Rory Miller on Lowest Level Force
We can talk about force as a matter of physics (F=MA) and we can talk, in interpersonal relationships, about coercion and manipulation and when and where in that fuzzy land of definitions ‘force’ or even violence, begins.
For the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to use a simple definition: When you make someone do something they do not want to do or make them stop doing what they do want to do, you are using force. By that definition, shooting someone to stop a rape in progress and the look your mother gave you when she saw you reaching for the cookie jar are both examples of force.
If you intend to stop bad guys, whether in self-defense, defense of a third party or under a duty to act as a sworn officer to enforce laws, you will be using force. And you will be expected and required, legally and morally, to use the least force that you safely can.
What does that mean, exactly? It means your mom didn’t shoot you when you reached for the cookie jar. She used a stern look, because that was all that was required. If more was required (and she knows her kids) maybe a word, a shout, a full name or a slap on the hand.
- If your mere presence stops the bad thing from happening, no more force is required or justified. Everyone walks away– with no injuries, no lawsuits, no paperwork.
- If you have to say something, words may hurt feeling but they don’t injure people.
- If you have to tap a shoulder to get attention or help a drunk to the door, no one is hurt, but you have touched someone without permission. It is more intrusive than voice and, in some jurisdictions, qualifies as assault.
- Forcing motion or immobilization—pushing the drunk through the door or pinning an arm to the table—is more intrusive, more clearly force. It removes a persons choice in a way that presence, verbal and touch do not. Presence, verbal and touch ask and influence the person to behave. At this level you have removed the choice, removed autonomy.
- Pain is the next level, a way to get attention when words don’t work. Often an implicit bargaining: “If you do X (or quit doing Y) the pain will stop.”
Pain is clearly more intrusive than simple touch, far more than voice or presence. It almost certainly means paperwork.
- It is still preferable to damage and damage is preferable to deadly force.
Martial arts and most self-defense training concentrate on the four highest levels. This makes sense, since at those levels the stakes are highest. But those are actually the rarest levels, and the ones with the most unintended consequences, like potential criminal charges and civil suits. Most things can be handled at the lowest two levels, but it is a skill and requires practice.
Understanding Bad Behavior
I’m going to make this quick and dirty. Generally, people do bad things in one of two general ways: Socially and Asocially.
Social violence is all about pride and ego and self-esteem. It is about membership in a group (hazing new members, attacking or testing outsiders); achieving or maintaining status in a group (the Monkey Dances over “What you lookin’ at?” or “You talkin’ to my girl?” or all incidents of acting out because feelings or pride were hurt, “You disrespectin’ me?”); enforcing rules (“You apologize to the lady, son”); or establishing territory.
Social violence requires an audience and is all about communication and the show.
Asocial violence is entirely different. The predator has worked on the quickest, easiest and safest way to get what he or she wants, whether that is enough money for drugs or rape. It is not a contest, there is no show and it is about getting stuff, not sending a message. The audience required for social violence magically turns into witnesses for predatory violence.
Understanding your legal status.
A sworn police officer is paid and trained by the people of his or her jurisdiction specifically to intervene in incidents where force may be necessary. The officer, by policy and/or law has a “duty to act.”
A citizen does not. There may be a moral duty to intervene, but there is no legal duty. And thus, there is no automatic assumption of legal protection. If you intervene, if you use any force that involves contact, you do so as a choice. You do so as a private citizen and must take full responsibility for that choice.
Force articulation is too complicated to explain in a short article. Briefly, any time you touch another person in order to control that threats behavior, you must be able to clearly explain why you had no choice:
- Why the bad thing you were trying to stop was worse than the bad thing you did (and force you used will always be looked at in the ‘bad thing’ light. You will need to justify the tap on the shoulder when the subject calls it an assault, or tackling and holding someone until the police arrive as ‘unlawful detainment.’
- Why you could not have successfully used less force.
- Why you had no other options.
As you can see, deadly force (when it is justified) is one of the easiest to articulate: “He had a gun pointed at the kid behind the counter and he said it was time to die so I shot him (* to prevent the murder of an innocent). I was afraid if I tried to yell or do anything else he might shoot me or the kid (*Lower levels of force would have been unsuccessful). I probably could have snuck out or done nothing but the kid would have died *(No other options).
Breaking up a fist-fight between two strangers is rarely as clear and much harder to explain, even though the stakes are lower.
These three concepts: Scaling Force, Violence Dynamics and basic force law are crucial to making and justifying good decisions should you decide to intervene. They also explain why, for most civilians, developing skill at the Presence and Verbal levels is so important.
Unless you are the victim, presence is enough to stop most asocial predation. You are a witness. No matter how much the threat needs money for drugs, he knows if he gets caught he will go through withdrawals.
Burglars, muggers, rapists and robbers do not like witnesses. But they must see you and see you seeing them. Surveillance makes for great intel but prevents nothing.
