CHICAGO — An Uptown resident who files down a plastic knife into a 4-inch-long shank as protection when he goes out to exercise understands he's breaking the law.
And he doesn't care.
There's been a spate of attacks on runners in recent weeks, so many that the Chicago Area Runners Association has responded.
The shank-packing man, who asked to remain anonymous, said having the ultra-sharp plastic blade makes him feel safe. He's never had to use it.
"I began carrying a knife after watching news reports of people being attacked and not having anything to defend themselves," he said. "The only person concerned for my well-being is me. Laws are written by people with the means to protect themselves and many have their own protection details. CPD can't protect me when I need it, so why is it illegal for me to protect myself?"
Carrying a switchblade or any type of "dangerous knife" is illegal in Chicago. You can't carry a concealed knife with a blade that's longer than 2½ inches, and if you're younger than 18, you can't have any type of knife that's 2 inches or longer.
The man said he makes the shank by taking a plastic knife and cutting it diagonally to create a sharp point. He then uses a kitchen knife sharpener to file the point down.
The man, who frequently exercises — either on foot or bike — on the Lakefront Trail by himself, generally keeps the plastic shank in a pants pocket, blade down, so he doesn't stab himself.
The utility of employing a plastic knife instead of a real one is he can easily throw it away.
"Obviously, carrying any form of protection is frowned upon everywhere in Chicago, which is why I like the disposability of plastic knives: Just drop it in a trash can if the need arises," he said.
Police said Wednesday they are looking for a man who attempted to sexually assault a jogger on the lakefront trail near the South Shore Cultural Center on Sept. 22. About 9:45 p.m., the man ran behind the 27-year-old woman jogging north on the Lakefront Trail near 68th Street and shoved her into a fence, police said.
The incident comes after two other sexual attacks on joggers in other parts of the city. On Sunday, a jogger was sexually assaulted near Sunnyside and Kedzie avenues in Albany Park. On Sept. 10, a woman was attacked as she jogged near the Merchandise Mart. Carl Freeman, 34, was charged in that attack.
Tips to say safe:
• If you're 18 or older, you can carry and use nonlethal pepper spray and Mace in self-defense situations.
• Runners should stay in well-lit and populated areas, according to CARA's director of training, Leah Bohr. That can be tricky in the winter, when daylight is scarce, but during those times, runners should stick to streets with a lot of lights and avoid side streets and dark paths.
• Don't wear headphones and listen to music loudly, Bohr said. Some runners will just put in one headphone, but Bohr said even that can be iffy. As a runner who likes to listen to music, Bohr said she's started listening without headphones.
• Try to run in a group or in pairs. That lends itself to a bit more safety, Bohr said.
• Wear reflective gear. "Anything that makes you more noticeable and aware of your surroundings is going to be helpful," Bohr said.
Here's what you shouldn't do:
• You can only have a stun gun/Taser if you have a Firearm Owners Identification card. Once you have one, you can only use the stun gun for self-defense.
• Concealed-carry might be legal in Chicago, but you can't just bring a gun along on your jog. You must be approved for and receive a license.
• Carrying brass knuckles or any other "knuckle weapon, regardless of its composition" is illegal.
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