Chicago summers are usually characterized by increased temperatures, tourists and street festivals. But when the warm weather rises, so do the crime rates.
Last weekend, a series of "flash mob" attacks were reported downtown. In the first attack on Saturday night, a 40-year-old Michigan man was beaten and robbed by a group of at least eight teenagers on the 500 block of North State Street. Thirty minutes later, near the Lake/State Red Line station, a couple was attacked by an unknown number of assailants. On Sunday, a 36-year-old man walking home from work in the Gold Coast was attacked by 15 to 20 males and females, all believed to be teenagers, according to police reports.
While none of the victims were seriously injured--the Michigan man suffered a broken jaw and the Gold Coast man suffered lacerations and bruises to his head and body--the attacks have once again raised concerns among Chicagoans and tourists on how to protect themselves.
"When you're attacked, it's a predator situation, and it's very scary," said Prentiss Rhodes, who owns Rhodes Fusion Fitness and teaches an Israeli-style self-defense class. "But remember: the predator only goes for the buffalo in the back of the pack. Self-defense starts the moment you walk out of your door."
Flash mobs first popped up several years ago and usually involve young teens relying on the power in numbers to overcome their victims. Although this mass-mugging technique is more prevalent in the summer months, since there are more tourists, downtown activities and teenagers out of school, flash mobs can happen anytime of the year and can happen to anyone, which is why experts say it is imperative to always stay alert.
According to Rhodes, the most important element of self-defense is being aware of your surroundings. Those who carry themselves with their head held high and walk with a purpose are less likely to get attacked, he said, because they send the message that they're a tougher target.
"The first step is just to put yourself in a position where you can see the environment clearly," Rhodes said. "When you're walking on the streets, your sole focus should be on getting from point A to point B."
Miguel Fuentes, chapter leader of volunteer safety group Guardian Angels, said one of the most common mistakes that victims make is having their phones, cameras and electronics visible. Texting or talking on the phone not only distracts a victim, but also flaunts their assets and makes them an easy target.
"When you have your phone or camera out, you're basically advertising what you have," Fuentes said. "Criminals are now window shopping."
But even those who constantly stay alert and dutifully tuck their phones away can still become victims of an attack. Oftentimes, one assailant will create a diversion by asking the victim for the time or spare change, allowing the rest of the mob to swoop in for an attack.
Fuentes said the next step after being approached is to use your voice and be loud. Once physically attacked by a large group, however, Fuentes said there are very few fighting techniques that could help someone beat up a group of 10 to 15 people. Even carrying pepper spray could pose a greater threat because it could get taken away and used against you.
"Your best chance is to get away as fast as possible. If they're trying to rob you, throw whatever it is they want in the opposite direction," Fuentes said. "Make as much noise as possible. Spit, scratch, bite. People may not always come to help you, but at least they can call for help."
Fuentes said the Guardian Angels are prepared for flash mobs this summer after last year's slew of crimes and have already ramped up their efforts around Streeterville and the Red Line stations—last year they made 33 citizen arrests between May and June.