Is it safe? Not always, especially with strong-arm crimes. Someone already intending to use violence will hesitate less to use it on witnesses. Numbers makes it safer. Civilians will rarely have the uniform that indicates they are backed by numbers unseen. But they have other tactics available.
With social violence, mere presence is far less consistently effective and far more variable. Much depends on the type of social violence and who you are. If you are an attractive woman, young men in a dominance display will be afraid to quit in front of you. If you are a young man, your alert, watchful body language may be interpreted as another challenge. On the other hands, there are some neighborhoods where any grandmother can stop any behavior with a look.
It is very hard to appear on the scene of a social incident and not be interpreted as part of the social incident. We are social creatures.
Some suggestions to maximize presence:
- Not always an option, but be in a group when possible. Groups of witnesses are safer and harder for the bad guy to influence.
- Cell phones. A witness watching and talking on the cell phone may be calling the police and increases the risk.
The essence of de-escalating a predator is based on the fact that predators are trying to do a job safely, effectively and for the maximum gain. In experienced criminals, this is a subconscious but very accurate risk/reward calculation. That gives you three, built-in avenues to alter the situation:
1) Lower the reward. This is the least effective tactic against predation. Poor people get robbed all the time. But in social conflict people are often trying to gain status. If they risk losing status (social violence), people tend to modify behavior. When a young man is trying to be ‘tough’ and he hears his behavior called ‘immature…’
2) Raise the risk. This is what the presence of witnesses does. There are ways to maximize it, however. And ways to draw attention away from you: “Hey, I just saw a guy pull out his cell phone and go around the corner, I think he’s calling the cops,” will influence social or asocial violence. Whether a potential predator is trying to get inside your personal space or you see him walking through a parking lot looking in car windows: “Dude, that’s the third unmarked cop car I’ve seen in the last ten minutes. Is something going on around here?”
3) Raise the doubt. I love this one, but it takes some skill and understanding. People rarely victimize people acting strange, and this goes for social and asocial violence. Strange, in this sense, means unpredictable. Many of the mentally ill are routinely victimized, especially the developmentally disabled, the depressed and the borderline personality disorders. Their behavior is safe and predictable. The guy walking down the street holding a loud argument with people only he can see, on the other hand, tends to be left alone.
It can be more subtle. The person who is calm when he or she should be afraid makes the predator wonder what he has missed. Is the potential victim armed? Not alone? Maybe a predator?
In averting social violence, raising the doubt is simply avoiding the scripts. Almost all types of social conflict are completely predictable. You know the steps. You know if some young guy says, “What are you lookin’ at?” and you reply, “Who’s asking?” the encounter is going in a predictable direction. It is scripted.
Change the script and the other person has to think.
Always know your environment. A predator approaching you in a bar to try to lure you to another place gives you more resources than in an isolated area. You can turn all of the people not paying attention into witnesses with a shout.
Some things to avoid:
Do not make it about you. When intervening, don’t get personal. Do not ever make yourself the bad guy’s problem. You do not want to be a problem that needs solving.
Never challenge his manhood or resolve. There are few stupider things to say than, “You don’t have the guts to shoot me.” Understand that many criminals survive on their reputations. He cannot afford to let word get out that he was punked by a citizen.
Don’t be judgmental. Not for any weird PC reason, but because in any given subculture, including the criminal, only a few people have the right to tell others what is allowed and isn’t. If a co-worker or someone you supervise or a stranger tells you you are doing your job wrong, you will have an entirely different reaction than if your boss said the same thing. A natural part of that reaction would be teaching a lesson about overstepping bounds. When you get judgmental as a stranger, you push the other person into teaching you a lesson, and if his subculture teaches lessons with violence, you may be in for a bad day.
Do not turn it into a social game. If you have decided to intervene, it is to stop behavior. Never to prove who is the better person. Never to prove who is wrong or right. Never to impress an audience.
Boundaries are never negotiations. We are socially wired to turn things into conversations and predators count on that. If you say, “Back off!” the first thing the predator will do is put his hands up like a submissive gesture, smile and look hurt and take a step forward. He will say something like, “Baby why do you have to be like that?” If you try to explain, he will know that your boundaries are meaning less. If you set boundaries, you MUST enforce them. the pattern is
Boundary … Boundary + Penalty … Penalty.
“Back off.” … “Back off or I will yell for the bouncer.” … “GET THIS PERVERT AWAY FROM ME!”
No conversation, no explanation.
As a civilian, intervening to prevent criminal activity is dangerous, both physically and from a liability standpoint.
Unless deadly force is clearly justified, there is always the potential for recriminations on whether the force used was excessive or even necessary in any intervention situation.
I want to be very clear here: Talking doesn’t always work. If talking will get you killed, don’t be talking. If you need to engage, engage and do so with your whole heart.
But anything that can be handled by presence or talking should be handled by presence or talking. It gives a cleaner, safer resolution than any other options. No charges, no pain, no blood, no paperwork.