Opinion / Question Authority

Fighting and the Boundaries of Self Defense

As I write this, it’s Sunday and everything’s ready: Baby-back ribs in the oven, steaming in beer while the grill heats up; veggie tray present, although unless it’s deep-fried, it’s way out of place with the other foods; big-screen TV working and tuned to the right channel; beer fridge stocked to overflowing without a single Bud, Natural or any beer with ‘Light’ in the name present … Yup, I think I’m about ready! At 3:30 p.m., I am going to kick-off the event I’ve been waiting a whole year to watch! Yes! Three hours of brutal, smack-talking prima-donnas going at it trying to be number one. Oh yeah! I’m going to be jumping around yelling at the screen and cheering like no one’s business! There is nothing like drinking beer and eating ribs to three solid hours of “Downton Abbey”!

What? There’s a football game? Today? I thought the season ended back in November when the Bears were pretty much done for the year. Let me think here for a second: A Super Bowl with no Bears, or three hours of “Downton Abbey”? Tough call. Broncos? Well, I guess they’re mammals. And bears are mammals. So technically I could root for the Broncos, since they have the same animal classification. It’s not like they’re sea-chickens or anything. Not that I have anything against birds … I can grill a lot of different birds.

A couple of my friends will probably have choice words to say about my opinion of the Seahawks. We will be tossing out a few crude insults all afternoon and as the beer fridge empties, the insults will get cruder, ruder and probably a little more confusing. But it’s all in good fun. Being a Bears and Cubs fan, I have gotten used to taking my lumps. It’s only a game for heaven’s sake, and I doubt the outcome will have any serious impact on world hunger, peace in the Middle East or the price of a Slurpee at 7-11. But over the last few weeks, I’ve had to clean up the aftermath of several fights that have erupted over even more ridiculous topics, and some of these fights have resulted in people going to the hospital or jail. So I just want to stress that sometimes, you just need to take a deep breath and think: Is your love of Russell Wilson really worth a trip to the morgue?

The other guy started the fight by calling my girlfriend a name. So why am I the one going to jail?

Fights start for a lot of reasons. Most are just guys posturing for the Del Playa “Dude of the Month” club leader. Others are defending the honor of their true love (for that week, at least). Some are just in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong drunk guy, or girl, blaming them for the Ukranian civil unrest under the insertion of Russian influence on the autonomous regime. Whatever the reason is, I am rarely there to see the start of the fight. When the cops get there, either the fight’s over, and we help pick up and separate the teeth, or if it’s still going on, we break it up and will likely end up arresting anyone who was fighting.

Is it fair? No, admittedly, sometimes it’s not fair. Even if you didn’t start the fight, if it goes beyond just defending yourself to get away, you can then be arrested for 415(1) PC-Fighting in Public. The law only allows you to fight to the extent that allows you to try to get away from the fight. If you stay to fight, or if you don’t walk away if you can, you would be considered just as guilty for fighting as the guy who started it. Oh, and “defending your honor” doesn’t count as self-defense. Sorry.

How far can I go to defend myself?

You have the right to defend yourself using “reasonable” force. What that means is that if someone is punching you, it’s reasonable to punch him or her back to get them to stop so you can separate yourself. However, where people get in trouble is that they don’t stop at the punch to get away; they toss in a couple of extra blows for good measure. Then it’s no longer self-defense, and you end up being the guy who gets arrested. If someone shoves you, pulling out a knife and stabbing him or her several times in the eye would not be a reasonable “defense.”

How far can I go to break up a fight?

People seem to have this resistance to just calling 9-1-1. Considering how many of the fights we see in Isla Vista turn extremely violent, I urge caution. Everyone trying to step in between people fighting puts themselves at risk. Knives or other weapons are way too common in our town, and it’s not uncommon that the person trying to stop the fight can easily become the target or accidental victim of the attack. Please just call us. It’s our job to step in and stop the fight, not yours.

Unfortunately, alcohol does the opposite of increasing brain activity, and often people who’ve been drinking get weird ideas about how to handle fights. This past Saturday morning I responded to a fight in which someone thought bringing out his assault rifle to scare people was a good idea. It turned out to be an Airsoft gun, but had we arrived just 10 seconds later, there is a good chance that someone would have been shot. That was just plain stupid. I never even figured out what the fight was specifically about, and frankly I don’t care — the dead guy loses the fight every time.

 

Well, the ribs are done being steamed and it’s time for me to start grilling. I hope you all had a great Super Bowl weekend and enjoyed the little bit of rain we finally got. Stay safe, and if you have a problem or get into an argument, feel free to Question Authority. That’s what I’m here for.

Sgt. Mark Signa is an expert in grilling a wide variety of birds, but not at picking good football teams.

 A version of this article appeared in print in the Monday, February 3, 2014 edition.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are primarily submitted by students.
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