cowardice

Over the weekend I posted on the murder on the Red Line of the DC Metro on July 4. Long story short, a young man was stabbed about 40 times and beaten by a single assailant while 10 or so adult passengers looked on and did nothing. It received at least one interesting response from a self-avowed coward who asserted that you had to be Chuck Norris in order to intervene in an attack (in this case, the attacker was smaller than the average 14-year-old boy. This particular commenter’s view was that the best thing to do is to let the other guy get killed and hope and pray you aren’t next, that killings aren’t like Lays Potato Chips to the murderer.

Via Slate (read the whole thing, I restricted my pull-quote out of respect for Fair Use):

What happened to me in November was vastly different, and I do not intend to equate the two events. Like Sutherland, I was attacked on a Saturday afternoon on the D.C. Metro. And as in Sutherland’s case, despite my screams and pleas, almost none of my fellow passengers on the crowded train car did anything to help.

I was in a window seat on the Blue Line, en route to meet friends for dinner. One teenage girl sat down next to a man in front of me; another sat beside me. They began by asking what kind of phone I had. The girl next to me patted down my pockets and, finding nothing, grabbed my coffee mug out of my hands. The girl in front put her finger in my face, getting as close as she could without touching me. They grabbed my legs. They threatened to rape me until I bled. One opened the other’s coat jacket, feigning—or not—that she had a weapon.

After the incident, I felt angry at all the people on the crowded train car—there must have been 30 adults—who did nothing. When I screamed, no one tried to intervene. They didn’t hit the emergency call button. They didn’t even acknowledge that anything was happening. They just averted their eyes and let it continue.

The problem is not,  as the commenter and the perpetually befuddled Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post allege, one of people knowing what they should do and being afraid to do it for fear of injury (this is understandable, the technical term for this impulse is “cowardice”). The issue is a society that has become so self-absorbed that they can stand idly by and watch a young man stabbed and beaten or a young woman mugged, not intervene, and walk away completely self-justified in their actions.