Protest Safety: All the Links

The upcoming workshops I’m leading on Protest Safety cover a lot of ground: verbal assertiveness, non-verbal communication, boundary setting, de-escalation, intervention, and tactical nonviolence. Since we can’t do justice to all those areas in one session, I’m posting these more detailed resources. If you’re coming to a workshop, feel free to print the handouts and bring them with you for reference. (I’ll have some handouts available at the workshops, but we often run out.)

Boundary Setting (PDF)
De-escalation (PDF)
Intervention (PDF)

Finally, the following resources are referenced in the Basic Protest Safety handout above; I’m putting the links here again for ease of access:

Know Your Rights: Free Speech, Protests & Demonstrations (ACLU)
Search and seizure (EFF)
How to use your smartphone in a protest
Tactical Nonviolence: philosophy & methods (Bruce Hartford)
Crowd psychology and safety
Activist’s Guide to Basic First Aid
Pepper Spray & Tear Gas: Avoiding, Protection, Remedies

Remarks from Gun-Free UT Rally

Gun-Free UT rally

Gun-Free UT rally

Today I spoke at a campus rally against the implementation of a state law that will allow concealed carry of firearms on public college campuses throughout Texas. For an hour, informed, compassionate, articulate staff and faculty at UT spoke out about the many ways this law will endanger the campus community. I was particularly struck by the words of Matt Valentine, a fellow staff member here at UT, who told us something remarkable about the Founding Fathers’ interpretation of the Second Amendment as it pertains to college campuses:

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors took up the issue of campus carry in 1824, and didn’t have to look far for an originalist perspective—Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were in attendance. The board resolved that “No Student shall, within the precincts of the University … keep or use weapons or arms of any kind, or gunpowder.”

Tragically, while our rally was in progress, a mass shooting was taking place on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Roseberg, Oregon. Initial reports indicate ten people have died and another 20 are wounded.

Here’s a rough transcript of my remarks:

I work in the School of Undergraduate Studies here at UT; I was an undergraduate and graduate student here, and I’ve taught here. I’ve also taught self defense for over fifteen years. There are some counter-protestors here with signs about how guns are necessary for self defense, and I want to speak particularly to them today. I teach and write about violence prevention and self defense policy, so I want to talk about the impact this law will have on women’s safety, and I especially want to address supporters of the law who claim it will reduce campus sexual assault and make women safer. It will not.

Sociologist Jennifer Carson, writing in the journal Violence Against Women, has described our culture’s “fetishizing of the gun as the primary tool of self-defense. The NRA,” she points out, “has become the predominant public face of self-defense, and its positions and politics are often seen, erroneously, as representing those of all self-defense advocates.”

As a teacher of feminist empowerment self defense, I’m here to tell you the NRA does not speak for me, or our movement. the NRA’s insistence that women must have guns to stay safe is unsupported by data. There is a robust research base to the contrary, most recently a random controlled trial involving 900 college women that was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, showing that women who participated in feminist-informed self defense–not gun-based–experienced a 50% reduction in sexual assault. Resistance can and does stop sexual assault, without guns. It does so every day. Despite the proven effectiveness of such training, the NRA claims that women have no power or agency over their own safety unless they carry a gun. Their support of this law, their desire to flood our campus with guns, is an attempt to make women complicit in the ongoing militarization of our communities. We will not comply.

If we allow guns in classrooms, office, and dorms at UT, more women will die. This is a fact. Dr. Deobrah Azrael at the Harvard School of Public Health said the following about campus carry laws earlier this year: “What we know is where there are more guns, more women die. That’s just incontrovertibly true. . . . everything we know suggests that access to firearms increases the likelihood of death and injury. Disproportionately to women . . . . If more women have guns, have them accessible, the likelihood that more women are going to die by suicide goes way up. What we know is that . . . when there are more guns and they’re more accessible, unintentional gun deaths will increase. What we know is that alcohol and guns are a terrible combination.”

All of which is incredibly relevant to the college environment. If there is a gun in your dorm room, actuarial evidence shows—the statistics compiled by insurance companies, not lobbyists—that you are at greater risk of dying from that gun than from any other possible event happening. Having a gun in your dorm room is the greatest threat to your life on campus.

I’d also ask everyone here to remember that if we allow concealed carry all over campus, we are giving rapists and potential rapists permission to carry a weapon everywhere with them, which will make the commission of rape that much easier for them. Rape is already a crime of power. The last thing we need to do is give rapists firepower.

Thank you.

Chance-medley, martial arts, and self defense: Why “stand your ground” laws are hazardous to our health

Fistfight, circa 1700

Chance-medley: An avoidable fight

Kind of a long post here. I’ve been thinking about these things a lot in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict.

Back in March 2012, Garrett Epps wrote an illuminating piece on “Stand Your Ground” laws for The American Prospect, locating their roots in the traditional “castle doctrine,” which allowed people to use deadly force when attacked in their homes. Epps also explains how state legislatures in America have distorted the castle doctrine into a mechanism that privileges violence as a response to any conflict: Modern “stand your ground” laws conflate life-threatening, unprovoked assault (being attacked by a home invader, for example) with the far more common sorts of conflict people engage in. These more common conflicts were called, in old legal terms, “chance-medley.” Chance-medley occurred

when two people got into an avoidable quarrel—in a pub, say—that graduated to violence. These quarrels could easily escalate. If one party to a chance-medley attacked the other, the person attacked might end up with the choice of killing or being killed. When the party attacked killed the attacker, he or she might claim self-defense—but only when the evidence showed that the eventual killer had tried to break off the encounter, or “retreat.” Even then, the killer was not justified but merely “excused.”

