Staying Safe In A Violent Crowd
by Bob McCauslin
As Dylan wrote in one of his lyrics; “The times, they are a changing…”
Watch the news and you will eventually see some type of protest. When things work well, a peaceful exercising of our Citizen’s 1st Amendment is the only result. Unfortunately, too often over the past few years we have seen protests that began peacefully erupt into full-scale riots where people all get brutalized and property gets vandalized, looted, and torched.
The best scenario is one where the protest is pre-arranged and permitted properly, a police presence for crowd control is assigned, and everyone does their job peacefully. Unfortunately, in today’s world, these protests sometimes grow spontaneously from anything from the most innocent of gatherings to a flash mob planned to cause mayhem. In these cases, police presence may not arrive until after they have organically grown large, emotional and (putting it mildly) troublesome.
The vast majority of the time, police dispatched to these spontaneous crowd events are riot-control trained, can be expected to arrive relatively fast, and get then keep things under control. However, any protest can sometimes turn into a full-scale riot when tension builds and emotions boil over and that flash point may arrive before the police presence.
If you get caught in the middle of one of these, the situation can rapidly change from innocent shopping excursion or standing in a peaceful protest, to a life-threatening situation, simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While violence is not isolated to only cities/urban areas, crowd violence of this nature almost always occurs in these areas simply due to the size of the available population, so this article will focus entirely on cities.
What should you do in case you get caught in the midst of all this chaos? We at Trading Post in the Woods have repeatedly informed you of the dangers of being ’frozen in fear’ when caught by events that you have never considered before. This could easily be one of those. Instead, here are our best tips on how to stay safe, or get to safety if you find yourself in a violent crowd/riot.
1. Research the Location/Venue of Any Planned Excursion in Advance
This is the best preventive security practice measure you can train yourself to perform habitually. As the adage goes; ‘Forewarned is forearmed.’
Most cities have an events calendar that you can look up which will have all licensed events listed. When planning a trip to a city or metropolitan areas, one easy check to make is to look up the local community calendar to see if there is a planned protest event in the area of your excursion, or to learn the route of any protest that you are traveling there to in which to participate.
Memorize the entrance and exit points, emergency evacuation protocols, parking areas and other facilities in reference to where you will be sitting or marching if in a specific building or stadium. If the event is a planned march, get the street route and learn the major side streets and where they lead. Do this on line prior to going to the event, but verify through direct observation when you get there. Just because you are going for a sight-seeing or shopping excursion rather than a specific event, don’t get complacent. Continue to pay attention to what is going on around you at all times.
A few keys questions to consider:
Are all exits actually clear?
Which is closest, and which is second closest to your location?
If there were to be smoke, tear gas, or something else that prohibited seeing these exits, would you be able to get yourself and any who came with you safely to both exits by counting chairs, rails, etc?
For excursions what are the surrounding streets and where do they lead?
2. Make Preparing Part of Your Life
Waiting until you find yourself in an unlikely situation to even consider your options is the best way to find yourself overwhelmed and without a clue what to do. Advanced preparation and training as part of your annual routine give you knowledge and skills that may come in useful during any emergency.
Many think of ‘preparing’ as unnecessary because ‘it will never happen to me so I don’t want to spend the money or take the time…’ or they are afraid of what their friends, family or neighbors will think of them. A simple question: do you buy auto, health, dental, and home insurance because you are 100% positive you will have an accident, major debilitating disease, need a denture, or have a tree fall on your roof? Of course not! You buy them just in case you have one of these or similar events happen.
The same should be your reason for getting your important papers together, having a freeze dried/dehydrated food supply, self-defense training, or any of the other preparations we can guide you through. It is better to be trained and have survival skills you do not have to use than to need them and not have them.
There is a technical term for people in the latter category; we call them ‘victims.’
3. Always Pre-arrange a Meeting Place and Ensure EVERYone Knows It!
No matter how hard you try, there is a reasonably high chance your group may get separated. If that happens, everyone needs to know the planned safe location to meet up, how long you’ll wait there, and a follow-on/alternate location in case you cannot stay in the first and/or it becomes unsafe.
Additionally, it is smart planning to decide ahead what you will do in the case that a member of your group does not show up at your chosen locations and how long you will wait on them before taking those actions.
4. Always Have Your Gear on You
‘Your gear’ has different meanings to different people. The gear you take depends on your carry habits and legal status of weaponry and survival gear.
I’m not advocating walking on metropolitan city streets, or even going to a protest, with a fully-loaded survival backpack. Just raise your alertness level a notch and ensure you consider defensive posture when going into a crowd situation.
One thing that should always, Always, ALWAYS be in your carry gear is a legal, personal, defensive weapon that you have been properly trained to employ. Note that I said ‘legal.’ As a licensed weapon owner, and instructor, my choice is to exercise my 2nd Amendment rights at all legal times/locations. Still, there are times the law says I am not allowed to carry, so I chose to have been trained in other items as well. Knives, batons, ballistic pens, tactical flashlights, etc.; all provide options to cover every eventuality.
Remember: you are responsible to learn/know the legal statutes covering any defensive weapon and be trained in proper use. Not doing so places you in jeopardy if you ever choose or are forced into its use. Worse, not being trained places your loved ones in a potentially dangerous position whenever you have said weapon on your person if you are not properly trained.
5. Stick to the Edge of the Crowd Whenever it is Your Choice
When you decide to go to a rally/protest, the safest place is at the edges. The leaders will almost always be giving speeches for the cause at the center of the crowd. If there are agitators in play, they will usually be about one tier of participation out from the leaders, whipping up a crowd’s emotions in support of every incendiary word spoken. This is NOT where you want to find yourself if the event goes south and devolves into violence against the perpetrators of the cause du jour.
