April 15, 2008

Dealing with Sketchy People - Report

Dealing with Sketchy People

Over the weekend, I ran across a couple of rather sketchy people while walking around Church Street. In the 501st, you tend to stick out. The costumes are distinctive and that tends to attract all types of people. 90% of the people that we tend to encounter are awed, shocked, interested and excited to see a Storm Trooper, Scout Trooper, Sand Trooper, Vader, etc. The other 10% are the odd ones, who can be unreasonable, antagonistic or just downright annoying.
When going out into public, Troopers need to make sure of a couple of things. First, they need to ensure that they and their armor is safe, they need to make sure that the people around them are safe and finally, they need to ensure that they uphold the image of the 501st Legion.

Fortunately, instances where you have problem people around are relatively rare. Most Legion events are in fairly controlled settings - a convention, parade, and other types of things in which we're out in public. Contact with passersby is a bit more limited. Other times, some events take place where there's a lot more contact with the general public. Generally, the more people you come into contact with, the more likely it is that you'll come into contact with people who are going to be antagonistic.

There are a couple things that you can do to minimize problems:

1 - Always have a wrangler or handler. They can do a number of things which will stave off most problems - a good save zone in which troopers can operate, they can control who comes close, and in the event of a problem, they can take care of a problem person by diverting them away. In the case of larger groups, multiple wranglers are needed. In the case of the St. Patrick's Day parade, where we had sixty people, we had ten wranglers all spread out, connected with radios. Wranglers can be either officers, who can generally see and move around better, or in plainclothes.

2 - Operate in groups. Safety in numbers is generally a good idea. People are less likely to bother a larger number of troopers, and everyone can look out for one another fairly easily.

3 - Avoid problem groups. Several members of the legion have identified several specific groups of people are potential problems. Small, over excited children and teenagers seem to be one of the dominant problem groups, because they can have a lack of self control and might not know their limits. Avoiding these groups ahead of time, or alerting the wranglers to keep an eye out. Keeping kids away is a good idea - there's a lot of reports of kids rapping on armor, pulling pieces and other similar actions which can damage your kit.

4 - Ignore antagonistic people. While people might feel like they need to snap off a response to someone who's being annoying, it's generally not a good idea. The good thing about armor is that people can't see our faces, and it's a lot easier to ignore people, either by pretending to look in another direction. This past weekend, I came across a woman who I think was pretty high. She was tapping my chest plate, singing loudly and following me, which was attracting attention that I didn't want. Asking her to move along didn't work, so I just started to move on, and she left. Someone suggested to ask them a complicated question, especially someone who has been impaired due to drugs and/or alcohol. When they try and think of the answer, their thought process will likely be slowed down, and when they think of an answer, walk away. If they persist, contact security, or the police, and they can handle it.

5 - Stare down someone who's being antagonistic. This is pretty easy to do when you have a mask. Troopers are intimidating, and staring one down is hard. Probably not a good thing in every case, but in some select instances, it might work.

The bottom line is to avoid making a scene and drawing negative attention. You never want to lash out, yell or drop down to their level. Generally, these problem people are looking for a response, something that validates their behavior. Additionally, it doesn't look good at all for a Storm Trooper to get into any physical confrontation with anybody, because that can lead to larger repercussions, which can affect the squad, outpost, garrison or legion as a whole, which is something that cannot happen.

Women in the 501st and Rebel Legion have a separate category of problems - sexual harassment. This comes in the form of comments or downright unwanted physical encounters, depending on the costume. One thing that the wearer has to keep in mind is the reality of what they are wearing - someone dressed as a Slave Leia is going to attract a lot of unwanted attention from the males (and probably some females) in and around them - something that they have to be prepared for. Some costumes, such as the masked ones, don't reveal figure nearly as much, but even then, problems can arise if someone takes their bucket off. In places like conventions, where there tends to be a lot of socially inept people (sad but true), the attention is going to be even more intense. By some reports, Anime Conventions are the worst, as you tend to have an audience that seems to have less restraint and more enthusiasm.

Once again, the key is to increase your personal protection - keeping your comfort level and safety is paramount, and the Legion's image is a close second. Sexual harassment is a big no in my book, and it shouldn't be tolerated, especially from the somewhat creepy people that turn up at conventions. A wrangler is an absolute must - two is probably better, also depending on what you're wearing.

Bottom line for any outing - Wranglers. Wranglers, wranglers, wranglers. They can help keep people away who you don't want near you, they can keep problems away and they can do things like hold a camera and take pictures. And pick up any pieces that you might drop.

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