A few years ago a friend taught me something about escalating self-justification. My friend used to teach a crisis intervention course. The gist was before most physical attacks we can behold escalation of insults, threats, or challenges. Once he painted this picture in my head, I started to reflect on how this had played out to my or others advantage in many and various ways during my experiences in violence, and how this need could easily be exploited as a vulnerability to seize initiative and win the fight. Call to mind a playground fight that begins with one child insulting another, spinning up to insults about their mother – thereby self-justifying a punch in the face (at least in the child’s mind). We can extrapolate this to a couple guys in a bar posturing, insulting, or threatening one another, then take it farther to nations posturing warships, trading threats, or any form of saber-rattling. A social ambush predator is going to include some communication with their intended victim – that’s the social part. An asocial predator is not going to say a word but rather pull, point, and repeatedly shoot until you or yours are dead. Once you’re down and done they may add a few extra rounds in your dying body to ensure zero chance of recovery and testimony at trial. In this post I’m going to take a look at how some social ambush predators have a psychological need to feel self-justified as part of their spin up before using deadly force. Their psychological hesitation ought not be wasted as it presents a window of opportunity to a just defender. An opportunity to handle this deadly force encounter as a shooting juxtaposed to a gunfight. More on that later in this article.
In March of this year Metro Nashville, Tennessee Police Officer Josh Baker initiated a traffic stop on a black Camero. Long story short, the driver 31 year old Nika Nicole Holbert did not desire the officer to detain her in handcuffs as a result of Officer Baker finding suspected illegal drugs in her possession. She re-entered her vehicles driver seat. There Officer Baker attempted to taser her without any good effect. Ms. Holbert pulled first. Officer Baker demanded Ms. Holbert put her gun down and Holbert then shot Officer Baker first! Officer Baker then returned fire. Returned being the qualifying term. This had become a gunfight juxtaposed to a shooting. Duels are immoral and duels are dumb. Duels are exceedingly dumb at point blank range. Why? Each gunfighter need only raise their firearm and the torso of their adversary fills the entire backdrop of the end of their muzzle / sights. Gunfights at point-blank range often equal mutual destruction. Juxtaposed to a gunfight – shootings are smart because only one person (preferably the innocent defender) is doing all the shooting!
Those who have received proper instruction in a two-handed pistol grip and have acquired some marksmanship would benefit by pushing the fight out to greater distances. Criminal aggressors who shoot with a single-handed grip and no marksmanship skills are more vulnerable and at significant disadvantage at distances beyond point-blank ranges.
Holbert is heard on the video saying “Help me, help! Help! Help! I didn’t do nothing.” Is this her sincere belief or is she prepping the legal battlefield for what she believes is (in her mind) a form of self-defense? Only she knew the answer. How have we come to a place socially where many believe we do not have to comply with legitimate authorities nor the rule of law?
The camera angle shows Holbert withdraw her hand to a place of concealment along her right side. I believe Ms. Holbert reaches down between drivers seat and center console filling her hand with a firearm then raising and brandishing that firearm. Officer Baker yells “Ma’am! Put the gun down! Put the gun down!” Holbert then shoots Officer Baker first, beginning the gunfight at point-blank range. Officer Baker is critically injured, though following surgery his status is determined to be stable and ultimately he does recover from his injuries. Ms. Holbert is not so fortunate and ultimately she dies of her gun shot wounds a short time later.
Self-justification and legal justification as defined by statutes and court precedents are radically distinct and often very different things. Legal justification is going to include legal concepts like innocence, imminence, proportionality, avoidance, and reasonableness (objective & subjective). Self-justification is one’s own unique sense of justice. Self-justification may or may not properly line up with the above mentioned legal concepts. It will depend upon the disposition of the persons involved. Things like that persons upbringing, world view, ideology, education, training, experience, and other factors has been referred to as a persons filter. That filter through which we make decisions. The late Col. John Boyd gave the world the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). Boyd purportedly believed similar criteria had an impact on the orientation stage and the orientation stage was arguably the most important stage of OODA. It is my opinion a man or woman’s filter effects how we observe or perceive, understand, decide, and act or not act.
After promotion to the rank of Sergeant I had a grace to begin to understand my promotion was not about me, and my ego. Little by little I came to understand the authority given ultimately was a responsibility. A responsibility to strive to become a craftsman and grow in competence. Authentic leadership isn’t about you! Authentic leadership is for your people. As a result of that grace one area of responsibility I began taking seriously was striving to take good notes as it related to all quality training. Why? To gain great reference material for the benefit of the people I served. Having a hand written notebook is useless if you need the information quickly, so I learned the value of transferring my hand written notes into Word documents which could be searched digitally within each file or many files as a batch in mere seconds by searching out keywords. Great note taking regarding fundamentals and timeliness became even more important as I received the added responsibility of being a Field Training Sergeant. Field Training Sergeants are part of the Department’s Field Training Program which has the primary responsibility of supervising training new police recruits and ensuring recruits are capable of performing the duties of a patrol officer. Field Training Sergeants had opportunities to attend the best schools available, which was a great blessing for which I am grateful.
