Social conditioning and the unexpected attacker.

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Carol_Bundy_Prison_Photo_(1998)

Serial Killer Carol Bundy (Wikimedia Commons)

 

You may have more schooling and diplomas on your wall, but criminals are smarter than you are in some surprising and important ways. Take social conditioning, for example.

Late last year there was a death in Atlanta, the result of a Craigslist sale gone bad. One Daniel Zeitz had gone to an apartment building parking lot to sell his Playstation 4. There he met the alleged buyers, a Mr. Nathaniel Vivian and his 16-year-old girlfriend (whose name was not disclosed.)

It seems that Zeitz had walked up to the car in which the buyers were sitting and, through the open driver’s window, handed Vivian the console (presumably for inspection.) When at some point Zeitz realized that the promised funds were not forthcoming he attempted to retrieve the Playstation, and during the tug-of-war for the Sony the girlfriend pulled a gun and fired, putting a bullet into Zetiz’s chest and killing him on the spot.

I shouldn’t need to remind anyone that Craigslist ads have become a favorite method for criminals to target unsuspecting buyers and sellers. I’ve talked about this in previous blog posts, and the same cautions apply: meet people in well-lit public areas, preferably during daylight (consider a police or fire station parking lot, as long as those stations are manned at the time you’re there); be sure to bring a friend; carry your concealed handgun if you’re allowed to in your jurisdiction; be wary of any extra people milling about. There’s more to say on the subject, but those are the basics.

In this case I’m not focusing on those aspects of the case, although they still apply. No, this case is unusual because of the age and gender of the shooter.

In American society we’re conditioned to believe that children and women can’t be criminals (or terrorists.) It’s not that they physically can’t, of course; I think most people understand on an intellectual level that they’re fully capable of shooting guns and robbing others, it’s just that we tend to think that they won’t.

Let’s try a little experiment: I want you to close your eyes and think the word “mugger”. Bet you didn’t picture a woman, did you? I certainly didn’t, and I’ve been studying this stuff seriously for a couple of decades. I know for a fact that women can be (and have been) just as dangerous, just as vicious, just as amoral as men yet I don’t automatically picture them as attackers.

That social conditioning works, and it works well. Criminals are certainly not averse to using that conditioned response to fool others into letting down their guard and leaving themselves open to attack.

Put yourself in Mr. Zeitz’s shoes and imagine that you’re walking up to a car in which two people who say they want to buy your Playstation are sitting. In one version of this scenario the person in the passenger side of the car is the 16-year-old girl; in another version, the person in the passenger seat is a bearded 23-year-old male. Don’t tell me that on some level you’re not going to feel more at ease with the girl than the man, because you know you would be. That doesn’t mean you won’t necessarily be on your guard, simply that (at the very least) you’re going to feel just a little less intimidated. Right?

Most people, I suspect, would be much more affected than just feeling a little better; most people are going to be put at ease at the sight of a girl (and don’t forget the little baby!) That ease translates to being less wary, less committed to analyzing your surroundings, and more likely to be caught off guard by an attack. A savvy crook will use that to their advantage.

Did Vivian bring her for just that reason — to throw Zeitz off his guard so they could steal his video game console? Was she told to shoot Zeitz if he gave them any trouble? At this point we don’t know, but if they didn’t do it consciously they sure followed the criminal distraction playbook!

If you’re going to hone your threat awareness, you certainly have to pay attention to people’s appearances; someone dressed in a minister’s collar is less likely to be an armed criminal than the guy who looks like he just got tossed out of a biker bar. Profiling may be a dirty word to some, but it’s how we humans classify every single thing we see. It’s how we get through every day, because we can identify things by what they look like. Sometimes, as in this case, that profiling might not give you the whole picture.

Women are certainly less commonly involved in felony assaults than men. That much is true, but don’t let that knowledge blind you to the OTHER part of threat awareness: behaviors and actions. The guy in the minister’s collar who is moving to flank you needs to be treated with the same wariness as the biker gang guy who’s flanking you. If a person is acting like a threat, they probably are regardless of their gender or dress.

We don’t know if social conditioning played a major role in Zeitz’s death, but it sure follows the deception pattern. You don’t have to be fearful of everyone you see, but you do need to look at people’s actions and behaviors without being blinded by what society has told you is the “criminal profile”.

If it walks like a thug and talks like a thug, it’s probably a thug. Even if it’s in a skirt.

-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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