I’ve lived on the South Side of Chicago without a car for over 30 years now, so I feel like I know a thing or two about staying safe from street crime. Every once in a while I overhear suburbanites trading tips about how to stay safe in the big, bad city. As a rule these range from irrelevant to horribly, dangerously wrong, but the speakers will never realize this on their own because they don’t spend enough time in the right parts of town to ever experience crime. Presumably, every time they return home safe and sound they think whatever random thing they were doing on the Mag Mile is what kept them safe, along the same principle as the placebo Close Door button in elevators. So, in the spirit of promoting safe travels in our great city, even though visitors probably don’t need it because they’re never going outside the Loop anyway, I’ve decided to start a series on bad self-defense advice from people in low-crime areas, called Suburban Legends.
Job One: The Fist of Keys Thing
The idea is, when you’re on your own in a scary area, you should carry your keys distributed in between your fingers which you fold into a fist, the better to deeply puncture your assailant’s flesh while you administer a ruthless beat-down.
Yeah, about that. For one thing, it’s pretty easy for a rando to put you into blinding, disabling pain by just grabbing your hand and squeezing. For the same reason, you’re more likely to injure your hand than your assailant if you do manage to hit him at all hard with your key-fist. I found a couple of self-defense websites that suggest alternate methods for holding your key-weapon, but IMO they are both missing the real point, which is: How do fist fights usually go for you? Oh, wait, you’ve never been in a fist fight? Then why are you betting your safety on your untested ability to do action hero stunts under extreme stress?
If you’re in a situation where you are at all likely to be attacked by someone and your only method of defending yourself is your own fist, you have already messed up pretty badly. Personal safety in the big city is 99.9% preventive. Don’t go places by yourself where you can’t possibly summon help if you need to. (Bicyclists and joggers violate this all the time on the Lakefront, I think they are nuts, but most of them do stick to the safer parts of the Lakefront at least). If you can summon help (meaning you’re in a neighborhood with residents at home or open businesses, or at least a little street and pedestrian traffic) you don’t need a fist of death, you just need basic situational awareness, willingness to cross the street to avoid menacing people, make noise if you need to etc., the usual stuff.
Some people thing the key-fist is a deterrent, since it’s a visible weapon, but all it says to me is that the person holding it is scared, a little clueless, and probably not from around here, which is not really the persona anyone is trying to project to area thugs. It IS an okay idea to have your car or house keys out and ready to use, but if you actually think someone is following you, go to the nearest business or knock on a neighbor’s door instead of trying to dodge inside on your own, you might not make it. Nobody will think you are dumb for asking for help, we all live here too.