Citizen Green: For civilians responding to a mass-casualty event

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Greensboro police Lt. Dan Moore describes typical scenarios when police confront mass shooters. (photo by Jordan Green)

“There’s somebody within five miles of where we stand today that’s fantasizing about taking over the body-count record for our country, which stands at 53,” says Sgt. Kory Flowers, standing before a group of about 35 civilians in a meeting room on the third floor of Greensboro Police Department headquarters. “And the easiest way to do it, as terrifying as it sounds, is to drive a car down Elm Street on any given Friday night, jump the curb and kill a hundred people.”

“All the citizens that are not here are living in denial that that’s not going to happen,” Flowers adds during the presentation on a recent Thursday evening on active assailant response. “But you guys came. Your mindset’s not the same. It’s good to face these realities.”

It can’t happen here is not a sentiment that fits Greensboro.

A 40-page booklet with a DVD, a special report from the Southern Poverty Law Center entitled Age of the Wolf: A Study of the Rise of Lone Wolf and Leaderless Resistance Terrorism lays on the table in front of each participant. One of the profiles in the booklet should be familiar. In his memoir, Frazier Glenn Miller acknowledged his presence in a Klan-Nazi caravan that fatally gunned down five antiracist, labor organizers in a Greensboro public-housing community in 1979. As detailed in the SPLC booklet, Miller, a retired Army veteran and Green Beret who organized the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and White Patriot Party militias, went underground in 1987. Almost three decades later, in 2014, he resurfaced and fatally shot three people at a Jewish community center and retirement community in a Kansas City suburb.

Flowers and his co-presenter, Lt. Dan Moore, have an origin story about how they came to be experts on active assailants. It begins with responding to a disturbance call for a man smashing up his apartment on Chapman Street, and then finding themselves pinned down behind a police car for five and a half hours as the man shot at them from an improvised sniper’s nest until a SWAT team successfully extracted them.

But they’re not here to talk about police tactics. This presentation is about what civilians can do to respond if a bad actor walks into school or synagogue with a gun intent to killing as many people as possible, or, as the case may be, drives a car into a crowded public space. The average police response time in Greensboro is six-minutes, Moore notes, and the duration of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that resulted in 32 deaths was nine minutes. There’s no ambiguity in the message from the two officers: Although it’s a deeply personal decision, civilians should feel empowered to intervene to stop someone from committing mass murder. As one of the slides in their presentation says, “You are the only one liable for your action or inaction. If you do something… there will be an outcome. If you do nothing… there will be an outcome.”

The body count at Virginia Tech is particularly troubling to Flowers.

“We kind of live with an ethos that there are things in life worse than dying,” Flowers says. “I stand here before you with that ethos. And one of those is, if you’re in a position to change some of these dynamics, and you don’t, you have to live with that. Honestly, guys, I think most normal human beings, if you’re in a position to change these dynamics and you choose not to, I don’t think you can psychologically rehabilitate yourself in this lifetime.”

The hour-long presentation emphasizes planning. Three basic responses are fundamental: 1) “Run: Escape the area if you can… distance is survival.” 2) “Hide: Seek ballistic cover or visual concealment when possible. Barricade points of entry to prevent or slow the assault.” And, 3) “Fight: When cornered by a mass murderer, why submit peaceably to your own bodily harm or death?”

Flowers asks people to think about what they might do to prevent blood loss. Short of having a tourniquet handy, or even applying a shirt as a makeshift compress, he says you can even kneel on someone’s arterial wound and potentially save a life. And when you experience extreme stress and stop thinking clearly, you can turn to autogenic breathing — a four-count nasal inhale and a four-count oral exhale, or as Flowers puts it, “Smell the rose… Enjoy the rose… Blow out the birthday candle.”

It can’t happen here is not a sentiment that fits Greensboro.

A woman seated in the front row mentions that the survivors of the Charleston Massacre recalled that they could hear Dylann Roof stop to reload, and asks whether an interlude like that presents an opportunity to intervene.

“Yes, ma’am,” Lt. Moore responds. “I would submit to you that it is a window. And again, you just have to determine, What am I capable of? What am I willing to do? Again, total judgment call, and there’s not a wrong answer…. Your mind is in the right spot, because you’re looking for an opportunity to change the dynamic of whatever situation you’re in.”

An older man who looks like he might be in his early sixties chimes in.

“One thing, everybody has to be on the same page,” he says. “If an active shooter comes into our church, we’ve got a team of members that have set up certain situations to attack that person. And one thing that you can do is grab the end of a gun barrel, and press down on it so there’s no way he can raise it up, and everybody else pile on.”

A plan is a plan.

“General Patton famously said, ‘The second best plan will generally defeat the first best plan if it’s executed decisively,’” Lt. Moore says. “That’s the key. Y’all have a plan.”

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