Sunday, March 20, 2011

GA: Rely on yourself, not the cops, for protection

Who exactly, I'd like to know, is the Atlanta Police Department protecting?

On March 2, a friend and I were harassed and assaulted by a man in Little Five Points who was either out of his mind, on drugs or both. He tailed us through the neighborhood, threatening to kill us, and eventually hit my friend on the shoulder with a skateboard, hard enough to leave a lump the size of a softball.

After we'd gotten to safety and calmed down, I called 911 to report the incident. I was put on hold. When I finally got through to a real human being, several minutes, I might add, after the assailant had run off, she asked for a description and hung up after I gave it. No officers were sent to the scene.

The next day, I had an appointment at traffic court, which is located a few blocks from a high-crime area of the city. Still shaken from the night before and not about to take any chances, I brought my Taser with me.

But when I attempted to enter the courthouse, I was told my weapon would be confiscated. When I asked if they could hold it for me at the entrance, a courtesy they extended to my bike lock, which was also in my backpack, they told me I was breaking the law.

At this point, I broke down crying and explained the situation from the night before. The officers were unyielding, berating me and telling me my only option was to hide the weapon outside and retrieve it after my appointment. This seemed extremely unsafe — why hide a weapon in a bad neighborhood where it could easily be stolen and possibly used against an innocent person? — but they told me it was my only option and said they would arrest me if I continued my behavior. Without a choice, I handed over my Taser and went to my appointment.

I should clarify that isn't my intent to vilify all police officers. In fact, I spoke with a very helpful officer outside of the Graveyard Tavern on March 5. He expressed sympathy for my experience and gave me excellent advice about self-protection. He recommended carrying either a handgun, Mace Pepper Foam or a Blackjack, a billy club that straps to your hand and can incapacitate an attacker with a single strategic strike.

But with this one exception, my confidence in the APD was severely shaken. Mine is not an isolated incident. Atlanta's 911 center came under fire in summer 2009 after repeated complaints about delays in addressing emergencies. These complaints culminated in the firing of director Miles Butler, but the problem itself hasn't been fixed. If there aren't enough 911 dispatchers, more need to be hired. Period. There is no excuse for being put on hold in case of an emergency.

Additionally, members of the police force need to be reminded about who they're supposed to protect and serve. Where were the tough cops threatening arrest on the night my friend and I were attacked? Who exactly are you protecting when you take away a single woman's Taser?

Which brings me to the most important lesson I took away from this experience: You have to be able to look out for yourself. Whether it's a weapon or a self-defense class, you need to have some way that you can defend yourself in a bad situation.

Be aware of your surroundings. If someone is giving you a creepy vibe, don't be afraid to go somewhere you know is safe. It's better to risk offending someone than to risk being attacked.

Finally, if you see someone who looks like they're in trouble, do something. In a city where the majority of police seem apathetic, it becomes the citizens' job to look out for one another.

So the next time you see someone in a bad situation, step up and say something. You never know who you might save.


Robbery gone bad? "St. Louis police have an arrest in that Friday night gunfight at a home repair shop in the 31-hundred block of Ivanhoe near Arsenal on the south side. Police say it appears 74-year-old Robert Hartzell had an argument with a 50-year-old man inside the shop, pulled a gun and shot the 50-year-old who staggered out and collapsed nearby. Hartzell then got into his car. As he drove away, police say a third man shot Hartzell in the head. Hartzell died and the third man fled, only to be picked up by police late Saturday. The 50-year-old who was critically wounded is hospitalized. Neighbors say Hartzell had been in the home repair business for over 50 years."

Utah’s list of state symbols now includes an official firearm: "Until this week, Utah had 24 state symbols, from tree (the blue spruce) to insect (the honeybee) to even cooking pot (the Dutch oven). Now it’s added an official state firearm — the John M. Browning-designed M1911 pistol, becoming the first state in the nation to have one, according to the state legislator who sponsored the law. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed the new symbol into law this week. State Rep. Carl Wimmer, a Republican who was a police officer and SWAT team commander, came up with the idea for a state firearm last year... Wimmer selected the semi-automatic M1911 because gun maker Browning was born and raised in Ogden, Utah, and was the son of Utah pioneers who crossed the plains in the 1800s, Wimmer said. This year is also the 100th anniversary of when the U.S. military chose the M1911 to be its standard-issue sidearm for all branches of service"

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