Tuesday, December 15, 2015

An Insult To Normal Men

CBC ran an article today in which a former fellow inmate of Raymond Cormier's said that Cormier was "a normal guy".


Someone doing life in prison on the installment plan is not a "normal guy". 

Yes, we have to consider that the source of the comment is a career criminal himself, so what he views as "normal" is questionable anyway.  Having said that, how many times do you hear this of someone who has committed a horrible crime - that he was "normal"?  Too often.

This is an insult to normal guys.

So, yeah, that one is obvious.  There are others and we see them all the time.

I've had plenty of other career criminals tell me, "I'm a good guy.  I'm just a normal guy like everyone else."  I think many of them believe their own words.  They have friends and family members who will console them by agreeing with them. 

Men who are "normal" don't go around robbing people, breaking into houses, raping, killing, being cruel to animals, etc,   Men who are "normal" don't find these things funny or fun.  Lumping the rest of the men in society together with men who commit these acts is an insult to normal men and does a disservice to the rest of us.  Let's not normalize violence and crime.  Let's refuse to accept that definition.  If we don't speak up and call that nonsense for what it is, then what messages are we sending to ourselves and others?

The next time you hear, "But he's such a normal guy" speak up.  No, he's not a normal guy.  

Maybe he seemed normal.  

Maybe it bothers people that they didn't see the wolf in the sheep's clothing;  

If so, let's face up to that instead of saying, "But he's such a normal guy" or "But he's such a nice guy" (and the "nice" guy thing is a whole other conversation)  

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Terrorism and Ordinary People Like You and Me

I generally don’t say a lot about these things.  A lot of people who have even a little training related to these things don’t publicly say much.  It seems that people don’t pay any heed (or they are extreme in their views one way or another) during everyday life, so talking when emotions run high seems pointless. Many of those in the field are busy dealing with the actual crisis when it hits.

So, mostly I’m quiet but this is one of those times when I need to speak up.  I’m not speaking about Paris specifically, but the concerns in general.  I’m speaking to ordinary people like myself, not politicians, the money people and big power people.  I’m speaking to ordinary people, you, compassionate people, people tired of hatred and violence.  Brothers and sisters, I tell you now that you have more strength, more power than you may realize.  There are things we can do, things we must do; Those things start from within ourselves but they must also translate into action.

Terrorists want us to be afraid, to be divided.  They want us to blame, hate and fear each other.  Then they can point to our own behaviour as evidence that there is a war between us, allowing further justification (twisted though it is) for their “war”.  Understand that part of their goal is to cause us to collapse internally and psychologically.  Don’t do it.  There’s another way.  Please bear with me to the end because there are two sides on this coin.  There is an internal battle and an external battle, both of which must be won by us and no “side” can do it alone.

We need love and understanding of each other.  Don’t give evil what it wants.  Refuse to let fear rule. Refuse to let it turn you into someone hateful.  Look for common ground, a place for understanding to begin, a dialogue.  A big part of winning this war, I would argue the key part, is in hearts and minds.  We need to help each other both psychologically and practically.  We must stand shoulder to shoulder, regardless of religion, race, language, culture, or geographical location. 

I suggest to you that in addition to the real physical enemies with physical weapons, we must recognize and fight some other enemies, too.  Fear,  devaluation of others,  and complacency are also our enemies.  All of us have a role in fighting those enemies.  We need to look for those things in ourselves and remedy that, then help lift up our brothers and sisters. 

I want to point out, that although we need love, sometimes we need a gun, too.  A giant hug-fest doesn’t stop the bullets from someone who is intent on doing evil.  If someone wants to attack my family member, I’m not going to give him milk and cookies.  I will stop him, period.  It gets tricky when the specific identity of the enemy isn’t obvious.  If the people perpetrating these acts and propagating these twisted ideologies were all in one or two geographical locations, the solution would be easy, but that is not the case. 

