Getting involved with danger

Juan Zhang was abducted and killed five days ago; eight people heard her scream, but no one contacted the police or did anything about it. A criminologist has said this is because people are uncertain, not uncaring.

This is spot on. If I heard someone screaming outside my house, I would go to see what was happening. If I saw a person being attacked, then, yes, I would call the police. If I didn’t see anything, I would probably think that it was kids mucking around.

I do know that it’s difficult to know whether the police would take a call seriously. A few years ago, I called police to say I had seen someone driving dangerously and erratically, almost side-swiping two other cars on the road. I said that I had been in the car with my Dad, and so I had been able to record the numberplate. The next thing I know, I was put through to the “Children’s liaison unit”, and the person on the other end of the phone asked “So you were in the car with your Daddy?” in a little baby voice. I know I’m often mistaken for younger than my age, but that was ridiculous. When I explained that I was an adult and why I was ringing, I was then told that there was nothing anyone could do about it because the person had not actually committed an offence. Obviously, an erratic driver is a bit different to someone screaming, but the feeling I got was that unless I had seen someone brandishing a shot gun outside my house, then I should go away.

And what would I do if I was alone on a train at night and I saw a gang of young men bashing up another man? I’m not sure. I have a crazy streak which might emerge in that kind of circumstance and propel me into saying or doing something because I can’t stand to see people being picked on. But the thing is, as a lone woman with no martial arts skills to speak of, I couldn’t possibly fight all of those men. It would be very difficult for me to intervene verbally or physically, unless I was confident that other people on the train would back me up. My fear is that I would just end up getting severely injured myself. I guess I would probably try to call 000. But it is a difficult question. I remember reading a newspaper column by a commentator who was outraged that no one intervened to stop a gay bashing at Flinders Street Station at 10 o’clock at night. He said that it showed that Melbourners were basically homophobic, but I disagree with this. What it does show is that people are afraid to intervene in case they end up getting harmed, and that they are not confident that other people will back them up.

I think there should be a greater police and official presence in places in the city, and police should be given more resources to deal with these sorts of situations.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Getting involved with danger

  1. Anonymous

    I was once woken early in the morning by the rampaging of my alcoholic neighbour. Though moderate when sober, he was potentially violent when drunk and would have irrational fears.

    Scared, I called the police, as I didn’t know how far he would go. In hindsight this was probably an overreaction, but seemed warranted at the time. When they arrived, they told me that the lights were off in his apartment and as such they weren’t about to wake a sleeping citizen.

    They then proceeded to interrogate me enquiring about my drug and alcohol use amongst other things. I was stunned. I left the experience feeling violated and a good deal more scared of the police than I had been of my neighbour ….

  2. Anonymous

    Having had some experience in justice policy, I thought this was worth a contribution…

    Police presence has been shown over and again to be the least effective and efficient method of crime prevention and intervention. For non-organised crime, one of the most effective (in terms of resource input vs outcomes) is roundly improving the sense of civil society within a community.

    I see this problem as a much broader cultural one, which needs tackling.

    I’m going to sound like a raving marxist here, and I’m not, but our culture appears to be absolutely dominated by the zeitgeist of “economic growth” – best served by individuals purchasing services on an individual basis. The economy benefits from a range of socially harmful phenomena – wholly atomised nuclear families rather than more communal ways of living, increasingly solitary entertainment and leisure practices (iPods, home theatres), and driving our own individual cars everywhere. All of which is funded by personal debt. We are experiencing an epidemic of depression, which is treated by paying to see a specialist and acquiring medication (I have been there too, so I’m not doing a Tom Cruise or anything). The modern economy is in some ways TOO HARD for human beings to handle because it lacks humanity, stuff-ups, forgiveness, compassion.

    I know much of this analysis is simplistic, and depression is no good for the economy, but I’d like someone to show me that it’s not the case.

    Plenty of governments are trying to have it both ways by improving civil society (including Victoria and the UK), but it’s an uphill battle faced with the juggernaut of the blind pursuit of economic growth.

    Our sense of responsibility for others is suffering immensely.

    A healthy community is a place where no-one would scream and not receive assistance.

  3. Legal Eagle

    I agree with you that our society has prioritised the interests of the individual to a scary degree.

    A year or so ago, I was walking down Swanston Street and I saw a man in an electric wheelchair struggling to get up the kerb and onto the footpath. People streamed around him, ignoring him totally. I couldn’t just stand there and watch him struggle, so I walked across the road and pushed his wheelchair up the kerb. It took up precisely five seconds of my time. I was amazed that I was the only person who seemed to notice the man’s predicament.

    I’m not quite sure what the answer is. People are so stressed out about their individual circumstances that they sometimes seem not to notice others. Perhaps they are just too busy and inwardly focussed?

    There also seems to be an immense amount of anger and stress out there. Whenever I drive, I am astounded by the crazy and dangerous things people do on the road just to get one car length ahead of you!

    Perhaps increased police presence might not do much – I am not experienced in policy. However, I do think that if the police take you seriously when you call them, this might encourage people to do more and take action.

    You are right, however, that it is to do with a feeling of community and support. Once when I was on the bus home, a man started to abuse the bus driver because the ticket machine swallowed his ticket. It wasn’t the bus driver’s fault, and he offered to help the man get a new ticket. However, the man continued to abuse him for another five minutes, refusing to be mollified, and I couldn’t stand it any longer. That crazy streak reared up in me. So I stood up and said, “The bus driver is doing all he can for you, and it’s not his fault. He has said he will write a statutory declaration for you, and he will help you retrieve your ticket. Please stop shouting; we all want to get home.” The man advanced on me, swearing, but the other five (male) passengers who had been staring out the window ignoring the situation all stood up behind me, and told the man to stop being abusive. He got off the bus. I’m glad I stood up to that man, and I’m glad that other people also stood up for me!

  4. Pingback: Getting involved with danger II « The Legal Soapbox

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