Feb

7

 Fights these days are not like in the Old West or even the Johnny Cash and Cool Hand Luke days when two guys duked, bit, spit, and brawled it out until one was beaten. Then, sometimes, he was helped to his feet and life went on.

The fights in Slab City are simultaneous physical and mental contests because the fighters, as they swing, observe the consequences of illegal slips that may be caught on a cell phone, videotaped, or witnessed and later brought up in court, where the fight winner could land in jail for years.

The informal law of brawl in the American streets and Slab City is that anything goes; but the bottom line of police law is that one may legally defend and retaliate in direct proportion to the assailant's tactics.

Yesterday's brawl on a concrete slab near Salvation Mountain demonstrates the ongoing spark and fire of a street fight on the two levels.

The concrete slab where the fight broke out is double the size of a boxing ring, where one tall man walked into the camp on the slab of another portly man. The escalation proceeded through the usual steps of: yelling, a mutual shove to the chest, and then the action began. The stout guy reached and hit the tall guy with the heel of his hand on his brow, and the tall man responded by picking up a 4' tree branch, and saying, 'You struck me in the face, and now I'm going to hit you with this stick!' He struck him in the chest with it. The shorter guy picked up a 6' steel pipe, and screamed, 'You hit me in the chest with a stick, and now I'm going to knock your head with this pipe.' He took a swing, missed, and at this pregnant moment I appeared, attracted by the yelling, on a bluff above the slab.

'Stop!' I yelled down, as they surged toward each other, and landed glancing blows. I used the tall man's name which got his attention, shouting, 'Jake, take one step back.' He did, somewhat mesmerized by my tone of voice. But then, unable to recall the short man's name, I stuttered, and felt foolish. My next thought was to swan dive off the bluff onto the concrete between the two, as an acquaintance had done off the second tier of a jail onto a card table to separate rival gangs coming to blows over a misplayed poker hand. However, the slab was too far down and my stomach grown too soft, so I started to rush down the bluff threatening to step between them if they didn't stop. That didn't work, so I bluffed, 'I called the cops and they'll be here in a minute.' That stopped them in their tracks, for each had legally covered himself in the melee, and neither wanted to face the other again but before a judge. They parted, and walked away.

One of my favorite pastimes is being able to stop fights. The usual technique is to ante up the intervention as the fight escalates, as follows:

1. Stay calm, and tell the fighters to stay calm.
2. Assess the situation quickly, to determine how serious it is and if I’m in danger.
3. Deduce in a heartbeat if either has a weapon or access to one.
4. Tell the fighters to each take one step back.
5. If they back up, you can step between the fighters.
6. Face the antagonist. Tell him to take a deep breath, and then the other to do the same.
7. If there are onlookers, tell them not to egg on the fighters, but to help separate them.
8. If the fight continues, either restrain the aggressor, or let them duke it out, stopping them only after one is grounded and can’t rise.
9. Most people do not want to fight, but to keep from losing face. Once the fighters are separated, tell each to be bigger than the situation, and take a walk in opposite directions to cool off.
10. If the fight goes on, call the cops, or pretend to do so.
11. As they walk away set the ground rules: they must not see or approach each other for one week.

In the Slab City brawl the two agreed to a one week mutual restraining order, but the next day came back to me asking that it be lifted because a night's sleep had left them with clearer heads for peace. But they had to be punished, and could not see each other for a week.


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