Vojtěch Lavička on the Ostrava incident: Knowing how to communicate can prevent dangerous conflicts
Czech media outlets and social media users have been abuzz with the recent case of a 16-year-old Romani youth who brutally assaulted an older security guard at a shopping center. As is usual, the media are covering the case quite superficially, mentioning just one side of the story and taking no interest in the other side, with a few notable exceptions.
The incident happened on Monday, 17 May, at a shopping mall in Ostrava near a playground. From the video footage of the incident that is being circulated online we can see about 10 children and young adults standing around in an open area near the mall (I can't tell which one specifically even though I have been to Ostrava more than once).
In the footage, an older security guard (reportedly 73 years old) is vehemently trying to get the group to leave the area. Unfortunately, we can't tell from the footage why he wants them all to leave.
The young people object and say they are in a public space. I do not know how correct they were in that assumption.
The conflict eventually escalates when one young man commits a disgusting attack on the security guard. He kicks the older man in the belly and then, after the victim is prone, kicks him in the head.
It's that second kick that really gets you. Fortunately the gentlemen is said to have suffered "just" light injuries instead of fatal ones.
The assailant is decidedly no lamb; according to the media, he has been in and out of different juvenile institutions since the age of 13 and regularly runs away from them. He is being investigated by police on suspicion of having assaulted and threatened the staff at one of those institutions.
Those are the facts you can read on other news servers. Nevertheless I was surprised, especially in the context of other such attacks, to read that this incident has been categorized as attempted grievous bodily harm, which means the youth could serve between 1.5 and 5 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
If he had committed this attack as an adult, the sentencing options would be twice as long. Other assaults of this intensity are usually charged as "rioting", for which the sentencing options are much less severe.
Let's take a look at the other side of the story, since the other media outlets haven't. As you can read elsewhere, the other young people present shouted abuse and taunts at the security guard, such as: "You little fool! Come at me!"
What you will not read about in other media reports, of course, is how the security guard absolutely failed to control the situation and how unprofessionally he behaved. The footage shows him behaving rather aggressively, and when he is abused as a "little fool", he reacts by using the term "loser" and constantly shouting "get out of here".
We do not see, in this footage, even a hint of an attempt by the guard to calm the situation or to explain to the group why they cannot be where they are. After a few seconds the guard leaves to call the police, but then, in a move that makes absolutely no sense, he reverses course and pursues the group again, after they have slowly begun walking away (apparently the threat of the police arriving worked).
The guard then even attempts to shove one of the young men. Up until that critical moment, the juveniles have been behaving more defensively, if vulgarly.
Unfortunately, the security guard's attempts at making physical contact sparked the monstrous reaction of the young man that we have already described. If this security guard had been a real professional, I am convinced this conflict would never have happened.
The situation did not become exacerbated until the older gentleman escalated it through his unfortunate behavior. Any reasonable person will have questions about this, such as: Why is a security firm employing a person of retirement age for such a job?
A security guard and a concierge are not the same thing, after all. Security staffers must be up to the job both mentally and physically.
Another important question is whether security guards are required to take a course on how to communicate and cope with crises and stressful situations. The art of communicating should be mastered as a basic instrument for coping with potentially dangerous conflicts.
I do not believe the gentleman involved in this incident has ever been instructed in anything even remotely of the sort. That means the security firm (SSI, in this case) has endangered his health.
This is the same thing as if somebody were to send me to operate a circular saw without the relevant training. Don't misunderstand me: My aim in writing this commentary is not to defend the behavior of the young man who was so aggressive (and so extremely drunk, as he later confirmed).
I just want to point out the unfortunate behavior of the professional on the scene who could have coped better with the situation. While for him this case will not have any fatal consequences and he is expected to recover after a few days, it apparently will mean imprisonment for his assailant, who has jumped out of the frying pan into the fire itself.
We'll see, maybe prison will make an educational impression on this young person and he will get out of the fire into which he has apparently now thrown himself. I am rather sceptical in that regard.
I have a request of those who are reading this commentary. Don't abuse the guard, don't curse him, and don't make racist remarks about him.
That security guard is just a person who made a mistake. Just like the young man whose actions have been reported on so much.
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