This is not new stuff.  Extremist groups and cells have been here a long time, even prior to 9/11.  “Here” includes Canada.  There are a number of hate groups & a number of ideological extremists right here in this country. They are not only Islamic extremists.  There are also a number of “lone wolf” types out there who are not part of an organized group. There are those who believe in and support terrorist actions and ideas and they are not immigrants.  These “homegrown” people act within their own countries. A number of them will travel to other countries (such as Syria) to help terrorist groups.    Regardless of the ideology, these people spread their sickness through our society.  Like yeast in bread it spreads and grows.  Also as yeast in bread, fear and bigotry spreads and grows.  Pointing the finger at immigrants or refugees is simplistic and na├»ve. 

Also note that the victims of Islamic extremists are mostly other Muslims.  The victims are anybody who isn’t part of the extremist group.  Refugees are fleeing tyranny, extremism, violence, oppression.  Again, pointing to refugees as the cause or source of this problem is simplistic, erroneous and in denial of other facts.  This is not about Islam itself; This is about extremists.  Extremist anything is bad news for everyone.

Can someone with extremist ideas try to infiltrate other countries through immigration?  Yes, of course.  Will they try?  Yes, of course. Have they slipped through before? Yes.  This is not new.  This is why we need to screen.  (And having a politician’s staffer with zero threat assessment training vetting immigration files is absolutely ridiculous.)  

We have Intelligence and security specialists.  They are not perfect but they are not stupid, either.  We also have to recognize that they cannot do everything, cannot be everywhere at once. 

We have a role, too.  No, I’m not talking about that awful  “Barbaric Practices Tipline”; I am saying, though, that the general public needs to pay attention and think about behaviours.  If you saw someone trying to open all the car doors on your street you would know that you need to call police.  There are things you can watch for. 

Living in fear is not only unnecessary, it’s harmful.  By the same token, living with a false sense of security is dangerous.  Don’t live in la-la-land.  Bigotry and denial are both places where stupid resides.  Fear of “other”, focus on self, or insisting that everything is lovey-dovey, or being generally asleep is for sheep.  We need for fewer of us to be sheep, or at least to not act like sheep all of the time. (Nothing inherently wrong with sheep, by the way, but that’s a different conversation.)

Know that “cause” actors are not deterred by traditional security measures.  They are the most dangerous as they are willing to do anything and sacrifice everything for their cause.  Don’t give up, though.  There are things you can do.  Fighting hatred is a huge thing.  Work on that.  Also, don’t get lax about security.  Just because nothing has ever happened in a place before doesn’t mean it won’t happen today or tomorrow. 

Preparedness in the event of a worst case scenario – Governments have (or should have) response plans.  First Responders are our front line in the event of an incident.  But there is more.  Businesses, churches, and individuals have a role.  Do you have a plan?  Do you know how to make a plan?  Learn.  Do it.  Don’t be lax on security practices.  I’m not telling you to live in fear; I’m telling you to be prepared. Look at target hardening, awareness, prevention, and the specific action plan to follow if the worst happens. Get educated, do the work, stay vigilant, and still get on with your lives.

Think.  Think about what you’re seeing.  Don’t jump to the worst possible conclusion but also don’t dismiss things.

Act.  – Watching, thinking, analyzing is all great but it amounts to nothing if it stays in your head.  Do something about it.  Not knowing what to do is not an excuse to ignore it.  If you don’t know what to do then find out who does know. 

Share information.  If you see something, say something.  Just because something isn’t criminal doesn’t mean it’s not significant.  Even if something is just “curious” then share the info, explore it.  Someone else might have a different piece of information.

Watch your bias. Creating unnecessary fear, seeing the bogeyman behind every corner is dangerous; Complacency is also dangerous. Sometimes people who see the danger come off sounding like “crazy right-wingers” not because they’re crazy right-wingers but because they see the threat and they are frustrated with the people who see the evidence of threat yet continue to deny what it is and what it means.  Sometimes people who recognize the need to promote love and understanding come off sounding like arrogant, dismissive, living-somewhere-other-than-reality left-wingers, not because that’s what they are but because they understand that knee-jerk reactions, division, and hatred are on the same coin as the evil we need to fight and it only causes more strife. (Then there are the other people who seem to just sleep through everything. I can’t talk about them right now.) I’m saying check your bias and analyze everything.  Think, then think again, and then respondThought without action and action without thought are both dangerous.

