Tuesday, January 31, 2017

ANS -- What I Decided to Do If It Happens

Here is something from Brad Hicks on the Muslim ban in the US.  It's interesting to see his thinking on what he would do if he saw his Muslim neighbors being taken away.  

What I Decided to Do If It Happens

If it happens, I won't freeze up, because I rehearsed.

Before I get to the main subject of this essay, let me tell you a little bit about myself, in order to provide some context for my remarks. Ask anyone who's seen me anywhere near the scene of a crisis or an alarm, and they'll tell you that I don't freeze up. Other people freeze up; in what seems to them like a tiny fraction of a second, I take action.

It wasn't until I read a lot of Phillip Zimbardo that I realized why that is: other people don't rehearse. I rehearse. I learned, as a tiny little child and victim of non-stop violent bullying, that I had to rehearse, because if I waited to start planning until the violence began, I wasn't going to make it.

Then I lucked into a giant pile of Cold War era nuclear war preparedness pamphlets, which I loved just as science fiction, but they changed something subtle in me. I didn't have to be encouraged to take part in tornado drills or fire drills, not any more, even as early as 3rd grade or so. I knew, from the bottom of my heart, that there are many things that can go wrong. They probably won't go wrong. But if you don't prepare for them, and they do go wrong, you'll screw them up.

Tornadoes have become my go-to example, because I live on one corner of the map marked Tornado Alley. Lots of people that I know ignore tornado alarms, because, they've learned from long experience, they're "always" false alarms. In this town, someone who hears a tornado siren and says, "there probably isn't a tornado and even if there is, it's probably not going to hit me" is almost certainly right. Even when there is a tornado, only at most a few dozen of the city's tens of thousands of homes will be hit. The odds are way in their favor.

But if you wait until the tornado is touching down a few houses away, it's too late for you to take shelter. We actually had a really vivid example of this a few years ago, when a tornado ripped through a broad swath downwind from the airport, wrecking dozens of houses. One guy who was out driving in it nearly died when a building got blown over onto his car. He saw that the tornado was heading for his neighborhood, so he called his girlfriend and yelled at her to get into the basement, right now. When she came to, she had broken legs and a concussion — she'd waited too long, and as she was halfway down the basement stairs, the house fell on her. And because wreckage and downed power lines had closed off her neighborhood to even ambulance traffic, she had to crawl to the nearest hospital. In an interview with the local paper, she counted herself among the lucky ones, and she's right. She counted on nothing bad happening. And suffered for it. And nearly died.

I don't assume that every building I'm in will be hit by a tornado. I will probably never be hit by a tornado. But every building I spend more than a few minutes in, I look for and memorize the route to a basement or a sheltered inner room. I don't assume that my kitchen or my furnace will catch fire. They probably won't. But in every place I've lived for the last twenty five years or more, I've had a fire extinguisher bolted to the wall in the kitchen, and I've memorized at least two routes out of every room. I also always have at least a pair of slippers near me no matter where I am, no matter what I'm doing. And speaking of that last one, I didn't assume, during the Ferguson riot aftermath, that police would chase protesters into my neighborhood and tear gas the whole block. But when they got within a mile of here, I had a bag hanging on the doorknob with my essential medicines and I kept my comfortable walking shoes on at all time.

If you wait until the tornado is about to hit to plan your safety route, you won't make it. If you wait until the fire breaks out to buy a fire extinguisher, the house will burn down; if you also waited until then to plan your escape route, you'll burn with it. If you wait until the riot over-runs your neighborhood to pack your bug-out bag, you won't self-evacuate in time. Those things will probably never happen to you. But if you're prepared and if you rehearse, you can stop worrying about "what if they do?"

So Let's Talk about Trump's Immigration Order

I had a rough weekend, mentally and emotionally. There are two businesses on my block that I know with great confidence are owned by Muslim refugee families. There's another one that I suspect of being Muslim-refugee-owned on my corner. If I'm right, I can see three of them from my usual bus stop. There are another two within half a mile. So is the Islamic Center of St. Louis.

The order banning travel back into the United States by green-card holders, the actual forced deportation of green-card holders who happened to be at airports when the order came down, shocked me to my core. These are legal permanent residents, the most vetted of the vetted. Most of them fled here because they were victims of terrorism; not a few of them were let in because they were our allies against terrorism. Barring them from traveling to the United States is, as multiple courts have reminded the administration over the weekend, flat-out illegal. Not only was that illegal order followed, at least some customs officials are still obeying that illegal order, even in the face of federal court orders to the contrary.

