"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Died, after having been beaten before a dozen witnesses…

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I am presently struggling my way through a talk for Saturday night on the subject of integrity. For a person that has spent most of his adult life studying the question, I’m finding it surprisingly hard to put words to paper.

Three things caught my eye. The first, a blog post by a classmate of mine, concerning a gentleman who was pushed onto the subway tracks in NYC and killed by a train…his post begins discussing the freelance photographer who captured photos of the man just before he was killed, apparently while he was trying to use his flash to warn the driver. The second is the post by theologian John Stackhouse noted below, about our role in evil. The third was this story, very close to home, about a man beaten to death on an LRT train on last Friday afternoon. A beating that took place while about a dozen people looked on.

In the reporting from the school shooting in CT, we heard of the principal and one other school staffer who attempted to stop the gunman, and died in the process.  We also heard of some staff who hid under their desks.  In Edmonton we hear of witnesses who stood by and watched what sounds like a one-sided beating (the deceased was apparently saying, stop, stop).  At what point did our first world become a nation of watchers?

My classmate talks about the bystander syndrome.  Basically, your chance of getting help is inversely proportional to the number of people standing watching.  There was a famous test done of seminary students – they were set up to move between two buildings in a rush, to give a talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan.  En route, they come across a person in need (a bicycle accident in one test).  The question was, how many of them would stop, when it meant they would be late for an important engagement?  The answer – most of them bypassed the person in need…so they could be on time to talk about the importance of always giving aid.  Ironic, but so very human.

Like my classmate notes, I was always trained to act (even, I’ll note, as a slack and idle air force guy).  The thought of standing by while someone is in need literally makes me physically uncomfortable…the reason why I’m an emergency responder at my place of work, and carry a trauma kit in my trunk…and started safety and security training of my coworkers.  How then is it a train full of witnesses watched?

My dear wife and I have been reading through our family history, and on both sides (Metis and Mennonite) come up with the sorts of pioneer stories one expects.  I recall the father who would walk 45 miles in the winter into Winnipeg to buy a side of bacon to feed his family for the next 6 months.  Thomas Vincent, the subject of my great-grandfather’s article (below), hiked 800 kilometres solo, on snowshoes (in the winter) from northern Ontario down to the Red River settlement to be ordained.  My grandfather and my father-in-law, both gone to glory, were the type of men who would always do what was necessary – if they needed a part they couldn’t buy, they would manufacture something suitable.  At what point did that pioneering ethic become displaced with a belief that is closer to sheep than those who built our nation?

The words of the one witness on that train are a little telling:

Witness Scott McLeod says the train driver didn’t offer any explanation to passengers as to what was being done to stop the assault.

He says he hit the yellow emergency bar on the side of the train, and was asked what the emergency was. But he didn’t hear anything back after describing the attack.

“I didn’t hear any response. I was very scared.”

McLeod and the rest of the passengers in the car got off when the train stopped at Belvedere station, but says he was surprised when the train continued on to Clareview.

“I was kind of surprised that the train didn’t just stop at Belvedere. I was expecting some kind of voice to come over the system, to tell people not to get on the train.”

I am always cautious about second-guessing those who have been through a crisis, as it is easy to assess in hindsight.  What I hear in those responses is something that seems to be too common in first world culture – the expectation that once the authorities have been notified, all will be taken care of.  Why didn’t anyone tell me what to do?  (apart from the fact that the driver would have been speaking with LRT operations, who would have been speaking to the police, setting up the meeting place)  Why do you need to be told what to do?

To be certain, that attitude has been fostered by government and those in authority.  Don’t try to do the job of the professionals, you’ll only end up hurt or in trouble.  There were also a fair number of comments about the possibility of being placed in trouble with the law yourself, after using force to intervene.  I’m recalling the grocer in Toronto who was charged with something criminal after he finally detained a serial shoplifter (that story is absolutely crazy, and the feds are changing the law to permit more latitude in citizen arrest, but it is indicative of a police force and a crown prosecutor that has lost all touch with who they serve).

What is also true is that when you need the police (or firefighters, or paramedics) in seconds, they’re usually only minutes away.  Even at my place of work, mid-morning, three blocks from a fire station, we expect paramedic response time on the order of 10 minutes – proven during a recent medical emergency.  That’s also, BTW, the reason I’m nearly insane over the question of AEDs and why after 3 years of trying to justify them we still haven’t purchased a set for the office (I’m at the point of considering getting my own, and keeping it in my desk drawer).  Of course, the people making the purchasing decisions are not the ones who would have been doing CPR for 10+ minutes – it would have been me.  But I stray…

There has to be some personal willingness to act in the absence of the people that we pay to protect us – and that point is important.  We, as a society, set apart certain classes of people to protect us.  But that act of setting apart does not excuse us from our obligation to care for our fellow citizens when they are in need.  I would go so far as to state that this is a responsibility of citizenship.  With all the blessings of living in the first world, comes an equal obligation to care for each other, and even if that caring places us at some degree of personal risk.

With every safety lecture I give, I repeat the same message – your obligation begins with notifying emergency services, and it only ends when they arrive and assume control of the scene and excuse you.  In some cases, that may mean that the paramedics arrive and tell you to continue CPR or whatever it is you might doing while they go about their business.  That is the responsibility of every citizen, and the fact we have police and firefighters is only to supplement that obligation.

We saw this change in flight after 911 – before you were told to be passive, to let the ‘professionals’ handle the situation.  Now, if you’re a rowdy drunk on a flight, you can expect 5 or 9 beefy passengers tackling you and restraining you until the police meet the flight.  That’s the way it is supposed to be all the time, and everywhere.

Why didn’t the people on the train do something other than sounding the alarm?  That’s a question only they can answer.  I would hope that the rest of us are learning – if we want people to come to our aid (or our children’s aid) in our hour of need, we need to be prepared to do the same for them, however inconvienient it might be for us personally.

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Written by sameo416

January 1, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Reblogged this on asimplefellow and commented:
    A classmate adds his thoughts on “bystanders” in the wake of a beating on an Edmonton LRT witnessed by more than a dozen people. The victim, who has died from injuries sustained in the attack, pleaded for his attacker to “stop, stop, stop”. No one did anything….

    asimplefellow

    January 1, 2013 at 7:05 pm


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