Cookie cutter approaches won’t work.  Each industry or organization will have its own specific needs and measures that have to be in place.  Constantly be updating your information.  Regularly review your security policies, practices, and emergency plans in light of this constantly updated information.  Don’t be “too late”.

This history of failure in war can be summed up in two words:  too late.  Too late in comprehending the deadly purpose of a potential enemy; too late in realizing the mortal danger; too late in preparedness; too late in uniting all possible forces for resistance; too late in standing with one’s friends.” General Douglas MacArthur

Here are some examples of things that ordinary people and those in leadership positions at work, places of worship, community, can recognize and watch for.

Surveillance – does someone seem to be “casing” a place?  Is someone watching, taking pictures? Is someone just hanging around with no apparent reason to be in a place? Does someone seem unusually interested in the security measures in a place?  Is someone writing down or recording activities, location layouts, routes or license plates?  Is someone asking unusual questions? If a place was burglarized were documents looked at or copied?  Have the computers been hacked? 

Suspicious packages – abandoned package at a target location, packages out of place, too much postage.

Question trucks, repairmen, vans, visitors in critical places.  If they are legit, then there’s no problem with you asking.  If they’re not legit, you need to know.  Find out.  Don’t assume. 

In addition to your routine security measures, add random security patrols and checks.

Notice - Is someone becoming extreme in their ideology (regardless of the ideology)?  If you don’t feel you can effectively intervene, don’t just ignore it; Find someone who can help.

Does someone have multiple ID’s or identity documents?  Report it.

Has someone suddenly changed their religion or beliefs and isolated themselves from family and friends?

Does someone have unexplained financial assets?

Did someone attempt to get past your security then apologize and say it was a mistake?  They may be testing your systems.

Attempts to acquire uniforms when the person is not a member of the group for which the uniform is intended.  If there was a theft of uniforms or identifications from  your organization it’s important to report it both internally and to authorities.

Seeing someone timing traffic signals, checking out overpasses.

Know that symbolic places are targets.  These are places that, if they were successfully attacked, much psychological damage would be done to the people.  Other targets include utilities, transportation, financial district skyscrapers, and any place where there are a large number of people congregating.  Be extra vigilant in and around these places.  Know what’s going on.  If something is “off” then tell someone.

It’s okay to use intuition – What intuition is telling you is that you need to pay attention, ask questions.  A common response is to ask questions to look for an excuse to not worry.  This is a mistake.  Ask questions to find out facts, worrisome or not. 

Know that much planning goes into organized attacks.  The fact that you don’t see anyone conducting surveillance today doesn’t mean they didn’t do it last year and are waiting or finalizing plans. 

Less planning goes into “lone wolf” attacks.  There are always pre-incident indicators with these but the problem is that those seeing the pre-incident indicators are most often not Intelligence officers or national security personnel, but are ordinary citizens who either don’t understand what they are seeing or don’t do anything with it.  “Lone wolf” attackers move more quickly from the active planning stage to the implementation stage so there is a need to respond quickly. 

When alert levels are high and/or when security levels are high and then there is no attack, don’t be lulled into thinking there was never a threat.  Part of the job of threat assessment & threat management people is to see the threat and stop it before it gets to your front door.  Too many go soft on security because they didn’t “see” the results.  The whole idea is to allow the public to carry on with life and not see, not experience the violence. The public doesn’t see buildings blowing up so they don’t realize that those working behind the scenes are actually doing something. 

Statistically, the perpetrators of violent crime are people known to and often trusted by, the victims.  You are more likely to die of domestic violence, car accident, or cigarette smoking than you are to die at the hands of a terrorist. I’ve heard (but don’t know if it’s true) that in Canada you’re more likely to die as a result of an encounter with a moose than by a terrorist attack.  But here’s the thing: Even if the number of fatalities relative to population is small, the number of victims is always great, and if it’s your mom or your child who dies as a result of someone else’s hatred then suddenly the statistics don’t mean a damn. 