That obligation to retreat if at all possible, in order to avoid taking another’s life, is critical. It demonstrates a basic awareness of the social contract that even medieval Europeans appreciated. And this obligation ought to be familiar to martial artists, because it was drilled into us by our teachers: A martial artist is humble. A martial artist controls her power. A martial artist only fights when absolutely necessary.

We weren’t taught these precepts solely because our instructors were worried about liability. They reflect thousands of years’ experience with the use and abuse of violence. They are an acknowledgement that if we cannot subdue our own egos, we damage not just our opponents and ourselves, but the very fabric of society.

OK, so I find stand your ground laws repugnant because of my martial arts training. You might think that, as a self defense advocate, I see some value in them. After all, they give me the right to use as much force as I deem necessary, up to and including lethal force, if I’m attacked. That means I don’t have to worry about hurting my attacker “too much.” I’ve gone on the record with my doubts about the “ethic of least harm” for women’s self defense. The idea that we have an obligation to do as little harm as possible to our attackers is appealing in theory, but not always practical. And this approach can do more harm than good if it makes women less likely to resist an assailant, for fear they’ll be punished for fighting back “too hard.”

The problem is that stand your ground laws aren’t really designed to protect women who hit an attacker’s windpipe so hard that he suffocates, or women whose attackers fracture their skulls on the sidewalk when they are knocked down. Instead, they provide justification for people in chance-medley conflicts–avoidable fights–to use deadly force. Florida’s statute (which was written by the NRA and ALEC) legalizes deadly force if someone “reasonably believes it is necessary . . . to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself,” and explicitly states that the person using force “has no duty to retreat.”

We’ve now seen how that plays out. An adult with a gun and a vision of himself as a lone enforcer of justice can follow, accost, and shoot an unarmed teenager, and walk free. A man can confront someone who owes him money, escalate the argument to a physical fight, retreat to his vehicle to obtain a gun, start a four-person gunfight in the middle of the street, finally shooting his debtor dead, and be immune from legal sanction–either criminal or civil.

This would be a bad thing even if stand your ground statutes were applied impartially–which they aren’t–and even if our justice system wasn’t permeated from top to bottom with racism and sexism. Stand your ground laws mean we can start and escalate fights with impunity. We can create as many victims as we like, in the name of defending ourselves. They give those who already favor violence as a solution to life’s problems an advantage over people with self restraint; they make responding with anything other than lethal force pointless. After all, if someone accosts me and I hit him in self defense, what’s to stop him from shooting me, claiming he “feared great bodily harm”? (Trust me, I can hit someone hard enough to cause great bodily harm.)

The logic is pretty stark: If I’m scared enough to hit someone, then I might as well just go ahead and shoot him instead, before he can shoot me. The law says I’m justified either way, so why take the chance?

And thus all my years of training, of learning to assess a dangerous situation and respond wisely, of nurturing compassion for myself and others even in the face of violence, of teaching women that they are worth defending because all humans have worth–all of that goes right down the toilet. Under today’s stand your ground laws, those values are deemed less important than any random asshole’s desire to pick a fight and play cowboy.

And that’s the ground we now stand on: Barren and blood-soaked. As any martial artist can tell you, unrestrained ego and pride leave you with nothing to be proud of, and little that’s worth defending.

I’m all over the place

Online and in real life. Today I have a new column up at McSweeney’s, titled, “We Will Lift Each Other Up”:

Pregnancy is a transition, a time of overlap, when one organism gradually shapes another into something approaching independent existence. There are few clear-cut milestones on this journey; it is at one and the same time a miracle, and a complex, failure-prone mechanical process.

I also have a guest post up at The Rude Pundit, a real privilege, as that blog did much to keep me sane during the Bush presidency. This post, like the newest installment of Bitchslap, is about the fight for women’s reproductive rights in Texas:

A conservative male Texas legislator, contemplating the problem of female sexuality, basically sees himself as a bull–not a tough, range-savvy Longhorn, but a pampered, cosseted beef industry breeding machine, with all the female fecundity of his species as his lawful due. He feels entitled to respectful handling, ready access to his herd, and docile receptacles for his valuable seed, which it is his right and duty to propagate.

Also also, See Jane Write Magazine is running an excerpt from Smile at Strangers today! See Jane Write is a wonderful website based in Birmingham, Alabama, dedicated to writing, wellness, and women’s empowerment. Be sure to read their excellent collection of links to women writing about the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial.

Finally, I’m packing to head northward for the annual National Women’s Martial Arts Federation special training, which will be in  Naperville, IL this year. Looking forward to meeting up with some fellow women martial artists whom I don’t get to see often enough! Keep an eye on my Twitter feed (@SusanSchorn) if you can’t come and want to see what all the excitement is about.