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Criminal Justice Fight or Flight - Do you Defend or Retreat?

In an effort to engage with your students and create an atmosphere for good classroom or online discussions it is would be beneficial if students analyze various criminal justice topics. The ability for a student to take a specific topic or analyze a specific incident can set the fertile ground for a student to critically think. Critical thinking is an important skill to master in the field of criminal justice. Questions such as:


  • What if this happened?
  • What if he had this?
  • What if the person did this?

could help a student to answer the question What would you do?  


For quite a long time American society has been dealing with a level of violence that surpasses most Western nations. Incidents of violence transcend from the simple assault to the unfortunate common occurrence of mass shootings. We rely on and look toward the government to protect us from violence and law breakers. Unfortunately, there are many times where those who have sworn to uphold the law and be the ones who took an oath to protect and serve can not respond quick enough to our need for protection.  


Under these circumstances we look toward the concept of "Self Defense". The concept of "Self Defense" is not only commonly know to many,but often used, relied upon and thought of as just in many situations.  In the area of Criminal Law the concept of "Self  Defense" can be used by the accused as a "Justification Defense".  In other words defending oneself with physical or deadly physical force in a given situation was justified under the situations specific circumstances.  


Now that we have identified Self Defense as a common Justification Defense and defined what Self Defense is.  The question that remains is:


When does an individual use Self Defense?


When should one defend or retreat? In order to answer these questions it is important to consider the concept of "Fight or Flight". The "Fight or Flight" concept is our body's natural instinct to either fight/defend or retreat/get away from danger. Additionally, we also must consider the legal concept of "Stand Your Ground" laws that have been adopted in many of our states. The concept of "Stand Your Ground" permits a person not to have to retreat even though they physically have the ability to do so, but remain in place or "Stand Your Ground " and defend oneself. 


These concepts of "Self Defense", "Fight or Flight", and "Stand Your Ground" are commonly discussed in many Criminal Justice courses. Creating discussions and activities for your students that will stimulate engagement is imperative to developing and enhancing their critical thinking skills.  


Using a current event can illustrate the concepts mentioned above and can be the foundation for skill implementation.  By analyzing a specific event i.e... Shooting, use of force, or retreating scenario, your students can see if the concepts of Self Defense Fight or Flight or Stand Your Ground were present.  Additionally, while reviewing the specific situation or event, substituting factors that may have altered the actions of those involved could thus change the entire outcome.


An example is the recent incident in which an Uber driver used deadly force to defend himself. This incident could be used to help create discussion and "What if Scenarios" with your students.




Questions (here is a list of questions taken from this post and from suggestions given below from commenters):


David Levine: 


  1. What might have happened if the aggressor ran towards the car?
  2. What might have happened if the aggressor did not approach the vehicle?
  3. What might have happened if the aggressor had nothing in his hand?
  4. What might have happened if Florida did not have a "Stand Your Ground Law"?
  5. Could simply leaving the area be sufficient?
  6. Does every situation require force or confrontation?
  7. Could standing your ground provoke violence?
  8. Could the untrained individual resort to more force than necessary?


Scott Crawford:

  1. In some European countries civilians are not allowed to have guns. How might a similar scenario play out there?
  2. How would gun advocates use this story to their advantage?
  3. How would those opposed to guns use this story to their advantage?
  4. Does this story make you want to change your behavior in the future?

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Other questions that come to me:

In some European countries civilians are not allowed to have guns.  How might a similar scenario play out there?

How would gun advocates use this story to their advantage?

How would those opposed to guns use this story to their advantage?

Does this story make you want to change your behavior in the future?


I feel that someone should be able to defend themselves at all times when their lives are in danger.