Fight hatred in all its forms on all sides.  Stand together in love and friendship.  Understand that there are real enemies, physical people who pose a real physical and psychological threat and be vigilant and prepared and unafraid to act in respect to them, yet unafraid to love others who are different, unafraid to live.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Why I Don't Have a Problem With Stephen Harper Hiding in a Closet - And It's Not Really About Stephen Harper

Let me start by being upfront and admitting that I do not like Stephen Harper.  I have good reasons for that but they are beyond the scope and purpose of this post.  Anger and politics aside, we have to acknowledge that this man is merely a man.  He is a human being who felt natural and understandable fear (or maybe he'd been told by his security staff to hide in such an event) and hid in a closet during the Parliament Hill Shooting.

Lock-down drills are common these days because there are incidents of active shooters and we know that an active shooter is a very different animal than a hostage taker or armed robber.  We read about it, grieve over it, and discuss it, but most people haven’t actually gone through it.  

People think they’ll know what to do.  

People like to think that they would be heroic.  

The truth is that most people do not respond the way they think they will.  They lack the specific training under stress.  They are not prepared for the surge of epinephrine & norepinephrine.  

They’re not prepared for 

              the shutdown of parasympathetic processes

              the vasoconstriction & loss of fine motor control, 

              the loss of clear cognitive ability.  

They may be hit with loss of hearing/exclusion hearing, 
                                  tunnel vision, or trouble speaking.  

Extreme fear in such a situation is normal.

No situation is “text book”.

One reasonable response to being shot at is to find cover and concealment.  How many civilians truly know what this means?  How many would be able to think clearly about that while under fire?  Most will look for outright escape or to find concealment, not necessarily thinking about cover.  Hiding behind a piece of furniture, or in a closet, is a normal and sane reaction.  

Avoiding or running away from a threat to your life is a natural and rational response. 

Soldiers, police officers and firefighters are trained to overcome or go against that rational response.  They move toward the danger rather than away from it.  It’s not that these people don’t feel fear or don’t have a physiological response; They do.  

Let’s not pretend that people, even trained people don’t feel fear.  Let’s not expect civilians with no training to respond like trained professionals.  So Harper hid.  So what?  When you are in a situation like that your job is to survive

Interpersonal violence is the most psychologically harmful thing a person can encounter. Studies have shown that when the source of trauma or stress is human caused (as differentiated from a natural disaster, for example) the psychological harm is also longer lasting.  

Understand that no one who faces human violence remains unchanged or unaffected.  

One of the dangers of hero worship in our society is that the hero is implicitly denied permission to be human.  They don’t readily talk about the fear, the terror, the hyper-vigilance or anxiety.  They don’t talk about the nightmares or the sense of aloneness that can happen.  Grandpa doesn’t tell grandson about how his hands shook or about how his buddy beside him cried for his mother when he was shot.  They don’t talk about the guilt and the grief.  Our social constructs don’t allow it. The fact that these people even showed up for these jobs makes them heroic.  

Whether we are talking about a professional who has to deal with violence, or an ordinary person who faces violence, whether or not they seem afraid & whether or not they acted in accordance with society’s expectations of the mythological hero or victim, we mustn’t fail to have compassion.  

Most people don’t ever have to face going there.  For those who do have to experience violence there is little or no safe space to talk about the human stuff.  

When people mock a victim of violence for being afraid, for not fitting their version of what a victim or hero should look like, when there is a lack of compassion, it sends a strong message to all of those who suffer that there is no safe space to talk, to deal with the trauma and the aftermath, to be human.  

If you want to make fun of Stephen Harper, go ahead.  He is a politician, after all, and I think being made fun of a bit is part of the job description.  I make fun of him, too, but I won’t criticize him for his natural reaction in that shooting situation.  Before you decide to make fun of his normal human response to a violent and terrifying situation, please, take a minute and think about the message you are sending to and about other people who have faced similar situations.  

