When the Drum Beats – Surviving Urban Unrest

First there is black.
Then there is light and
All the colors of jazz.
And there is sound in these colors.
A wailing trumpet drips cool
Violet, threaded with smoke.
Heavy blue lumbers from the bass
While the clarinet temps
And tantalizes in hot pink counterpoint.
But the drum
The drum beats blood red.”
Poem by Doug Moench from the Comic Moon Knight #26 (1982)

So, George Floyd happened, and Covid was kicked off the world’s center stage. The world inhaled, and for 20 seconds there was silent disbelief.

Then the drum of the streets ignited.

This is not a unique story, consider the French Revolution, people have taken to the streets to vent their rage for hundreds of years. Within the motive of the crowd is the urge to right the wrongs and for some, to do new wrongs.

The drum beats rage.

A young adult asked me what I would do in that situation. What do you tell a student who is about to start her independent life in the world?

Especially when she has witnessed those charged with protecting that independence abusing their power. More difficult is that as a security professional and father, my instinct is to pick the safest route and give advice that will take that person to safety.

Our life perspectives are different, for a young person she may feel a need to take up that fight.

The Unwritten Social Contract

In our streets, there are unwritten social contracts that have been betrayed. Many police and security people enter their professions because they are driven by an inner desire to protect and make the world a safer place.

Every time you enter a yard looking for people who would do you harm, your heart beats so loud you wonder if the bad guys can hear you coming.

You pass a window covering the room of sleeping people and all you have are your wits and your partner. Your partner is your lifeline, and special bonds are created that are hard to understand by those who have not done that work.

You’ve put your life on the line to protect those sleeping souls.

If something goes wrong, your family will sacrifice a husband or father in the name of making the world a safer place. It’s natural to expect that the people behind the window will respect and even be grateful for what you do.

The other signatories to this contract are the people from those houses.

They who have bestowed law enforcers the special right to keep the peace, even if they use of force is required on occasion. The expectation is that it will be done professionally and in a civil manner.

The expectation is that you will not need protection from the protectors.

This is a delicate balance, within the preamble of this contract are histories of oppression and cruelty, not just in the streets of Minneapolis, but throughout the world.

The contract is broken, and the drum begins to beat.

Mr. AJ Brown arrives at his 15-year-old shop, he has a tough day ahead, his wife must go for chemo, and he needs to get the shop up and running.

The mind of the mob follows the beat of the drum. The mob’s primal urge is to right the wrongs, but for some in that crowd, there is an opportunity.

Brown finds his window smashed and stock taken, his day just got tougher.

He too is betrayed, both by passing trade and by those who were contracted to keep his belongings safe.

Those That Face the Fire

“What could I do in that situation” is perhaps the wrong question. The question should be “What could I do that is within my power? Or maybe, “what could a nineteen-year-old woman do that finds herself in the wrong time and wrong place”.

Casting the various aspects of the George Floyd case aside for a moment, there are times when a person encounters a gross violation of human rights.

In 1985, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu rescued a man from a violent crown who was intent setting him on fire for being a suspected police informer. It takes a phenomenal force of heroism and leadership to negate such a crowd.

People like Desmond Tutu have this. For the rest of us, we must develop sufficient skills to navigate the situation and find a path home safely.

Surviving Riots and Civil Unrest

A riot is similar to a song. There is an intro, and then the first verse. This contains a verbal exchange of ideas by both sides and maybe an isolated skirmish.

Then an interlude before a thundering chorus. As a bystander, it’s often difficult to tell where it started, and who is to blame.

Your priority is your safety.

By watching the rhythm of the exchange, it’s possible to pick your time to escape or to take action. If you find yourself in this situation think about what you learned in your first aid training, first you must deal with hazards:

Find an Exit or Some Cover

Do not go straight to your phone, tear yourself away from the unfolding story and look around you.

You are going to need an exit route or a place to take cover. It’s too late to find these things when the chorus starts.

It’s natural for crowds to run when pepper spray or rubber bullets start to fly. You don’t want to be in the path of the panicking mob.

Avoid Being Trapped Against Surfaces

There is a danger of being trapped against a surface like a fence or even worse a glass storefront.

It’s better to keep moving and looking for an exit to the side or moving in a diagonal direction if the exit is on the other side of the road. If you are trapped or pushed to the floor assume a fetal position tucking in your arms, legs, and neck almost in a starters position.

Then brace your body. You will find that the movement around you subsides, this your time to uncurl and move.

Stick Together

If you are in a group or with a friend, you need to stick together. There is safety in numbers, and from a legal standpoint, you each have a witness.

Interlink your elbows or even grab your friend’s waistband. Nominate a goal, “we need to get to that intersection”, then get moving together.

If Shots Are Fired

When the shooting starts, people with guns whose minds have been taken over by the primal reptilian mindset will respond to movement.

Step 1 – drop to the ground.

If possible, move to a solid object that will give you cover. This will include thick trees, concrete structures, or even the engine block of a car.

Pick your moment moving from the position of cover to the next position of the cover until you are out of the environment.

Dealing With Injuries

There is a chance that you will inhale pepper spray or tear gas. Your eyes and nasal passages will sting, and it will feel like you have breathed in pepper.

Self-talk is important, the effects will subside.

The most important step is to get control of your breathing (if you are asthmatic you need to carry your medication with you).

Bleeding injuries from flying missiles or broken glass are also possible. Makeshift pressure bandages can be made as a scarf, shirt, or jersey, your goal is to get away from the melee.

You need to get to a quiet spot and then focus on controlling bleeding.

Hero’s and Survivors

The theme of this post was inspired by a comic that describes a conflicted hero. In his path he chose the path between stopping a wrong while he attempts not to be allured by the beat of the drum, in the end, he succumbs.

I have not attempted to advocate the path of a hero. I’m going to stick to my role as a security adviser.

If you choose to follow the path of a hero then ask yourself, “what can I do that is within my power”? There is a difference between attempting to change the world through powerful movement versus using force.

Power and force are different things, Desmond Tutu used his personal power as a leader to save a man’s life. When force is deployed there will be injuries and the heat of the fire will make new fires.

  • Look around you and do your emergency planning, you have so much more potential to change the world if you are unharmed.
  • Get to a safe place.
  • Make a call to an official call center where your conversation will be recorded. Report what you are seeing.

When the drum beats there are chaos and betrayal, there are no winners.

Tomorrow we must move forward in our lives. Citizens need to believe that they can trust their protectors and protectors need to feel that their sacrifices are acknowledged.

The trick is to navigate the chaos so that those wanting to build a new future are safe to do so.

References & Further Reading

Moench, D., & O’neil, D. (1982). Moon Knight . #26. Marvel Comics Group.

Parks , M. (1095, July 11). Tutu Stops Mob From Burning Man to Death : South African Bishop Pushes Through Angry Blacks to Rescue Suspected Police Informer. Retrieved from Los Angels Times: https://www.latimes.com/archives

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