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Street smarts regarding panhandlers.

WE DEVOTE MUCH TIME AND STUDY TO HOW BEST TO AVOID OR SURVIVE LETHAL CONFRONTATIONS. WE ALL STUDY OUR LETHAL AND LESS THAN LETHAL DEFENSE OPTIONS AND TECHNIQUES; WE FOLLOW THE COLOR CODE. BUT MOST IF NOT ALL OF THIS WILL NOT HELP MUCH IN ONE GRAY AREA OF ADVERSARIAL PERSONAL INTERACTION--HOW TO RESPOND TO AGGRESSIVE BEGGING OR, MORE COMMONLY PUT, PANHANDLING (PANHANDLE--to beg, especially on the streets; PANHANDLER--from the outstretched arm of the beggar resembling the handle of a pan. [AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY]).

Laws against panhandling are little enforced since where the practice is common, it is tolerated by society until the volume and actions of the beggars rise to a level not acceptable for the particular society. (In some Third World countries, almost every person you might encounter on the street is begging, and they are simply seen as part of that society's customs and practices.)

For those fortunate enough to live where an encounter with a panhandler would be grist for coffee-and barber-shop discussions for weeks, you might think there's no real need to know much about the subject. This might be true--as long as you never leave your home area.

For the rest of us, we will encounter these extortionists and without some forethought will leave them with some of our money, or, worst case, we will have incorrectly escalated the situation using force.

I recall one such example where a person who had apparently lived his whole life in a cave while practicing his armed and unarmed defensive skills came east to attend a law enforcement and military arms trade show held in a large northeastern city. During the show, he had occasion to leave to meet someone for lunch in the downtown area. When he returned he was quite exited and related the following story to a group of us who were mostly all cops from similar if not larger cities.

He said he had been attacked by a man demanding money. He went on to graphically demonstrate and explain (in great detail) how he was able to throw the man violently to the ground by executing a martial arts hold on the man's outstretched arm and was able to then "get away." He was visibly quite proud of what he had done and, as I saw it, was waiting for the "oohs and aahs" of congratulation he thought were his due.

We all stood in stunned silence (unusual for this group, to be sure). When he continued to simply stand there, I thought it was time to go but could not resist sarcastically commenting, "Well, at least you didn't shoot him!" He replied that since the "threat" didn't display a weapon, he felt quite comfortable in using his "empty hands" techniques. He just didn't get it.

What would have been the better reaction? Not being there, I'm second-guessing. But as he told the story, it appeared that he had encountered the garden-variety beggar, to whom he overreacted, not being familiar with the tribal customs of the urban scene.

Generally, the best "defense" is to ignore the panhandler. (Of course, it would have been better to have taken notice of him and avoided him in the first place.) To put the prospective responses in context, you need to realize that the aggressive beggar is using fear to extort money and dresses for the occasion, either by accident or intent (and the beggar might be insane as well). They'll get as close to you as possible without touching you--sometimes but not always--with full, wide-eyed eye contact, loudly demanding some "help" in the form of money.

Curiously, these street people are hard for many of us to see in the sense of consciously noting their presence and then avoiding them. More experienced urban dwellers, on the other hand, do this reflexively based on long-term exposure.

If the panhandler has been ignored and doesn't break off but rather presses on by getting "in your face," there's no point in making some snappy comment that you think will get rid of him. He's heard it all. A simple "no thanks" or a firm "no" (skip the profanity) while moving away from him works most of the time. He wants money, not a fight, and when he sees that you are not frightened but rather are in control of yourself and move from him while not turning your back (I mentioned the "crazies"--you cant anticipate their reaction to rejection), he'll slide off you and move on to the next "victim."

The encounter gets complicated if he touches or puts his hands on you. Hands-on is not allowed, as far as I'm concerned. The thought might be to strike or spray, but the better is to slip out from his hand and put distance between you and him, for every bleeding-heart liberal will, this day, be watching and later testify as to how the misfortunate person was viciously beaten and sprayed.

One key ingredient of this approach is that you must be convincing if you make a verbal response but not so strong as to incite violent behavior, hence the advice to not be profane or make any comments about the panhandler's ethnicity or lot in life.

There is, of course, the alternative of giving him some money. But here you run the risk of him seeing you as a real victim and escalating his request to "give me all your money"; now you are being mugged. Remember, there's no rule that says beggars can't become muggers if the situation is right.

In this discussion, I've referred to the panhandler in the singular, which is a good indication that he is begging, not mugging. Two or more is robbery and not begging. Don't confuse the two, for you'll not likely walk away unrobbed or unharmed from the latter. The other alternative is, don't go to areas where panhandling is common. I try not to anymore.
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Title Annotation:Defensive Tactics
Author:Rauch, Walt
Publication:Handguns
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Words:986
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