The question that remains is when is a person’s life in danger and what actions does a person take to defend themselves?  Could simply leaving the area be sufficient. Does every situation require force or confrontation?  Could standing your ground provoke violence. Could the untrained individual resort to more force than necessary?  Things to think about

Valued Contributor

This is a good case study as it does not involve the two most common media focused elements, 1) Police and 2) minorities. This is a case where students will be less distracted by media portrayal and influence and have an opportunity to focus on the issue at hand. If I used his incident in class I would stop the video before the point where we learn that the suspect had a long criminal history and send threatening texts to his girlfriend, as neither of those elements are relevant since the Uber driver did not have that information before hand. 

First, I agree with Eugene Matthews and andreak. I believe that when faced with an unusual circumstance such as displayed in this video, we all think and react differently as the stress hormones are released into our bloodstream. Do we fight or do we flee? We make those decisions in a second. I believe that this scenario occurred so quickly that the Uber driver behaved in the best interest of himself and his passenger. It appears to be a tragic case of a huge misunderstanding on the behalf of the other driver and a need to act quickly on behalf of the Uber driver. It is a sad story on one hand that the driver was shot; on the other hand, the innocent Uber driver and innocent passenger are safe. Next, I agree with David's idea of posing questions related to "What would you do?" for student reflection to foster critical thinking skills. I have posed similar bioethical questions with students covering everything from abortion to euthanasia. I initially break students into small groups to come up with their best suggestions/solutions as a group; then we discuss the groups' thoughts as a whole class. Regardless of the subject matter, it is interesting for students to verbalize their own thoughts, but then also hear the thoughts of other students for consideration. We often discuss perspectives that we may have never thought of until we listened to others' feelings. For me, the powerful learning moments for both students and myself present themselves when students 1) rationally and peacefully share their thoughts and 2) respectfully listen to other students' thoughts. Students often go into the group conversations with strong feelings/opinions regarding the topic; students often leave the group conversations with new considerations upon which they wish to reflect further. I tell students that the most important lessons can be learned by listening to others without judgment because we all create unique perspectives that evolve over our lifetimes; it is those listening experiences that continually shape our perspectives and drive our behavior. We can respectfully disagree, yet still live and work peacefully among each other with love and compassion. I believe that there are no single right answers to the questions David poses; the same scenario could play out (and likely has played out) differently many times in many different scenarios. However, discussions and critical thinking such as this hopefully will allow us to think through scenarios and make decisions with the best possible outcomes. Great post, David. Thank you for sharing this!

As Scott had mentioned many other questions come to mind. This situation had it taken place in another  country may have played out differently. The fact that guns are not part of their culture perhaps no one would have died by means of lethal force. This opens up the question of violence in America. 

Eugene mentioned how he would use only a portion of the video to demonstrate the importance of the physical threat to the Uber driver at the time he was accosted by the aggressor. The fact the Uber driver did not know about the aggressor's history lends even more credence to his feelings of a serious threat to the Uber driver's safety. This fact can aid in the classroom discussion of self defense. DS Shellman use of similar activities in class does foster not only discussion of the facts, but brings students together in a respectful and thought provoking way to express their ideas and feelings. It also should bring self-reflection for students towards their own behaviors and conduct. Engaging our students in critical thinking activities can serve in many positive ways. I thank each of you for your responses and insight.         


Frequent Commenter

This is sad on many levels.  My first reaction was “whoa, he reacted very quickly with deadly force”!  I was both impressed with his “skills” and confused at the speed of his decision to shoot.  However, upon reading and listening further to the story I realized that he had training “regular” people don’t normally have and also had been tracked by the pickup truck for a while (thus leading me to believe it wasn’t a quick decision to defend himself).  


We are currently studying logical arguments and critical thinking in my Academic Strategies class.  It is so interesting to allow students the space and time to participate in a thinking activity like this one.  I am using the Central American caravan as a point of discussion.  Being in Texas I have many students who are immediately impacted by immigration and the decisions surrounding this issue. It’s so hard but so necessary to have these conversations and allow students the space to see, hear, watch and read from a vantage point that differs from their current point of view.   The spices they each bring to the “soup” of discussion make for some very interesting classes.  


I really like this video and the discussion questions.  

Thank you for sharing David.