Silent witness tragedy


Quick — what would you do if you saw one person getting beat up by a group of people? What would you do if you saw somebody steal a game system at a house party? What about a group of suspicious individuals carrying something that could be used as a weapon? Hopefully, you said you would do something, either intervene, inform somebody who might know what to do or call the police. More than likely, though, you would rationalize the situation or expect somebody else to take care of it.

I saw this first hand on Friday night as two individuals punched and kicked one other right outside of Au Bon Pain on College Avenue. I was on the bus going back to the hotel and was amazed at everybody's reaction. The driver stopped, drove a little farther to keep up with the action, and then stopped again as he and my fellow riders watched voyeuristically along with a small crowd on the street. But when I tried to get off of the bus to make sure nobody got hurt, the driver closed the door and refused to open it. Everyone else on the bus told me I was wrong to try to do anything, that I was crazy and we drove away.

This, of course, is a smaller example of the silent witness tragedy that took place in San Francisco last week, where a 15-year-old girl was gang raped outside of her high school dance while as many as two dozen others just watched. There are, unfortunately, many more examples of such barbaric apathy documented in research on human psychology and behavioral economics.

It is a failure of our society that so many people can witness the misfortune of others and think, "At least it's not me." Sure, we are good at holding fundraisers for victims of natural disasters or diseases, but when we are given the opportunity to help someone at the moment they need it most, when they are being assaulted or terrorized by strangers, our reaction is to avoid any danger to ourselves no matter what the cost to the victim.

As University students that almost weekly hear about violent crimes happening on or just off campus, we need to seriously consider, as individuals and as a community, what it means to do the right thing and what it means to be complicit. The University needs to encourage a dialogue in our residence halls and at orientations about personal safety, moral obligations to innocent victims and about what the right course of action in such a situation is. Until we do, we can only expect to see more and more violent crimes reported in our e-mails and The Daily Targum as criminals continue to take advantage of our cowardice as a community.

Josh Slavin is a Livingston College senior majoring in political science. He is also the student representative to the Board of Trustees. 


Josh Slavin

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