On May 12, 2008 I attended a department wide in-service training about basic active shooter. The following quotations were direct excerpts from the instructors manual; Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training – Basic Active Shooter Course I.
“Action is Faster than Reaction – Training to respond to threats lets first responders act, not react. This is critical because there are inherent limitations on a person’s ability to assess and respond to perceived threats. An individual’s reaction is always slower than the action that prompted the response.i”
“Officer must react to a threat before it manifest into an assault.ii”
A window of opportunity opened wide at the precise moment Officer Baker see’s Ms Holbert display a firearm in her hand. A green colored timer counts up to .73 seconds. The color green is to convey this as the time for the officer to act decisively to stop this imminent threat of great bodily harm, or death. The timer resets and you see a yellow colored timer counting up to 3.07 seconds. The color yellow is to convey great caution is necessary as time is running out! The timer resets and you see a red timer counting up to 1.56 seconds. The color red is to convey the window of opportunity to engage in a shooting and avoid a gunfight has now closed! We’ve now entered a gunfight at point-blank range, which often means mutual destruction or at least mutual damage. Look at this short video showing this window of opportunity open and quickly close:
Considering John Boyd’s OODA Loop, what was Officer Baker’s next Act? Officer Baker see’s a gun, understands it is a gun, decides to warn, and then yells “Ma’am!” That was his next Act; “Ma’am…. put the gun down!” In law enforcement I recall being told an officer typically takes about 1.5 seconds to react to an action. Based upon my research and study reaction time (the whole OODA loop) is often closer to, perhaps even slightly faster than .75 of a second. For a person who’s already Observed, Oriented, and Decided, the Act part of drawing, pointing, and shooting is much quicker around .25 to just over .33 of a second. Understanding these action and reaction time frames we can know with a high degree of probability Officer Baker observed the gun being raised about .75 before he yelled “Ma’am!” If a person has received training (or experience), and they know what to look for we can keep response time down to around .75 of a second. Build in a trained response via role-playing scenarios and likewise we can keep reaction time down to the bare minimum. What does one look for in a hostile confrontation? Primacy of place goes to watching the persons hands. With experience you learn to simply ignore your adversaries mean mugging intimidation game face. Game face is often merely posturing. Game face doesn’t show me the strength of your will. We’ll find out soon enough what’s what, when your will gets tested in the combat. What I need to know is where your hands are, what they’re reaching for (Waistline? Pockets?), and what weapon is being pulled? Secondarily, presuming his hands are clearly visible and they remain visible, and empty, an adversaries eyes will often give hints to what’s next. Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) often catch folks stealing a quick glance to their right or left? Often that is where they will break and run. For an intended victim (non-police) unjust aggressors will often look to the logical location where a police officer or other witnesses would approach to intervene or witness what they’re about to do. Primacy of place or priority will always defer back to his hands. Where are his hands, are they reaching for concealed areas, and what are his hands touching, pulling, holding, raising, aligning, shooting, or otherwise using a dangerous weapon?
LEO’s learn quickly that unjust criminal aggressors lie and deceive both in their words and in their body language. I couldn’t care less what a suspected unjust aggressor is saying verbally or non-verbally (most of communication). I care about their actions. I learned early from experience body language ruses can absolutely purchase surprise. Compliance was a kind of test, as to whether force would be necessary. So long as we had compliance we had no errors, drips, or runs, as one Field Training Coach was fond of saying.
