Israel was killing children. Some quiet peacemakers on both sides must of late be keeping kids out of harms way.



Ron Paul so far stopped a war with Iran by raining on the Republican blood fest debates with more to come. Romney has yet to get the Republican nominations,



http://readersupportednews.org/pm-section/77-77/11309-ron-paul-has-...

Comment by RichardKane on May 8, 2012 at 12:35pm

You and all the passengers should have been proud of yourselves, unless there was someway to comfort that troubled man's internal pain.



Most peace is not made by someone declaring peace. Human or something more Jesus apparently made himself into a scapegoat. Some not so successfully like when Cathy Chang set herself on fire in Philadelphia PA



Note a similar subway situation when Snackman casually walked between two people fighting while munching on potato chips,

'Snackman' Casually Break Up A Fight

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/04/11/150416866/video-watch-snackman-casually-break-up-a-fight



The US Black Muslims used to call to take your woman and children off the street grabbing only the kids taunting or throwing rocks, preventing the US from resembling Israel-Palestine

Remember the anger a few years ago that Israel was killing children. Some quiet peacemakers on both sides must of late be keeping kids out of harms way.



Ron Paul so far stopped a war with Iran by raining on the Republican blood fest debates with more to come. Romney has yet to get the Republican nominations,



http://readersupportednews.org/pm-section/77-77/11309-ron-paul-has-...

Comment by Lois on May 8, 2012 at 10:11am

Having been in a similar situation in the past, I think I would have taken a few photos of the belligerent man (surreptitiously), moved as far away from him as possible, and then called 911 to make sure he was picked up as he stepped off the train. Never fear, though. Had he actually done something violent (other than words), people would converge on him to protect the innocent. People usually react as you did at first (avoidance), but if it escalates, they generally spring to action (assuming there are no guns or knives involved).

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