So, there I was, sitting on the wall along Melgar, (the main drag here on Cozumel), taking a few pictures of boats. Just having a nice day, sipping some coffee and minding my own business when along came some teens looking for some trouble. First one demanded a cigarette, but I said, “no.” Then another demanded money. Again I said, “no.” But, then the the third one leaned over from his bicycle and said, “f*#k you, puta.” That was when I stood up and something about my face must have told them that I’d had enough. They took off, and they took off fast. But, still it bothered me, it bothered me a lot. Were they career criminals? Absolutely not. Was it an earth shattering event? Of course not, but I’ve had a couple of experiences over the past six years that weren’t pleasant, to say the least, and I was done. I got back home and posted what had happened on a local neighborhood watch site we have and the responses were immediate. A few suggestions were made, some other comments followed, and, after one thing led to another, the topic turned to “what can we do to keep ourselves safe?” Next thing I knew an expat, a retired police officer, stepped forward and offered to teach us some safety tips. Then another expat stepped forward and began to organize the event. Yep, we are a proactive bunch and we act quickly. In fact, we just had that class today and I thought I’d take a few moments and share some of what was taught.
The class was held at Woody’s, a popular local hangout located in el centro. It is owned and run by Nelly, a great lady who, as she’s done before, immediately wanted to help and agreed to open up her backroom for the class. I’d had a chance to talk with her a little while before everyone arrived and learned that her husband has been having some health issues. But, she still managed to be bright and cheery, welcoming us in, making sure we all had what we needed before she headed back home to spend time with him. And, yes, that’s her on the right.
Already in the room was our instructor for the class, Rick Schwend, and his sweet looking wife, Tracey; that’s them on the left. Now, I say sweet looking because once the class started and we got to see how well she knows how to take care of herself, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to try and mug her. In her case, looks can truly be deceiving. Once the others arrived, and there were ten of us today, Rick introduced himself and gave us some of his history. It turns out that not only was Rick a police officer in Texas for fourteen years, but he also has had much experience teaching “Crime Prevention” classes within many environments and received training on the subject from both the CIA and the FBI. In fact, he’s logged 3,500 hours of training both personally and within classrooms. With that said, I think we all felt he was qualified for the task at hand.
Now, let me back up a second. Before class began, and when I’d first walked into the room, Rick told me to remember that I was an ‘A.’ Okay, not sure what that meant, but I noticed he told others as they were arriving that they were either an ‘A’ too, or that they were a ‘B.’ After his introduction he explained what he meant. Those of us who were an ‘A’ were basically announcing to the world, “please, take my stuff.” Whereas those with the ‘B’ were basically saying, “hell no.” Let me mention that this was the first time I ever got an ‘A’ I wasn’t proud of, but it explained a lot. Rick went on to talk about our lack of awareness of our surroundings and our easygoing mannerisms. Apparently, he and his wife had intentionally arrived early to watch us come in and, unfortunately, most of us didn’t do too well.
Then he began to demonstrate better ways for us to hold our purses and our backpacks (I’ll get to those in a moment). His strongest recommendation, however, was to not carry purses etc. at all, if possible. He suggested we try and carry just a wallet with copies, not the originals, of all our important identification, a little money, local store cards, and only one credit card. The class had officially begun.
Now, to get back to the purses and backpacks, if we must have them, that is. And, this is where I want to mention two things. He gave great demonstrations with the help of his wife, Tracey. However, my camera has been causing me problems so pictures involving any movement will not be clear. I’ll try and work around that. The second thing I want to mention is that Rick’s voice could be heard in Cleveland, it’s just that loud. How I know that I’ll also get to in a second. So, before I digress any further, back to the purses.
It was explained that purses should always be held on the side away from the street, and kept close to our bodies. They should never be hung on the hooks that restaurants provide, and not kept on the floor, or on the back of our chairs. Backpacks should be worn in front, not in the back when both walking and riding a bike. And purses should never dangle when riding a bike. If one has a basket on the bike, have a lid, or let it be visible that your things are tied down. But, then, when the question of whether or not a purse should be strung cross body came up, he and Tracey stood up and gave us a demonstration of how dangerous that can be. Who knew? Tracey put the purse on the shoulder so it went from the one side to the other and Rick immediately grabbed the top of the purse and made a restraint out of it. A mugger could easily get more than the purse. The point was made.
Next he talked about how we carry ourselves. We should always walk upright, look people in the eyes, and let folks know that we see them. This, of course, is contrary to anything I’d ever learned while living in New York City where looking someone in the eyes could be considered a challenge. He also suggested that if we pass a group of folks, or a single person, who looks suspicious that we should go ahead and pass them, but then stop, turn around, and look behind us. Also, it was made clear that if we feel we are being followed, use evasive actions. Go into a store, for example, and wait them out, if necessary. Stop into a restaurant and get a cup of coffee. Rick also took time to stress the importance of avoiding patterns of behavior. Take different routes if you go to the same place daily. Go different times, if possible. In other words, since criminals will often watch their victims for a while, make it confusing enough that they won’t find you an easy target and will move on.
Next, both Rick and Tracey gave some demonstrations of what to do if someone got too close. And, again, I apologize for the fuzzy shots, but I still think you’ll get the point. Rick stood behind Tracey and grabbed her from behind, but Tracey immediately “collapsed” to the floor to get away from his grip. Next Rick grabbed her from behind again, but this time his wife threw herself backwards and, basically, slammed Rick into the wall. And, then, Rick gave us a demonstration of a simple technique that was funny to watch, very loud on the ears, but highly effective. I almost want someone to try something so I can do this, almost. Here’s how it went.
Rick played the victim and Tracey played the mugger. She went to grab his purse and Rick yelled “you want to take my purse? I can’t believe you are trying to take my purse. You really think you’re going to get my purse?” While he was yelling he was standing with his legs a bit wide while facing her and his arms were stretched out with his hands open wide as well. He showed us that, with the yelling, the element of surprise might just be all that one would need, but, just in case, his hands were in the perfect position to smack the crap out of the criminal. I liked that technique. I liked that one a lot, but if I had the power of Rick’s voice, I’d never worry again. Wow.
But, another wow was coming. Remember when I said how sweet Tracey looks? Well, I will reiterate when I say, I almost feel bad for the person who attempts to rob her. When asked how far one should go when defending themselves Tracey made it clear that we should do what we can to not be victimized. It turns out that they share the opinion that our personal safety should be our first concern and to react without hesitation. Rick also emphasized that the old “kick in the groin” will often prove ineffective, but a wide hand slap will both startle and hurt. And, they both made a point of emphasizing that one should never take a step backwards when confronted by a situation. A step backwards is a form of admitting defeat whereas standing one’s ground might just cause the criminal to think twice about continuing his/her actions. Lots to think about.
At that point class was about over, but I think we were all feeling a bit more empowered. It managed to be both fun and enlightening and I’m glad I attended. We spent a few more minutes asking a few questions and then we all applauded both Rick and Tracey for the class. Kudos to them for taking the time to help the rest of us to feel safer. And, did I learn anything? Well, I noticed that I was a lot more aware of folks I passed while coming home. I made sure I looked them in the eyes, nodded, and kept going. I also made sure to glance around before I unlocked my gate, and I’d worn my backpack with all the pockets on the inside. Now, I’m not going to stroll back alleys at midnight, but I think I’ll feel better about myself when I do go out. And, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Salud!
p.s. Thank you Rick and Tracey for an excellent class. Thank you Nelly for opening up a room for us at Woody’s. (And I hope your husband feels better soon). Thank you, Paula, for your organizational skills. And, thank you to the other attendees for making it such a good class. We have some good folks here!