Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The way things are

Read this article.

I've been following this case closely over the past year, for obvious reasons. I'll not go so far as to express an opinion on the verdict because I don't know anyone involved, and because I wasn't there the night Peter Shine died. Since I wasn't there and didn't see what happened, and because I'm not privy to the trial transcripts or to the police reports, my opinion isn't worth shit. And neither is yours, because you weren't there either.

The only thing I will say here is that I'm relieved. I'm relieved because I've been in Tom Sebald's shoes. I've never been tried for murder as a result of hauling someone out of a club, but I've been in situations -- hundreds of times, now -- where "talking" hasn't worked. Where I've had to put my hands on someone and physically pull them away from another person. Where I've had to protect myself from someone who was trying to hurt me. And where, maybe, I've gotten angry as a result and tried to hurt them back. You may recall that I've been stabbed on this job, and have the scar to prove it.

You'd be correct in assuming that my assailant received something a tad harsher than a tongue lashing.

You can trust me as a bouncer. I'm not trying to kill you. All I really want to do is get it all over with so I can return to my spot and stick my thumb back up my ass for another few hours. Assuming I can handle you, I'm not out to prove anything when I run into a fight and touch you. I'm going to grab you by the arms or torso and use my strength to pull you out. If you struggle, I'm going to try harder. I'm going to restrain you so you can't move, and I'm going to try my best to speed your progress toward the nearest door, but I'm still not out to hurt you.

If you turn around and take a swing at me, however, all bets are off. Once your aggression is applied in my direction, I have to protect myself, so that's what I'm going to do. This is the part people don't understand. The uninitiated can't see that there's a certain point in the typical bouncer-customer exchange where the customer will turn on the bouncer. When this point comes, "talking" and using "minimal physical force" are simply not realistic because I'm dealing with someone who is attacking me. When someone is physically attacking me, it's not part of my job description -- or my constitution -- to allow myself to be injured. Fuck that.

Stopping fights is our job. Sometimes fights begin before we can see them developing. Once a brawl starts in earnest, you can't talk people out of fighting, so we have to put our hands on them. When we put our hands on them, they get mad and they fight back. If we don't put our hands on them, and we let them stand there and battle it out, people get hurt and we all get fired. If we do put our hands on them, the idea is to get them the fuck out of the club without hurting them. If they try to hurt us, however, we have to defend ourselves because we're human and we don't want to get punched in the face or thrown to the ground.

I don't know how Mr. Sebald took Mr. Shine out of the bar that night. If he took him out in a chokehold, I'm not saying I condone it, but I understand. I understand this because I've done it. I've taken people out that way myself when I've felt threatened. Here in New York, we feel threatened all the time. When some juiced-up Guido who's been doing cocaine and Red Bull all night decides it's my turn to feel his wrath, what the fuck else am I supposed to do? I can't run away, right? At some point in the interaction, it comes down to a "him or me" choice, and if I have anything to say about it, it sure as hell isn't going to be me.

The point, however, is that we don't want to be bothered. We're there because people act like wild animals when they have too much to drink. If they didn't, there wouldn't be any need for bouncers. We don't want to interact with you. We don't even want to fucking be there, but we have to show up because we need the money. So we're there, and people get drunk and start acting like animals, and it's all our fault when we throw them out and they get hurt.

You know what, though? I say the patrons are responsible for everything. I say it's your responsibility to avoid acting like a wild fucking animal. It's your responsibility to not punch each other in the face. It's your responsibility to maintain control of yourselves. I'm not there to help you do that. I'm there to throw your ass out when you lose it. If you involve me, it's your own fucking fault.

Nobody deserves to die outside of a bar, but if Mr. Sebald is anything like me -- and from what I've read and heard, I suspect he is -- he didn't go to work that night looking to hurt anyone. I know I certainly don't, but sometimes it ends up happening -- and most times, there's not a damned thing I could've done differently.