Whether you face combat, or are in an active shooter situation, or are attacked on the street, or attacked in your home, your job is to live; Judgments by armchair quarterbacks be damned.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Safety “Rules”

Lock the door and keep it locked.  Make sure that lock is a deadbolt.  Be aware of your surroundings. "Don’t listen to music while you jog."  "Walk with a friend."  "Don’t go out alone at night."  These are some of the safety “rules” people, especially women and seniors, are advised to follow.  Then there are more dangerous and stupid bits of advice like “carry a can of mace” or “keep a can of Raid on your desk” (please don’t do that, okay?)  The “rules” are supposed to keep you safe.                

Except they don’t.  Well, not always.

Sometimes a “rule” limits your liberty and does nothing to keep you safe.  Sometimes people get a false sense of security because they are following the “rules” and then don’t see existing dangers.  You can be assaulted in the daytime, for example.   People have been robbed, raped, and assaulted even though they were walking with a friend at 6 o’clock in the evening in a public place.  (I personally know of several cases.)   Maybe we should just stay home and give up all of our freedoms because the bad guys are running rampant out there.  Oh, but wait, the reality is that we’re more likely to be assaulted in our own homes, cars, and workplaces, so maybe we should opt for a solitary padded cell with triple fortified walls on an island. Throw in a few sharks around the island for good measure.   Okay, I’m exaggerating and digressing a bit.  I think you get the idea.  

I’m not suggesting that you don’t follow any “rules”.  I’m suggesting you think further and deeper about the “rules”.

There is a difference between feeling safe and being safe.  

For example, having surveillance cameras does nothing to prevent targeted violence.  Studies confirm this.  Studies also confirm that surveillance cameras do deter things like theft from vehicles.  An uttered threat is different from a posed threat.  The person walking you to your car may be more likely to assault you than a creepy stranger who might happen to be in the parking lot after work.  The well dressed woman might be more likely to defraud you than the smelly scruffy guy panhandling on the corner.

Understand the why behind the rules.  Then you will understand when you can (and maybe should) bend or break them and when you should add to them.  You also have to decide how much risk is tolerable to you.  And don’t apologize for that.

There are so many “rules” that it would be impossible for the average person to even know all of them, never mind remember them all.  There are so many “rules” that to follow all of them all of the time means not living.  Having said that, sometimes “rules” actually allow you to live better and actually be more free.  If you’re not safe you’re not free.

My number one rule is this:  Listen to your gut.

I’m not saying your gut is always right that there’s danger.  I am saying your gut is always right about the fact that you’re missing something and need to figure it out. I am saying that if your gut is telling you that something is off, then examine it.  Your gut, or intuition, tells you that you need to pay attention, that you need to question, that you need to think. (By the way, you might not have time to ponder things;  In those cases just go with the intuition and ponder it later.)  Your gut tells you that your brain has picked up on something and you aren’t fully aware of it yet.  Is it a triggered memory or a present threat or both?  Is there something about that person’s body language that’s telling you things aren’t as they appear?  Was that noise outside a burglar or a racoon in the garbage?  

Be careful not to minimize, deny, or rationalize away a real threat.  Don`t buy into things like, "You're just being over-sensitive" or "But he's a nice guy".  You also don’t have to live in fear.  If you’re feeling fearful about something then take action.  The action might be to walk away, or take the earbuds out of your ears, or talk to someone, or fight back (or not fight back), or get a locking lid for that garbage can.

Be smart, do the best you can, be aware, keep thinking, trust your gut, and, if something bad happens, remember this:  

It’s not your fault.  

If something bad does happen, if you are victimized, forget about beating yourself up because you didn’t follow a “rule”.  If someone breaks into your house the blame for that rests firmly upon the person who chose to commit that crime.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Suddenly there was a roar behind me...

The man approached me in a public place.  I was alone but at a park where there were lots of people around.  Book in hand, I looked for a place to sit and read.  Maybe I could find a big old tree or a vacant bench.

The man seemed to be ambling through the park.  I say "seemed to be" because I later learned he was trolling, not merely strolling.  His physical approach was not outwardly threatening.  He approached slowly and openly, face-on, wearing a mask of nonchalance.

He nodded to me in greeting.  I nodded back.  He said, "hello" and I responded in kind.  He asked what I was reading and we began a pleasant but not personal conversation.

