Trayvon Martin was minding his own business before he crossed paths with George Zimmerman. After that . . . the jury reckoned George Zimmerman acted in self defense when he shot the Florida teen. Since the case first came to national attention, observers have maintained George Zimmerman could have avoided the entire incident if he’d simply stayed in his car. True dat. Also true: Martin was a stranger in the neighborhood, on a dark night, wearing a hoodie. His skin color may or may not have been relevant to his ultimate fate. Be that as it may, I’d simply like to point out that your safety (as a concealed carrier) often depends on how others perceive you . . .
Let me be clear: you have the right to be in any public place at any time for any legal reason. But that doesn’t mean you should be in certain places at certain times. It comes back to the rabbi’s dictum: avoid stupid people in stupid places doing stupid things. Think of George Zimmerman as a stupid person. See what I mean?
You’re doing nothing wrong. But a stupid person might (let’s go ahead and use the word) assume you’re up to no good. Mostly because you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time (according to them). You might also look threatening (to them). So they might initiate an aggressive action that you consider threatening. You respond. They respond. Shit gets out of control.
I’m not saying that’s what happened in the George Zimmerman case. But it can happen. And, lest we forget, the police are out there, somewhere. They’re actively looking for troublemakers. Some of these officers may have had an extremely unpleasant experience with a criminal who started out doing nothing very much exactly where you’re doing nothing very much.
There are three basic rules for avoiding this type of life-threatening “misunderstanding” with strangers:
1. Avoid stupid places
As How I Met Your Mother instructed us back in ’06, nothing good happens after 2am. Why walk down a deserted city street at some ungodly hour of the morning? You’re a target for muggers and you could be seen as a mugger. In fact, everywhere other than home sweet home (yours or someone else’s) becomes a stupid place at ‘o dark thirty.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not recommending agoraphobia. But if you’re a stranger in a strange land it pays to remember to stay on the beaten path. At the very least be aware that you may not be a welcome sight for natives who know the lay of the land a lot better than you do. Speaking of which . . .
2. Consider how you look to others
Gun guys constantly exhort armed American to maintain situational awareness. Scan for potential threats and escape routes. Have a plan. Be ready to implement it. The Zimmerman case reminds us to add another element to that mix: how other people see us. Do I look like a potential robber when I enter the local Stop ‘N Rob for some Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea?
I don’t. I’m a 54-year-old white male with cop-short hair and preppy attire, frequently accompanied by my nine-year-old daughter. But I do look around the room a lot more than other folks do. Stupid, traumatized and/or paranoid people could misinterpret that behavior as “shifty” and react accordingly (i.e. inappropriately).
I’m not saying you should change your look to make people around you feel more comfortable (so they don’t shoot or otherwise assault you). Neck tattoo? Biker beard? Mohawk? It’s a free country and all that. Just be aware that others are aware of how you look. Factor that into your level of situational awareness. Ask yourself: do I blend?
3. Adjust your behavior
You and two friends are walking down the sidewalk at night. A single woman is heading towards you. You and your crew are under no obligation to cross the street to make her feel safer. But you can if you want to. You can also keep your hands in plain view, attempt to make eye contact (i a good way), nod your head and smile. You might even say hello in a cheerful, “we’re not thugs” tone of voice.
It’s not about political correctness. Consider this: the female stranger might be armed. And genetically predisposed to earning an Irresponsible Gun Owner of the Day award. Or she might be a survivor of an assault who decides to “play it safe” and phone the local po-po, who decide that it’s a lovely night for a Stop ‘N Frisk (true story and a real PITA when you’re carrying a concealed weapon).
As the Zimmerman trial proved, legally armed Americans are innocent until proven guilty. In theory. In practice many if not most people are hard-wired to instantly judge others for their threat potential. In the wrong circumstances they can reach the wrong conclusion about your intentions. Again, I’m not saying that’s what happened to Trayvon Martin. But it’s something to consider when you’re out and about, especially if you’re carrying a firearm.