Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Defense of the Realm

Dr. Ian Stephen "an Honorary Lecturer (Forensic Psychology) at Glasgow Caledonian University" and "a consultant to forensic psychology television series Cracker" gave some advice to British householders on the appropriate way to handle a home invasion. The advice was given in response to heightened public fears caused by the murder of British financier John Monckton. Burglars tricked him into opening his door by impersonating mailmen. He was killed in the hallway of his multimillion-dollar home. His wife, Viscountess Monckton of Brenchley, was stabbed so hard her ribs were broken. Dr. Stephen begins by sadly and regretfully observing that in the UK

if you attack the burglar, or react in an "over the top" manner, as was recently illustrated in the case of Tony Martin who shot intruders in his Norfolk farmhouse, you will inevitably end up on the receiving end of a prison sentence that will far outstrip that imposed on the intruder in your own home. 

That being the unfortunate case the Briton is advised to make the best of a bad situation by acting in the following way.

When individuals are confronted by intruders there are some actions they should follow. Direct contact should be avoided whenever possible. If unavoidable, the victim should adopt a state of active passivity. In most cases the best form of defence is always avoidance. If this isn’t possible, act passively, be careful what you say or do and give up valuables without a struggle. This allows the victim to take charge of the situation, without the intruder’s awareness, through subtle and non-confrontational means. People can cooperate but initiate nothing. By doing nothing there is no chance of inadvertently initiating violence by saying something such as "Please don’t hurt me".

"Cooperate but initiate nothing". We will return to that phrase in a moment, but first we must continue with Dr. Stephen's cautionary advice. He says it is important not to affront or startle the burglar in any way, not simply out of a regard for their feelings, for whose hurt the householder may liable, but to avoid arousing an aggression which it is expressly forbidden to resist.

Sometimes the perpetrator of a burglary is even more terrified than the victim and in many cases when things go wrong it is the perpetrator of the crime who panics. Although they sometimes go equipped with weapons, in most cases they probably don’t intend to use them but in the heat of the moment, and the fear of either getting caught or attacked themselves, they use them. They don’t expect the person they are trying to hold up to retaliate or react. Mostly the knife is there simply for intimidation rather than intent to use it and they finish up killing somebody by accident rather than design.

If you are stabbed or shot it is your fault, as the Moncktons learned to their cost. You are advised to simply stand there, eyes fastened on the floor as if nothing were happening in the hope that you will not be noticed. I was going to say that Dr. Stephen's rueful advice sounded suspiciously like Kofi Annan's. Take no unilateral action; await help from someone with legitimacy; above all do nothing that will stir the 'cycle of violence' -- until I realized that that scene Dr. Stephen was describing -- "cooperate but initiate nothing" --  had already been depicted sixty years ago by a British author.

He sat as still as he could on the narrow bench, with his hands crossed on his knee. He had already learned to sit still. If you made unexpected movements they yelled at you from the telescreen. ... It might be two or three hours ago that they had brought him here. ... Sometimes he tried to calculate the number of porcelain bricks in the walls of the cell. It should have been easy, but he always lost count at some point or another. ...

Opposite Winston there sat a man with a chinless, toothy face exactly like that of some large, harmless rodent. His fat, mottled cheeks were so pouched at the bottom that it was difficult not to believe that he had little stores of food tucked away there. His pale-grey eyes flitted timorously from face to face and turned quickly away again when he caught anyone's eye. ... The door opened, and another prisoner was brought in whose appearance sent a momentary chill through Winston. ... But what was startling was the emaciation of his face. ... Suddenly he realized what was the matter. The man was dying of starvation. The same thought seemed to occur almost simultaneously to everyone in the cell. There was a very faint stirring all the way round the bench. The eyes of the chinless man kept flitting towards the skull-faced man, then turning guiltily away, then being dragged back by an irresistible attraction. Presently he began to fidget on his seat. At last he stood up, waddled clumsily across the cell, dug down into the pocket of his overalls, and, with an abashed air, held out a grimy piece of bread to the skull-faced man.

There was a furious, deafening roar from the telescreen. The chinless man jumped in his tracks. The skull-faced man had quickly thrust his hands behind his back, as though demonstrating to all the world that he refused the gift. 'Bumstead!' roared the voice. '2713 Bumstead J.! Let fall that piece of bread!' The chinless man dropped the piece of bread on the floor. 'Remain standing where you are,' said the voice. 'Face the door. Make no movement.'

The chinless man obeyed. His large pouchy cheeks were quivering uncontrollably. The door clanged open. As the young officer entered and stepped aside, there emerged from behind him a short stumpy guard with enormous arms and shoulders. He took his stand opposite the chinless man, and then, at a signal from the officer, let free a frightful blow, with all the weight of his body behind it, full in the chinless man's mouth. The force of it seemed almost to knock him clear of the floor. His body was flung across the cell and fetched up against the base of the lavatory seat. For a moment he lay as though stunned, with dark blood oozing from his mouth and nose. A very faint whimpering or squeaking, which seemed unconscious, came out of him. Then he rolled over and raised himself unsteadily on hands and knees. Amid a stream of blood and saliva, the two halves of a dental plate fell out of his mouth.

The prisoners sat very still, their hands crossed on their knees. The chinless man climbed back into his place. Down one side of his face the flesh was darkening. His mouth had swollen into a shapeless cherry-coloured mass with a black hole in the middle of it. From time to time a little blood dripped on to the breast of his overalls. His grey eyes still flitted from face to face, more guiltily than ever, as though he were trying to discover how much the others despised him for his humiliation. The door opened. With a small gesture the officer indicated the skull-faced man. 'Room 101,' he said.

The author of that scene, George Orwell, said "if you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever." He forgot to add one thing: you will polish the boot.

Pencil Shapeners or Attackers?

At the risk of turning the Belmont Club into a freakshow, I'm appending this story because it bears directly on the debate over the appropriate response to home invasions in the UK. The Manchester Online has reported the following story.

Pencil sharpeners have been banned from a primary school after a pupil dismantled one and used the blade to slash another child's neck. ... The attacker was suspended for two days and is now back in school. ... Headteacher David Willis has now banned all pencil sharpeners. But the decision to allow the boy to return to school has angered parents. Some have signed a petition calling on the school to permanently expel the youngster.

The school management argued that while pencil sharpeners could be proscribed the attacker could not be prevented from returning.

Tracy Buckley, the school's head of governors, has written to all parents, saying the school understood the gravity of the incident and acted accordingly. The letter states: "The school, like every other school, has a duty to promote 'inclusion' of all pupils. The emphasis of the (DfES) guidance is that a permanent exclusion is discouraged and to be considered as a last resort in very extreme circumstances. A fixed period exclusion was entirely appropriate for the circumstances."  ... Yesterday, the Manchester Evening News reported how teachers at Priestnall High School in Stockport started acting as bodyguards, patrolling streets round their school, following attacks on five pupils.