Presuming Officer Baker does not desire a gunfight at point-blank range what ought his next Act be? Officer Baker ought to draw, aim, and shoot repeatedly until the imminent threat of great bodily harm or death (initiated by Ms. Holbert) is eliminated. Whether Ms Holbert lives or dies depends, in part, upon what Ms. Holbert does in the following milliseconds or seconds. Ms. Holbert is free to do the next right thing at any point during this deadly force confrontation by immediately dropping the firearm and showing her hands. How is this no longer common sense? I call that kind of full surrender a psychological stoppage. It is the place where bad guys quit or give up. If Ms. Holbert see’s Officer Baker beginning to draw his firearm and instead she decides to maintain retention of, display of, and a brandishing of her firearm – well that is her choice! Officer Baker then would shoot Ms. Holbert until she relents suffering a psychological stoppage, or until she suffers a physiological stoppage. A physiological stoppage means Officer Baker removes her will from the equation. Ms. Holbert is shot repeatedly until a point of incapacitation; paralyzed, unconsciousness, dying, or dead. Seizing the initiative when the window of opportunity presents itself means gaining an advantage in timing. Going first when it cannot be avoided! Seizing the initiative with spin up means taking advantage of and exploiting a persons need to escalate via insults, threats, or challenges. Moving through that vulnerability to efficiently remove the imminent threat. While the social ambush predator is striving to get you to insult, threaten, or challenge (giving you their violent resume, as it were) you’re seizing initiative, achieving and maintaining relative superiority and then once they’ve suffered a psychological stoppage (clear & convincing full surrender) you are then throttling back. For those whose will omits of no change, you’re throttling forward swiftly dragging them out to that deep place of vulnerability; a physiological stoppage. I always have to clarify this last part as this cannot ever be about vengeance or revenge. When innocents permit uncontrolled anger to engage in vengeance or revenge then they have both a moral problem with God and a legal problem with the state. The dying and dead part is truly God’s business. It’s about stopping the threat – not murdering the threat, though they may still die! Once an Officer or any innocent person of good will see’s a clear and convincing sign of full surrender (psychological stoppage Eg; dropping the firearm), or upon observing the threat’s incapacitation (paralyzed, unconscious, dying, or dead), as soon as is humanly possible the innocent defender STOPS! If and when it is reasonable under totality of circumstances the defender further separates the unjust criminal aggressor from their firearm, and either renders aid, or facilitates paramedics response attempting to save the unjust criminal aggressors life. They remain on scene and contact legitimate authorities to report the criminal attack against them or theirs. This is how an innocent person of good will acts following a deadly force confrontation.
People endowed with free will make decisions. Those tasked with the responsibility to defend and protect (including your family) acknowledge or affirm the decision and then the consequences play out. This is common sense. Proposals to have innocent people of good will, stand down, and permit an unjust ambush predator time and opportunity to unjustly murder innocents is to engage in madness!
What happens after the deadly force confrontation, in part, (legally there’s a lot more) separates innocent persons of good will from an unjust social or asocial ambush predators. The violence part of the solution is going to look the same whether employed by the just or the unjust. Violence is ugly, but as the famous quote by John Stuart Mill said; “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things…”
How does an unjust criminal aggressor respond after the violence? In all probability a social or an asocial ambush predator will continue shooting even after clear and convincing signs of a psychological or a physiological stoppage. In all probability a social or asocial ambush predator will immediately flee the scene, destroy or hide their weapon, and they will not call for professional medical aid in effort to save the life of the person they just unjustly tried to murder.
At this point some will want to rip their garments and lament: What about giving a warning?! At what cost? Officer Baker did give a warning and Ms. Holbert shot him. It is a blessing he is still among the living. A warning is often at best a gamble. Why would a reasonable and sane person desire to gamble with their life or the lives of those they purport to love by betting upon the good will of an unjust criminal aggressor? Does it make any sense to do that? No – of course not! With what percentage are you willing to gamble betting against your family or your life in the interests and in the favor of a social or asocial ambush predator? My answer is zero percent! Why? Because the actions of an ambush predator are unjust. Meaning the unjust man or woman covets something immoral, unethical, and illegal! Who is so crazy, blind, or confused that they think someone acting by threat of force, or force, to gain what they immorally, unethically, and illegally covet has any rights to do such things? Am I going to truly love my family, my brothers or sisters in arms (when active), and my life – or am I going to have a false compassion, a false love for the unjust criminal aggressors? Think clearly!
In this present case Ms. Holbert is willing to present an imminent threat of great bodily harm, or death, towards an innocent officer whilst coveting an unjust freedom (freedom – has – limits).
Ms. Holbert’s act is immoral, unethical, and illegal. In my old house warnings were only given if feasible. What considerations get weighed in determining whether a warning is feasible? First and foremost a question: Does the innocent person of good will (Officer or citizen) have time, distance, and cover? At point-blank range you have no time or distance. If you still have cover it’s about get removed via an imminent flanking movement as your unjust aggressor, closes with, or compresses in upon and around that cover. So no – a warning is not feasible! Context is another consideration. Say the context was completely different. Hypothetically say a neighbor called to report Ms. Holbert was outside in her yard intoxicated and shooting at her garden gnomes. In this hypothetical, say Ms. Holbert lives in a municipality where you cannot go outside and shoot at your garden gnomes. That’s a radically different context than what we see here. Here Ms. Holbert’s problem is Officer Baker’s will to detain her in handcuffs. Ms. Holbert presents an imminent threat of great bodily harm, or death as the solution to her problem – NO A WARNING IS NOT FEASIBLE!
Think about these things.
iTexas State University San Marcos in partnership between Texas State University – San Marcos, Texas and the Hays County, Texas Sheriff’s Office.
iiTexas State University San Marcos in partnership between Texas State University – San Marcos, Texas and the Hays County, Texas Sheriff’s Office