Last week, I touched on some of things that are very wrong with our society’s response to violence, especially Targeted Violence Events*. I discussed that many responses amount to fruitless worry. I indicated my opinion that all these responses give such events more power than they deserve. In making this my focus, however, I’ve failed to draw attention to a much more important story.
(*Note: Rather than refer to the events at the Columbia Mall as an Active Shooter Situation, it is more accurate to describe it as an incident of Targeted Violence. Both categories share numerous characteristics, the term “Active Shooter”, originally an industry term by law enforcement and other first-responders to describe a specific set of tactical parameters, has been co-opted by some media outlets to sensationalize the event and induce fear and panic among the general population. Because this type of fear-mongering offends me to the core, I’m using a different term.)
On Saturday, January 25, my friend Nick, a Howard County police officer, made entry into the Columbia Mall with countless other police officers. They secured the location quickly because of the valuable training adopted by their agency. Amidst the horror of unknown death and injury, he and others deferred their own safety and security in defense of the rest of the community. I’m proud to know Nick, and I’m proud to have the honor of playing a part in making him safer while he does his job. I’m thankful for Nick.
I have a newer staff member named Courtney. In the days following the shooting, Courtney, who had previously managed a store at the Columbia Mall, designed a plan to offer free or discounted Krav Maga training to those employees who were at the Mall when the shooting occurred. She checked with me several times to make sure it was exactly what would meet the needs of a hurting and scared business community. Courtney is new to Krav Maga. She is not new to putting the safety and the needs of others before her own. I’m thankful for Courtney.
Some of you may know the name Darren Levine. He is an LA County Deputy District Attorney, and US Chief Instructor for Krav Maga Worldwide. Just hours after the shooting, Darren texted me many times. Darren has as much practical, first-hand experience with violence as anyone I’ve ever met. He has prosecuted dozens of murders of police officers in the line of duty. He’s sat with the victims’ families of gang-initiated executions. He’s lent his expertise to everything from racially-targeted shootings to celebrity stalkings to cartel-related abductions that are spilling into the US. As a leading expert in the Justice System, he has received privileged briefings regarding the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting as well as others. He has instructed tens of thousands of people, including me, in life-saving concepts and strategies. Much of my understanding of how to counter targeted violence events comes from Darren’s incredible grasp on responding to violence. But on Saturday, January 25, all he wanted to know was that his friends in Maryland were safe. I’m thankful for Darren.
I’m thankful for three separate members of the clergy who would wish to remain anonymous. They cleared their already-busy schedules on a Sunday afternoon to sit and speak with families who had been at the Columbia Mall during the shooting. I watched as their attention and focus provided healing to a family that had every reason to experience anxiety and uncertainty. I watched them use the weapons at their disposal to fight back against the fear created by these acts of violence. They stood and pushed back in a way few of us can – with humble and well-trained words. These men may not know much about how to disarm an attacker armed with a shotgun. But they disarmed the consequences of such an attack. I stood in awe in a rare moment of self-awareness – while I was asking questions about the family’s response, (“did they run? Did the father pick up his infant daughter first, or his three-year old? Did he recognize the gunfire immediately, or was there a gap in which denial kept him frozen?”), these men simply listened. I was asking all the wrong questions. I’m thankful for the men who showed me unequivocally that while I may have some unique content to offer, it is far from comprehensive when meeting the needs created by such an act of violence.
I’m thankful for Special Agent Andre Simons of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. His tireless research as provided thousands of law enforcement officials the necessary insight to respond to an event of targeted violence. SA Simons was originally the source from which I was educated on the very term “targeted violence”. Further, his research has given many others to identify red-flag behaviors which have led to intervention in possible future situations. I’ve attended multiple conferences during which SA Simons has presented, simply because he is presenting. I’ve spoken to him off-line many times. I’m fascinated by his ability to spend so much time researching very dark events and still maintain a positive outlook and a good sense of humor. He has been integral in pulling back the veil of mystery surrounding perpetrators’ motives and regaining an intelligent sense of control when addressing these types of threats. I’m thankful for Special Agent Simons.
I’m thankful for an amazing military operator who I’ll call “D”. D again called me the day of the shooting. Years ago, he had another service member on his team use a handgun disarm he had learned while training with Krav Maga Maryland. He has seen combat all over the world. He has put his safety at risk for the well-being of others in defense of this nation. And on the day of the shooting, his concern was for the members of the community who had contributed to his safety and the safety of the men he leads. D has seen far more violence and danger than I can comprehend. Yet with all his combat experience, he did not take lightly what had happened in Columbia. Rather, he responded with care and attention. I’m thankful for D.
I’m thankful for all the mall employees and managers who took on a sheepdog role even within their own stores. They did not know that the shooter was likely dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Still, they responded with decisiveness and compassion – two characteristics that don’t often go together. They pulled subordinate employees, shoppers, anyone in need, into their store. They pulled the gates down on their stores, locking themselves and anyone else into the back of their store. To do this, they would have had to remain at the front of their stores for longer than everyone else. Like at the Clackamas County shooting in 2012 wherein this quick action saved lives, they brought a sense of calm and safety to the most unconventional of jurisdictions – the stores they managed. I’m thankful for these managers.
I’m thankful to last week’s readers, who in good faith shared the article in hopes that the information would make their loved ones safer and inspire them to take action to increase the safety of those whom with they shared.
I’m thankful to those who, soon after, went out shopping at the Mall anyway. I have another good friend and Expert-Level Krav Maga instructor. She is well-equipped to respond in a violent encounter because of her hard work, dedication, and personal sacrifice. She needed to go shopping for her day job in which she contributes to others’ safety in many other ways. She said the mall was a ghost town. But I was proud of her that day. Because of her training and her mindset, towards which I’ve had the honor of contributing, it didn’t occur to her to not go about her daily business. That included a trip to the Mall. I’m thankful that she’s chosen to be the kind of person for whom fear is never a dictator of actions.
I’m thankful for my staff at Krav Maga Maryland. Every single member of our team recognized that our organization had a unique perspective on such violence. Our senior instructors right down to our front desk staff and everyone in between is dedicated to proactively instilling safety and strength in the lives of everyone who comes through our door. There was spirited disagreement as to how to best respond to offer training to the community. How soon should we plan something? At what time? How long? Should we charge for the training or make it free? What techniques should we teach? The one thing no one disagreed about was that we had both an obligation and a privilege to be a part of the solution. And so we have set ourselves about the task of doing so. On Saturday, March 8, we will be hosting a seminar open to the public to train individuals to respond to such a situation.
What I see in each of these responses is a selfless dedication to the well-being of others. I see people using their talents and skills to minimize the exact things that predatory behavior introduces into our lives. That is the story that ought to be highlighted here. By following the examples listed here, fear and anger are replaced by thankfulness and pride. In this, the predators do not win.