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How to deal with a person bent on killing

jphampton@sunherald.com

James Heard of Biloxi does a punching exercise during a self-defense class at Tiger-Rock Martial Arts in Gulfport.
James Heard of Biloxi does a punching exercise during a self-defense class at Tiger-Rock Martial Arts in Gulfport. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

Chances are you’ve felt the fear. You’ve seen the videos. Bodies strewn on a street and blue lights flashing, in a poorly lit smartphone shot.

It happened again Monday in Berlin. A truck plowed nearly the length of a football field through a street packed with holiday shoppers. At least 12 people were killed. Terrorism is suspected.

Chances are, the next time you are in a crowd, you’ll remember that attack. That, after all, is terror’s reason for existing. But how likely are you to be the next victim?

The Gun Violence Archive — which collects information from the media, law enforcement, government and commercial sources — said 39 people died in mass shootings in 2015 (or about one in 6 million Americans). But then there’s random street crime, road rage and a president who often erroneously says the murder rate “has experienced its largest increase in 45 years.” The number of murders went up by 10.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, the largest increase in that percentage since 1971, when it went up by 11.1 percent

Gallup found the percentage of people worried about crime, 53 percent, is the highest in 15 years. It also found no increase in the percentage of people worried about crime in their own towns or cities.

That’s similar to what the Sun Herald heard anecdotally from self-defense students and trainers alike.

“There’s a different environment here than if you were living, for instance, in Chicago,” said Joe Calhoun, owner of Tiger-Rock Martial Arts in Gulfport. “I’m sure the stress level there is different than Gulfport, Mississippi.”

And students say protection isn’t the only reason they are taking his classes.

Hameed Abdul, 19, of Gulfport, said he doesn’t worry about crime as much as he did when he lived in Detroit or Baltimore. Still, he wants to be ready for an attack.

“I believe that if you get attacked on the street and you get beat up and your money is taken, it’s your fault,” he said. “But you should be able to — not put yourself in those situations, but when those situations arise — be adequately equipped.”

Act with purpose. The worst thing to do is just stand there.

D’Iberville police Lt. Shannon Nobles

Calhoun said his students have three main reasons for learning martial arts: Confidence building, physical fitness and self-defense.

He said just knowing how to defend yourself makes you less likely to attract criminals.

“Criminals make snap judgments: ‘He looks like an easy mark, I’ll take that person down,’” he said. “Once you become more confident, it exudes out of your personality and ... that tends to make you less likely to be a target.”

After about 30 months of Tiger-Rock’s 15-step training, Calhoun said, a student will be able to respond instinctively to an attack.

“It doesn’t make you a master of the universe, but you have enough repetitions that it’s starting to be a muscle memory,” he said. If you do it on a regular basis, your body is conditioned to respond with your hands and feet as opposed to someone who is attacked and would have to think, ‘What am I going to do?’”

Kids don’t feel safe

Janice Oramous, 16, of Gulfport takes the classes with her 13-year-old sister Jessica. She said kids don’t feel safe anymore.

“One reason kids don’t go outside much anymore is because of the internet, but I feel even if we did there is just so much bad in the world, we’d feel unsafe,” she said.

Protection, she said, is one reason she’s training.

“Not really fighting fighting, in the sense of going all-out, but just knowing when you can stop someone from hurting you too much and then getting away,” she said. “Because that is what self-defense is; not just pummeling someone to take the life out of them, but making sure you’re OK and away from them.”

Calhoun, police officers on the Coast and national Homeland Security people agree on one thing: It’s easier to avoid attacks than to overcome them.

“We teach people to not even get in that situation,” said Calhoun, who has done Taekwondo for 39 years. “How to approach your home at night. Don’t park beside a van. Staying out of bars and that kind of stuff where you increase your chances.

“A lot of it is common sense, but I didn’t always see that as a police officer.”

Calhoun was a police officer for six years before becoming a full-time martial arts instructor. He said he had to pull his firearm two or three times in those six years. Times have changed, though. A lot of people are carrying guns. And there are some angry people out there.

“Words hurt but they aren’t going to kill you,” he said. “Nowadays, the culture is different. The chance of someone getting (enraged) and shooting you is greater than when I was younger.”

How to survive a massacre

In D’Iberville, dozens of people showed up in late September for a two-hour Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events training.

Police Lt. Shannon Nobles had a message similar to Calhoun’s: It’s easier to avoid dicey situations than it is to fight your way out of them. And, he said, it is important to always have some sort of a plan of action rather than to waste valuable time devising an escape plan on the fly.

“Act with purpose,” Nobles said. “The worst thing to do is just stand there.”

The first step is to be aware of your surroundings.

“If you see something, be aware,” he said. “If something looks wrong or feels wrong, get out of there. If you came in that door, you don’t have to go out that door.

“Look where you’re at. You don’t have to go out of a door. Look for windows. Drywall. If you have to, you can go through.”

People who haven’t thought through the worst-case scenarios will be thrown off balance should they find themselves in the middle of one, he said. And they’ll waste time telling themselves that it can’t possibly be happening, he said.

Criminals make snap judgments: ‘He looks like an easy mark, I’ll take that person down.’

Joe Calhoun, owner of Tiger-Rock Martial Arts in Gulfport

Trying to hide is an option but it can be problematic.

“Whatever you are hiding behind is not bulletproof,” he said.

The best plan to to find a room that has a locking door.

“If it won’t lock, barricade,” he said. “Whatever you can do to deny entry.”

Nobles said you’ll only have to keep yourself alive for three minutes. That’s the average police response time in D’Iberville.

“We never want you to have to do that,” he said. “That’s why we’re here. We want to protect you. We want you to call 911 and we want to come and solve the problem. But remember, I said three minutes. For three minutes, we won’t be there. If you’re cornered, you might have to defend yourself. Whatever you have to do.”

Homeland Security officials recommend turning ordinary objects such as scissors or fire extinguishers into weapons.

And when the police arrive, he said, remember they won’t know you from the bad guys.

“Follow all commands,” he said. “If we say get on the ground, get on the ground. If we say show your hands, show your hands. We don’t know what’s what.

“We’re going to take charge of the scene and make sure you’re safe and stop the event. But we need your help.”

Some deadly stats

Chances are, it won’t be an active shooter or mass killer that kills you. Here are ways you are more likely to meet your demise (according to insurancequotes.com).

Chance of being killed:

By an asteroid: 1 in 100,000

By unclean water: 1 in 2,050

By a severe storm: 1 in 68,388

By slipping in a bathtub: 1 in 11,469

By a car crash (lifetime): 1 in 100

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