Suddenly there was a roar behind me and a shocked look of alarm on the man's face.  Before I could fully spin around to see what it was, the two police officers had jumped out of the cruiser they had roared up in.  They'd driven right into the park.

The man jumped back, put his hands up in protest and shouted, "I haven't done anything yet!"

Note the word "yet".

The officers addressed him by name and commanded him to get away from me.  The man ran away.

The officers came to me and asked if I was okay.  I was okay.  It was true that the man hadn't done anything criminal to me.  .... yet.

A simple exchange of pleasantries, a "hello" and seemingly benign conversation can be a tool by which an offender sets the stage.  This is one reason, only one, why so many women won't have a conversation with a man they don't know.  And one reason why decent men don't approach women is because decent men don't want women to have to feel this.

How sad, I thought, that so many men and women are denied friendly interactions because the possibility that someone is a predator lurks beneath the surface.  The impact of violence and potential violence ripples through the fabric of our society and our psyches.  Can we eliminate all predators from our midst?  Probably not, but it's in everybody's best interest to try.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

How Safe Are Your Kids In Their Summer Program?

Most parents, when they drop their children off at summer program, assume the adults in charge will do at least the obvious when it comes to keeping the children safe, especially if the program is run by a known organization.  One parent who enrolled his 5-year old in a program sponsored by The City of Hamilton got a big surprise.

Like many parents, this parent works.  The babysitter was picking up the child from the program every day.  The parent had provided the staff with a list of emergency numbers and instructions specifying who is authorized to pick up the child.

One day a man showed up at the program saying he was there to pick up this 5-year old girl.  He'd never picked her up before.  He was not authorized to pick up the child.  Program staff hadn't heard from the parent because the parent was expecting the babysitter to pick up the child as usual.  The little girl had never met this man. He was a stranger.

Well, of course this isn't going to work, right?  Surely the staff at the program won't let a 5 year old girl leave with a man she doesn't know, someone clearly not authorized to pick up the child.  They will question the man, call the parent, call the sitter, maybe even the police.  That's just common sense, right?  Apparently not.

They let this man take the little girl.

I'm tempted to end this post here and let you wonder what happened to this child.  What horrible possibilities...

As it turns out, the babysitter was unexpectedly unable to pick up the child so she sent someone else.  She sent the man.  But nobody knew this.  In the end the child was physically safe but she did go through the experience of being sent off with a strange man even though she'd been taught not to go with a stranger.  She's five years old.  She's going to do what the adults at the program tell her to do.  If they hand her over to the man, if they are okay with it, she obeys.

Now this child has learned that it's okay to get in a car with a stranger.  Now if someone approaches her and tells her that her daddy sent him or her to pick up the girl, she will go because this experience has taught her she should.  She will have to be re-taught and she will have to be told again that it's okay to say no to an adult.  This is daunting for a 5-year old.

When the girl's father found out what happened he was in shock at first.  He went to the staff at the program with his concern.  According to the dad, the staff said they have too many kids to check on who is picking them up.  Then the staff told him that they weren't aware that he'd given them a list of numbers and had specified who can pick up his child.  The parent also reported that the staff said, "Anyone could come in here, just pick a child, and walk out and we wouldn't even know about it."  The father couldn't believe the staff actually admitted this.

Considering the attitude of the staff, the problem will continue.

I want very much to name the program publicly.  I can't do that because it would advertise to predators where to find easily accessible prey.  Publicly naming the program will put all of those children at even more risk.  I will be assisting the parent in dealing with the program and the funders to have them address this.  I also wonder if this is the only program in the city where things are run like this.

I am encouraging every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher and caregiver to ask questions of the staff and funders at these summer kid's programs.  How do they ensure the children's safety?  Is there a sign-in policy?  Is there a sign-out policy?  How do they check to ensure the person picking up a child is authorized to do so?  Do the children know they are allowed to refuse to go with someone?  .... And about fifty other questions.  It's not safe to assume those in charge are taking it seriously and taking real steps to ensure your child's safety.