Evasion

A few notes on how to get out of dicey situations.
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The art of escape is one of those things that can’t be taught, least of all by websites: you have to learn it on your feet. All the same, it’s good for us to talk and write about such things, to demystify them and help each other build up the confidence for that learning process. When your cover is blown and all that stands between your freedom and those who would seize it are your wits and your running legs, you’ll be surprised how much wider the margin is between “in trouble” and captured than it appeared from a distance. The average ex-bourgeois lawbreaker lives in terror of being caught in the act, driven by unresolved feelings of guilt to fixate on this possibility out of all proportion to the difficulties it would actually involve; in fact, it can be a big relief to no longer be sneaking around consumed by anxiety, but finally have everything on the table in a simple contest between yourself and your enemies. The first time you find yourself running from the police, you’ll discover a new relationship to your body: you will be present in it entirely, and it will serve you well, as bodies have served human beings fleeing from predators since the dawn of time. It may even be profoundly empowering to discover that, in addition to all the capabilities your mind affords you, you have this, too: the strength of your muscles, the speed of your reflexes, and the sharpness of your instincts. Besides, your pursuers are just running for a paycheck; you are running for your life.

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But what do you do once you’re being pursued? Let’s back up a bit. First, there’s a time to play it cool, and a time to run. Nothing identifies you as an outlaw like taking off running. If the alarm goes off as you leave a store, for example, you’ll generally be better off walking calmly until you’re at least out the door; if you’re the only one not fleeing when the police charge at a crowd as it breaks up, they just might run past you. Your ability to act as if nothing strange is happening is your best passport to safety. Don’t panic—but don’t freeze up, either!

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Second, know whether you want to run in the first place. If there is little chance of escape, it might make sense to quit while you’re behind and face the music. Even surrounded, you might still be able to deadpan your way out of the situation. Never underestimate the power of sticking to your alibi—you did already work one out, didn’t you?

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Speaking of bluffing your way out, if you’re trying to pass as harmless passersby, nothing looks harmless like a cute male-female couple with their arms around each other and an intimate conversation in progress. I’ve breezed out of many a sketchy situation at the side of a stranger of the opposite sex who was willing to take my arm and gaze into my eyes as we walked past the police.

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Hopefully, you’ve already charted escape routes from the area, or at least noted them in passing. Whether you’re planning a route well in advance or improvising on the fly, you’re probably either going to want to get entirely out of the area swiftly and without being observed, or get to a place with heavy crowd cover and disappear into it. If you’re attempting the former, watch for spaces like alleys and dog-free backyards that you can move through without being seen; if you’re counting on doing the latter, make sure you can actually melt into the crowd at hand. Escaping into crowd cover is especially useful when a large number of people are all seeking to disappear at once. Keep in mind that there are some places—woods, for example—that police may not follow you, at least not if they are alone; security guards may not even leave the property they are hired to guard. Wherever you go, don’t get boxed in, whether in alley or thicket. When it comes to transportation, cars are rarely safe to use near the scene of the crime: they’re tagged for easy identification by your enemies, and those enemies have dominion over almost all the places you can drive them, too. If you use them, try to make sure that your driver is the least likely of you to be arrested before your getaway, and that your drop-off and pick-up points are out of sight from where the action goes down; you can use a stolen license plate or obscure your plate with mud, but check out the potential legal consequences first to make sure it’s worth the risk. If you are on foot and hoping to stay out of sight, and your driver is roving the area waiting to pick you up when you’re ready, you could leave a marker out at the pick-up point until you arrive there, remove it, and hide nearby until the car pulls over. Bicycles are often useful, as they are quiet, easy to conceal, can go places cars cannot, and can be abandoned in an emergency. Even though they don’t have registration to give them away, they can still be connected to you by description, so either use a bicycle other than your own, or stash it someplace where you can get on it out of sight of pursuers and ride away unobserved. Leave your bicycle unlocked for quickest accessibility. There’s always public transportation, though it can be unreliable and you probably don’t want anyone to be able to identify you as having been near the scene of the crime. If those pursuing you are in vehicles, you can slow them down by pulling obstacles into their path.

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If you’re surrounded and there’s no way out of an area, you can always find a good hiding place and sit tight. Remember when choosing hiding places and escape routes that if you are chased by police at night, they will probably use spotlights to follow you. So many have escaped the claws of so-called justice by leaping into dumpsters that it’s practically a coming-of-age ritual in some circles. In Miami, fleeing from a charging force of three thousand police fanning out across the district in cars, tanks, and bicycle brigades, my affinity group found ourselves encircled on all sides, with police on every street ahead of, around, and behind us; we fled into a small alley, and hid there among weeds and trash for several hours until night fell and the police lines moved forward, leaving us to sneak away in tremulous pairs. Don’t rule out the possibility that locals will help you out of a tight spot, either, though some are more likely to do so than others. We wouldn’t have known which way to go out of the aforementioned alley if neighborhood locals hadn’t been waiting to guide us to safety; of course, that was an impoverished black ghetto, and things might have played out differently in a bourgeois suburb. You may also be able to pass yourself off as a customer in a bar or club, if you’re not breathing too heavily.

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If you’re in foreign territory, try to make sure you have somewhere to go if you can’t get back together with your partners. I’ll never forget the night I got chased by a police car after putting up graffiti for the next day’s demonstration; it was a rainy January night, and of course I shed my outer layers of clothing in the course of flight, so it was a cold, wet eight hours walking around back streets killing time until the demonstration started.

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If you’re carrying potentially incriminating evidence that doesn’t bear your fingerprints, and there’s any chance you will be caught, dispose of it in the safest place you can in the course of your flight. Better you don’t have it on you if they do get you; you can come back to the scene later, if possible, and remove it. Wear layers of clothing—better yet, a persuasive wig—that you can strip off as soon as you’re out of eyesight; just make sure when you come out looking like a different person, you do so in character, not running desperately in the same direction you were a second earlier!

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Post lookouts, either immediately around the field of engagement, or at a distance with communications equipment; make sure they can’t easily be associated with the one doing the action, not least so they can pull the “she went that-a-way” trick if the chance arises. If you’re the one going for it, don’t let your guard down just because you have lookouts—you never know what will happen. If you’re a lookout, don’t panic and run just because the one you were watching on behalf of is running.

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If there are many of you, escape can be more complicated. First of all, before doing anything risky in a group, make sure your planned method of escape, should that be necessary, is something everyone in the group is comfortable with, capable of, and clear on. In case you split up during the chase, set a location to reconvene, or have someone somewhere at a telephone who can receive calls from people and coordinate them or come pick them up. Splitting up can make pursuit more difficult, but it can also mean giving up the chance to help each other or outnumber the opposition. If you’re being followed, be careful not to lead your enemies to your getaway vehicle or convergence point. After any larger action that breaks up in flight from the police, get back together at a safe location as soon as possible. If you are unsure of whether everyone escaped, make a list of everyone who is unaccounted for, and set about locating them. Try to verify rumors about who has been arrested and what happened to them. Start collecting a bail fund, if necessary, and consider composing an announcement to circulate over the internet to your community about who has been arrested and what people can do to help. If you don’t know all the people involved, get contact information for everyone, in case a court case necessitates that you be in touch with them to agree on a story, request their assistance as witnesses, or make use of any documentation they may have of the events.

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Finally, and perhaps obviously, if your escape plans—or any you might need to make on the fly—necessitate athletic prowess, make sure you exercise in advance!

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