Friday, 15 April 2016

Practical Defence Against "Random" Killers?

It's Friday night and I had planned to take the midnight train up to Miaoli to try and catch a brief window of sunshine tomorrow morning at Mingde reservoir and possibly Emei Lake too. However, someone has asked me for help tomorrow morning with something important. It happens to be in my own interest to help and I also have alternative options for this weekend... so no train tickets this time. I hope the weather improves for next weekend (it's been raining heavily all week).

In the meantime, I want to comment on something that's been at the back of my mind for the past couple of weeks.

When the MRT knife attacks occurred two years ago, my first blog post on the subject was to the practical question of how to make Taipei's MRT system safer. In all the politicized blame attribution that swept through the media following Cheng Chieh's (鄭捷) crimes, that question got left behind. I listed four things I thought could be considered: seating layout, emergency operating procedures, emergency facilities available to passengers and the content and design of public notices. Since that poor little girl met her gruesome end up in Taipei just over two weeks ago, the media commentary has followed a similar pattern: politicized blame attribution, albeit with some ridiculous pretenses to neutrality attached. Whilst most of that commentary has focused on what the government could or should be doing to ... somehow... prevent these monsters from coming into existence in the first place, no attention has been given to the more practical question of what we can do to defend ourselves successfully against these so-called "random killers".

Why is that?

Another editorial was published in the Taipei Times today on the subject of "random killers", this time by one Chiang Sheng (江盛) who is described as "an attending physician in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mackay Memorial Hospital." Although Chiang describes the killing as "random" and Wang Ching-yu (王景玉) as a "random killer", he then goes on to mention several typifying characteristics of such killers, apparently oblivious to the irony that this description would render them non-random...
"Random killers tend to be long-term victims of bullying. They spend most of their time at home, without a job and estranged from people. Oftentimes, they are on drugs and have displayed violence before. They are usually alone when they commit crimes, targeting women and children. Wang’s profile matches that of a typical random killer."
If the targeting of women and children - as opposed to burly young lads - is actually a common and typifying aspect of these crimes (as I suspect it is) then this precludes any description of them as "random". Clearly a more illuminating description is called for, such as "opportunistic".

In regard to how media reporting and discussion of these crimes could be substantively improved, avoidance of clearly incorrect modifiers like "random" is just the tip of the iceberg. Every media report of the killing I read lacked any illuminating descriptive detail of the physical and social environment in the moments during which the monster was able to bypass the mother and sever the little girl's head from her shoulders. Were the mother and her child in a defensible space, or a vulnerable, open or transitional area? Was there an alternative route to their destination that may have made any attack somewhat more difficult due to spatial obstacles or the greater proximity of other people? We know that the crime took place on a street, and there were a few context-limited photographs focusing on the dead body and severed head, but there was no indication of what starting point and direction the monster likely approached from or what the distance was between the mother and her child, or how far away the bystanders who eventually intervened were, or what possible obstacles lay between the child and the monster as he began his approach. In short the reporters did a very poor job of informing the public as to the situational parameters in which the crime occurred.

And so we must ask the question... did Wang Ching-yu (王景玉) choose his target not just because she was a three year old girl accompanied only by her mother, but also because she was occupying a space whose physical and social dimensions afforded him an "easy" attack?

Perhaps successful defence against monsters like Wang Ching-yu (王景玉) or Cheng Chieh (鄭捷) is, in its principles, little different to successful defence against robbery. If that is the case then perhaps such defence can be learned by carefully applying the environmental psychology of situational awareness and tactical positioning that typically circulates among thoughtful U.S. firearms owner communities.

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