But because I'm the kind who prepares, because I'm the kind who rehearses, this didn't just shock my conscience. It left me feeling shockingly unprepared. If lawful permanent residence doesn't mean anything to Trump's enforcers, then I could, any time I'm at the bus stop, see Immigration and Customs Enforcement trucks sweep down on one or more of the businesses within half a block of that bus stop and start rounding up families.

And as the god is my witness, I hadn't rehearsed for that. I had no idea what I was going to do. And having read Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect, specifically the chapter on how humans decide what to do when surprised, I knew what that meant. If I didn't make up my mind what to do and rehearse it, I would freeze up. Then I would look around to see what other people were doing, and other people would be, like me, frozen up. So I would try to remember when I've been in this situation and do what got me rewarded in the past or do the opposite of what got me punished, but I've never been in this exact situation before. If I were normal, what I would do next is "what I'm told" by anybody who looks like an authority figure. (Fortunately, as the Man of Concrete's son, I'm inoculated against that. My dad would actually beat you if you used the "I was following orders" excuse and somebody could have been hurt.) Failing that, I'd try to remember some story of someone who looked like me who was in a similar situation and was the hero and do what they did in the story — but by that time, it'd be too late already. So forget about the next step, actually try to think through the situation and plan a rational response; by that time the ICE trucks with their illegally seized victims would be gone.

It probably isn't going to happen. If it does happen, it's not statistically likely to happen in front of me, I don't spend that much time standing in front of Muslim refugee-owned places. (Maybe I should.) But if it did happen, I was going to screw it up.

What Are the Options, and What Did I Decide?

As someone who has no real dependents, and who long-ago checked off every item on his bucket list, and who is a white middle class old guy, I have a lot of freedom of action and only a couple of constraints: I do not want to do anything that makes it worse for the victims. And I want the people who come after me to be proud of whatever I did. Those principles guided me through the AIDS crisis. They guided me through the Satanic Panic. They'll guide me now.

I could do nothing. I could look away, I could walk away. I'm white, I'm not a Muslim, I'm an old man, I have that privilege.

When I brought up the question in the neighborhood Facebook group, "what are we as a neighborhood going to do," I got 70+ expressions of solidarity and no concrete plans other than "I'm trying to stop it from happening." But we have two people who keep repeating the same administration propaganda line: it's not going to happen, and it's okay that it's going to happen because they might deserve it. Except for the very rare occasional bigot, Tower Grove South loves its refugee neighbors. Looking away, walking away, doing nothing, is siding with the bigots. I can't be proud of that. So I won't do it.

I could try to use force to rescue the family that the feds are attacking. But no matter how I game that out in my head, no matter how my mental rehearsal goes, there is no way that this ends well. Even if I were to inspire enough other people on the street to join me, there's no way the family being rounded up could escape, nowhere for them to hide that the feds wouldn't find them.

And it would probably go worse than that. If I assault federal officers who are, in their deluded or self-preserving minds, engaged in a counter-terrorism sweep, the guns are definitely coming out. I could get shot. Which is no big deal; if that could result in that family's escape, I'd pay that price. But once the guns start going off, the victims could get shot. Kids could get shot. That's a risk I can't take. It's too likely to end in a slaughter. I won't have any part of that on my conscience. I can't be proud of that. So that's not an option.

I could non-violently resist. And that's a tempting option. If I started carrying handcuffs when I go out, I could be ready to handcuff myself to the vehicle, so they'd have to cut me loose before they could drive off. If enough of us blocked the vehicles, we might buy time for reporters or lawyers to show up and shame the feds out of seizing this family. It might work. It probably wouldn't get anybody killed. I'm still thinking about it. But … it's a lonely corner, most of the time, no more than half a dozen people waiting for a bus, usually fewer. Even if they all rushed in with me, even they were all willing to endure "pain compliance techniques" to buy time for the Muslim family, I just don't see it being enough time. If I think it'll work, I'm ready to do it. But I just don't see it working.

I can witness. And dear god, that doesn't seem like enough, but it has helped others. I have a camera phone. I never use Facebook Live; if I were to go FB Live, it would catch at least some attention. When the cops forcibly take my phone away (and the odds are that they will), if I don't smash it, they'll use it to delete the video — but we've seen, in the last year, that when the cops illegally delete FB Live video, Facebook can restore it from backup. I can't shame the feds into refusing an order to expel or incarcerate the innocent Muslims in front of me, at least, I probably can't. But with the video I produce before I get beat up and my phone seized or smashed, maybe you can shame them into not seizing the next family.

So I'm practicing and rehearsing that. I probably won't need to, just as I probably won't have to dig myself out from under tornado rubble or fight a kitchen fire or flee from a riot on a moment's notice. But if it does happen, I'm ready. So now, after a weekend of fear and fret, I can stop worrying.

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