You are safest at the edges and it is FAR easier to leave from there. If you find yourself in the middle, as soon as your mind is made up to leave, begin working your way to the edges and do so.
6. Be Like a Duck; Calm On the Surface
In every emergency situation, your body will begin to pump adrenaline in preparation for you to exercise the body’s automatic ‘fight or flight’ response. A few tell-tales are increased respiration, a ‘thumping heart,’ and your voice rises in pitch due to tightening of the core. You must resist this so that you do not react without thought.
A few techniques that may help you retain calm control are to intentionally breathe deep and slow, and to lower your voice to give a calming influence to those around you. Remember that they will also be reacting to the same stimuli but without your training from #2 above.
If you are in an out-of-control violent crowd/riot scenario, it will take constant effort to meticulously bring yourself (and those with you) to a safe place out of harm’s way. Remaining calm and making good choices to each new decision is critical to your efforts to do this.
7. Pay Attention to What Your Gut is Telling You
Science tells us that our eyes see and our brain registers what’s going on around us faster than our brain processes those inputs into conscious thought. We call this either our ‘gut instinct,’ intuition, or simply the nebulous ‘feelings.’
In the instance we’re using today, whether you have chosen to be part of a protest that spontaneously grows out of control, or you find yourself in one through bad timing, you need to pay close attention to your gut.
When you get that uneasy feeling about how things are progressing or what is happening around you, it’s time to begin your exit strategy immediately. If an individual or a group of individuals make you uneasy, place distance and other participants between you and the one(s) causing your discomfort and again, begin your exit strategy immediately.
The worst option you can choose is to convince yourself you are ‘just being silly,’ talk yourself out of leaving, and stay. No cause or movement is worth your safety.
8. Leave When the Situation Changes
If you are intentionally at a protest and it begins to get emotionally charged, leave as fast as you can. You can always read the rest of the speeches in tomorrow’s paper, or watch them on the news later.
Protests that grow into riots tend to do so pretty quickly. Angry grumbling is a frequent precursor to worse things, so when you hear it beginning it is time to leave.
Remember that trained agitators are dispatched to many protests to ‘whip the crowd up’ into confrontation and conflict. Being in the middle of it if/when they become successful is NOT where you want to be, so leave as soon as you sense a negative mood change.
9. Avoid Confrontation In The Crowd
While you are following your predetermined path, or seeking a way out, do not lock eyes with anyone because it is usually seen as a challenge, and even more so when emotions are at a frenzy.
Many experts recommend keeping your head down to assist you to appear less confrontational to anyone else; I do not. I suggest you ‘keep your head on a swivel’ to the maximum extent possible to assist you charting the safest path around individuals or groups that appear to be looking for trouble.
While there is a good chance that you may get pushed around or even receive a fist blow in a tightly packed crowd that is becoming surly, always take extra pains to overcome the urge to retaliate. Your most pressing need is to keep moving towards the exit, not to assert your macho.
10. Go with the Flow and Angle towards the Edge
When a crowd begins moving, it is best to move with it as you angle out from the center. Going against the flow puts you in a position of likely direct conflict with someone. Your objective here is to draw as little interest from those around you as possible in order to completely exit this crowd as fast as possible. Moving the same general direction is what everyone expects so you do not draw unwanted attention. This is GOOD.
Going with the flow is best even when the crowd is moving the exact opposite to the direction you want to go. It is better to have a longer loop back to your desired location without conflict than to get in a direct confrontation because you tried to go against the flow and bumped into someone that is looking for a fight.
If you don’t accept that on the surface, think about riding an escalator. If you realize you don’t want to go to the second floor after you got on the escalator and you are halfway between floors, what do you do? You can turn around and try to walk down the up escalator, elbowing aside everyone that got on after you, or you can ride it to the next floor and then get back on the down escalator. Which is most likely to get you punched in the nose and which is easier?
11. Prepare for the Crowd to Get Out of Hand
Crowd dynamics are both highly complex AND extremely simple. At the simple end, you can count on the lowest common denominator to rule in mob mentality. At the complex end, very good, moral people may demonstrate the worst possible behaviors imaginable.
Whatever self-defense tool you have put in your gear, always remember it is a last resort. The simple act of making it visible may clear you a path, of cause the crowd to swarm you based on group dynamics. If you choose to deploy it, do so to the minimum safe extent, but do not use it as simply a threat. Again, training is paramount. (Your training is well documented, right? If you end up going to court over it, your records will likely be needed by your Defense Attorney.)
The best outcome possible is to never have to use your self-defense weapon because you never get caught in the bad situation described by following all of these tips before you get caught!
12. Avoid Bottleneck Areas
If you find yourself in a crowd, going with the flow while angling to get to the edges, redouble your efforts to exit if you find yourself being funneled into an area where a lot of people will have to pass through an opening smaller than the general size of the crowd (think of an hourglass funneling a large pile of sand down to a few grains at a time dropping into the bottom chamber). If you properly prepared and researched the venue per #1 above, you should have a reasonably good idea where they are – entrance gates for an indoor venue or crowd-control barricades for a street march are a couple of examples.
13. Avoid Law Enforcement; But Follow All Commands Without Delay If Made
Always remember that a crowd control police officer involved in a situation that has become violent does NOT know you. S/he doesn’t have any idea whether you are a violent threat or an innocent bystander. They have been trained to treat each individual they encounter according to protocols that protect both themselves and those around you first.
The farther you are from a direct interaction with these police officers the better for you. However, if you find yourself interacting with them, you need to remember the following:
Do what you are told, immediately and exactly as told.
It isn’t personal, the officer is following the same protocol they use for everyone to maintain safety of all.
Do not make any motions with your hands unless directed to do so – they almost certainly will be perceive as threatening
You may be handcuffed – don’t get indignant. Remember B above