Heartache, fear and guilt are flooding Southern California over the brutal kidnapping, robbery and murder of Los Angeles high school student Lily Burk. “If only, if only, if only …”
What I’m about to say could possibly be interpreted as laying guilt or blame upon either Lily or her parents. Neither is true: I have nothing but deep empathy for them. They did nothing wrong; they are not to blame. That being said, there are some actions to take and worst-case scenarios to consider so that Lily’s murder might ultimately make a profound difference.
The problem is that parents are at a huge disadvantage because their own parents — and their own parents before them and so on — most likely had no real knowledge about facing violence. Please stop this legacy of ignorance! Here are some general rules:
• GIVE UP PROPERTY. If an assailant wants money or the car, give it to them. They might go away.
• DO NOT GIVE UP YOUR BODY. Do not go with anyone to a secondary crime scene. Better to resist or run from the primary encounter. Resistance from the intended victim is apt to result in the perpetrator giving up, witnesses reporting or helping or, in the worst case, at least there will be forensic evidence left as clues.
• WORK OUT A CODE WORD SO YOUR FAMILY KNOWS YOU’RE IN TROUBLE. Agree that if and when you call and say something agreed upon like, “Is that Lassie barking?” it actually means, “Help me.”
• IF YOU’VE BEEN TAKEN, LOOK TO ESCAPE EVERY CHANCE YOU CAN. DON’T GIVE UP. Injuries from jumping out of a car can be less hazardous than going further along with an increasingly desperate criminal.
• DO NOT BELIEVE A PERSON WHO SAYS, “BE QUIET. GO WITH ME AND I WON’T HURT YOU.” They have already hurt you by committing the crime of kidnapping. Be loud and don’t go with them.
• INSIST THAT SCHOOLS PROVIDE A STATE-REQUIRED SELF-DEFENSE COMPONENT. (Physical Education Framework for California Public Schools Education Code Section 51225.3(a)(1)(F))
If I had a magic wand, I’d require everyone to be educated in personal safety, which includes the study and practice of how to avoid or confront violence. Why shouldn’t we include study and questions about violence in our DMV manuals and tests? Require a self-defense component for every underage driver’s license applicant or no license?
We license drivers because we are not in denial that death or serious injury can occur when we drive. There are government regulations and huge industries based on the absolute acceptance we have of the dangers of driving: insurance, car safety equipment, driver education classes, etc. We test teens for rules and acuity on the road when they arrive at this social milestone of maturity. Similarly, we need the basics of knowledge about violence before we get a license to drive. Simple. I propose that a new milestone for maturity must include education in worst-case scenario situations with violent people, not just other out-of-control motorists.
Everyone knows that even the most knowledgeable drivers with years of experience can encounter conditions too overwhelming for them to handle safely. That said, knowing full well that general rules are not going to address every specific circumstance, general rules, or tips, help because they engage thinking about driving hazards. Similarly, there are predictably hazardous human beings in the world: while when, where and with whom they become dangerous is often unpredictable, how one might deal with them is more under our control and learnable. Will the tips work every time? No. Nothing works in emergencies 100 percent of the time. They help, though.
If my parents knew what I know, they would have never let me get a driver’s license without also requiring an adrenalin-based self-protection component. They knew they could not be with me all the time and that I wanted freedom.
When I was 15, my Dad took me out on a frozen lake, told me to accelerate and slam on the brakes. I had never been so out of control. That was Daddy’s version of adrenalin-based training. After that, I never sped on ice. He knew that telling me to drive slowly on ice would go in one thick ear and out the other. He knew too many dead teens and heartbroken parents. He knew ice can kill.
People kill too. One of the hazards of being in the world is that there are not only random acts of kindness, but also random acts of cruelty. Accused murderer Charlie Samuel didn’t pick Lily for personal reasons. He picked her because she was there.
An ounce of prevention is worth saving a ton of heartache.
Ellen Snortland coaches writers and is the author of “Beauty Bites Beast.” Contact her at snortland.com.