Can we be heroes? Jamaicans are told to summon courage

After the savage stabbing of a schoolboy last week, some Jamaicans have been quick to second-guess the actions of those who were present at the incident, and offer advice on how things could be different next time around. I prefer to be a little less sanguine about whether people can do IN A CRISIS what they are not trained for, or prepared to do, normally. Practice makes perfect, they say, so without practice the chances are that when you try to do something, it will not go as expected. Think about that simple jump over an obstacle. Ooops!

When we are told about armed attacks, many people immediately rush to think about robbers and villains out to take your possessions. My own experience is not universal, but illustrates how the attack may just be one part of a different set of incidents. I’ve trawled my memories to help.

  • A motorcyclist and passenger were cut off by a driver on a busy road in central London. The rider, complained to the driver when the traffic stopped for some red lights. The driver exited his car, went to the trunk, pulled out a crowbar and started to hit the rider over his head with it. Fortunately, the rider had on his helmet. My friends and I, jumped out of our car, as did a few other motorists, and went to confront the driver. He put away the ‘weapon’. The police were called. Traffic was at a standstill. The driver was arrested. BUT. My friends and I were in our late teens, headed to a cricket match, and full of excitement. We were all athletes, mainly sprinters. We had been in fights before (though I was not known as a fighter :)–it’s complicated) and frequented places where ‘a rumble’ was not uncommon. I cannot vouch for the other people. We all agreed quickly on what we thought was the right thing to do. I remember being shocked but not fearful, probably because I thought my group of friends was solid.
  • A west Indian woman tenant in my parents’ house in west London drew a kitchen knife on my mother, whom she accused of ‘working Obeah’ on her. My father was out at work. My mother tried to reason with the woman, but she just became more aggressive. I was about 14. I tried to reason with her, and got little joy. We were in a stand-off in the kitchen. I called the police and they came quickly, with medical staff, subdued the woman, who was taken away in a straitjacket. (FYI, my father had worked as a mental nurse at Bellevue Hospital in east Kingston. He told me, and I had seen it, that mental patients/mad people can have extraordinary power, and that to tackle them when they are deranged can be shocking because of what they can do in the moment, like withstand pain,  execute amazing physical acts, etc. So, tackling a mad person can be a dive into a dark and dangerous pool.) I remember being scared that my mother would be stabbed, and trying to see how I could grab the flailing knife.
  • A friend told me how his girlfriend attacked him in a rage over something (let’s say it was another woman, just to keep the story simple). He protested his innocence, but she proceeded to pummel him with punches and kicks, and implements that lay around their apartment, including breakables. Eventually, she was exhausted and collapsed on the floor, sobbing. Bloody, my friend hugged her, and they talked and calm prevailed. They later married 🙂
  • I was playing football in a men’s league in Washington DC. A foul occurred. The referee ejected the player, who left the field, and went to his car. He came back brandishing a knife and headed for the referee cursing at him in Italian (the team was all Italians). The referee stood his ground, and was quickly surrounded by players from my team; the Italians seemed conflicted, but tried to reason with their irate teammate. He wouldn’t be calmed, but in a lull, he was grabbed, and disarmed. Police were called. Charges were laid by the referee. Case went to court. I remember being filled with outrage that this player had so little self-control that he’d comprise all of his team just to get some piece of revenge for his perceived wrong. But, rage often flows irrationally, as he showed. Tackling irate and irrational people is not simple.
  • I was refereeing a men’s league match in Washington DC/Maryland. An incident occurred on an adjacent field. Players were seen trading blows and kicks (two teams of Latin Americans were playing, one from Honduras, the other Nicaraguan). It seemed that the dispute was about more than football–hope you know you central American political history. One player ran to the car park and came back brandishing a firearm. People ducked for cover. Someone called the police, and squad cars came quickly. No one from our game went over to see what was going on. We heard from the referee of the match, later, in private, what seemed to have gone on, and how he was literally s******g in his pants!

All of that is just to say that there’s no one incident that can ask us to draw on our courage in a flash. How each person reacts will be different. Without quick coordination and agreement, a group can be as helpless as a single person.

My young daughter started karate when she was about 8 years old, and progressed well, to be a purple belt. She learned how to make some devastating kicks and punches. I still managed to surprise her and knock her down, at will. Why? She didn’t expect her Daddy to attack her. The element of surprise, and shock that comes from being attacked by ‘a friend’ can be disarming. Dealing with strangers needed quick and decisive actions. I can’t say who has that ability. I also went to karate classes, after my daughter, and remember just two or three moves that I think I can still execute.

I have a friend who is a black belt in Taekwando; he keeps a Samurai sword under his bed and one under the bed in the guest room (I know). When there is a noise at night in my house, I’m usually the only one who hears. I’m happy to reach for the cutlass under my bed, when the alarm goes off at 2am, and I rehearse the one strike that I may get to make–a sweeping upward blow–as I proceed downstairs. Hoping. Praying. As a Pacifist, I’m entitled to self-defence 🙂

I have lady friends who carry pepper spray, but were paralysed by fear when attacked and never managed to get the spray out. Running and screaming took over, and worked in their cases.

Being in crowded spaces with strangers is not necessarily the right environment to get quick group action. Being the one, brave soul at the back of a crowded bus, when the driver is being attacked can be more than frustrating, when others are just looking on, or worse looking away.

In a world where people can take umbrage for what seems trifling, knowing when one is in danger can be difficult. Who would have thought that a knife would be pulled on a plane because a passenger was upset at another trying to pass to go to the bathroom or blows traded over a reclining seat?

In a world where we are taught more about non-violent ways of resolving conflict, might some of our instincts to fight be dulled? I don’t know, I’m just thinking.