Getting involved with danger II

Sometimes I get this strange feeling that the same kind of questions pop up again and again. I’m always amazed when I read a piece of historical literature to find that many of the same things bothered people back then as bother people now. That’s life, I guess: there’s nothing new under the sun.

I have a crazy streak. I remember when I was studying Irish History, I read an account of some ruler (in Dublin, I think) who was asked to kneel before one of the English invaders. Instead, he spat in the Englishman’s eye. They cut off his head then and there. I read that and thought, “Unfortunately, I’ve got a bit of that tendency.”

The question which has reared its head again is: when does one get involved in a potentially dangerous situation? I have written on this previously, over a year ago now.

Unfortunately, I have occasion to consider the question again in a tragic context. A 43-year old Melbourne solicitor has been shot and killed after he saw a man attempting to pull a woman out of a taxi by her hair and moved to intervene. He was shot at point blank range. It seems he was an innocent bystander. I’m presuming he was on his way to work. What a brave guy. It’s awful to think that his bravery was repaid in that manner.

Both my sister and my brother-in-law work down that end of the city, so I was very relieved to get e-mails from them first thing this morning assuring me that they were both okay.

It’s a hard question. Would I intervene (or say something) if I saw a woman being pulled out of a cab by her hair? I think I would at least say something. I’d think I was safe on a reasonably busy city street at 8:30 in the morning. I certainly wouldn’t expect the guy to have a gun and to shoot me with it.

My husband was saying this incident makes him think twice about intervening in a violent situation. He says that before he had a wife and daughter, he wouldn’t have thought twice and would have helped, but now he would try to think before he acted, and weigh up the likelihood of his being able to make a difference to the situation.

But who is to know what the “right thing” is in that split second? It’s an impossible question. I think you can only know how you will behave once you’re in the situation.



Filed under morality, society

10 responses to “Getting involved with danger II

  1. GavinM

    Hello LE

    It has been my experience over the years that most people tend to react to such situations out of reflex and don’t really think about what they have done until later…Wether it be the soldier who charges a machine-gun post, the fireman who rushes into a burning building, the policeman who tackles a dangerous felon, or the average citizen who tries to help someone in distress — these reactions are, I believe, generally instinctive and if they took the time to think about it, most people probably wouldn’t carry them out…

    Both of the men who were shot in this incident are heroes, in many ways this is a double tragedy — firstly, of course because one of those heroes is now dead, secondly because now, people possibly will be less inclined to help someone who is in trouble…I think Melbourne and Australia may well have lost more than just the life of a good man yesterday.

    I hope against hope that when the police catch the coward who did this, the courts will hand down an appropriate sentence…unfortuneately though, given the record of our “justice” system, I suspect this won’t happen — as usual. The fact that a person with his history of violent assault and drug charges is not in jail now is a sad indictment of our criminal courts, and a reflection on those who constantly try to lessen criminals’ sentences by blaming everything except the criminals themselves.

    My deepest condolences and respect go to Brendan’s family and loved ones.

  2. Yes, I agree with Gavin – most people would tend to look aside and mutter, ‘it’s not our business!’, because that’s what they’ve been trained for all their lives to do!

    I’m reminded, for instance, of the training we received at school in first aid. The first thing we were to look out for was ‘any signs of danger. If there’s any danger to you, stay away!’ we were told repeatedly. But this is just the most obvious example of that kind of thing; the more insidious examples are all around us, everyday.

    I would say that it’s partly because bravery is not something that is often valued in our day to day lives. It’s an unfortunate conclusion to come to, but it’s only part of the story.

  3. Yes, I think it is instinctive. That’s why I think my husband would still intervene – because he’s an instinctively nice person who wants to help others.

    Actually, in karate training they always told us to run from danger.

    I guess it’s hardwired: “Fight or Flight?” are the two options when the adrenalin starts pumping.

  4. GavinM

    Yes Tim

    “I would say that it’s partly because bravery is not something that is often valued in our day to day lives.”

    I think you’re right, and I believe that the reason bravery has been de-valued is because we use the word ‘hero’ far to loosely…Sports people are labelled heroes for winning a game, let’s face it, for the most part, they aren’t exactly risking their lives for the benefit of others as a true hero does.

  5. I think sometimes a person is brave if they go completely against their instinct/training – when they make a conscious decision, not to do something ‘brave’, but to do something that they think is right.

    Politicians, workers, and businessmen, on the contrary, often perform brave things because it is seen to be ‘brave’ and because they believe they will get rewards (votes, money, fame) from this ‘bravery’. I’d suggest this is one reason why so few people do things that are actually brave – because a clear distinction is often not made between truly virtuous acts, and acts done for public acclaim and/or award.

    Just thinkin’ aloud here…!

  6. Elijah

    Actually, in karate training they always told us to run from danger.

    That useless martial art? That isn’t good for anything besides sport. If you took it up in the hope of teaching yourself self-defence you’ve been ripped off.

    Try Jujutsu at the very least.

  7. Pingback: Club Troppo » Tuesday's Missing Link

  8. I think true heroism is risking your life to save another person. As far as I can tell from the account of what happened, the two bystanders were heroic under this definition and I salute them. My condolences to Brendan’s family too.

    There are not many situations that people lay their lives on the line for what they know is right in this day and age in Australia. First, fortunately, we’ve never been subject to a fascist regime or civil war or anything terrible like that.

    Secondly, sometimes I think the notion of “what is right” has been deconstructed to the extent that people are no longer sure the right thing to do is. I think it’s important to question whether what one does is right, but not to leave the concept in tatters so that there isn’t a coherent concept of right and wrong any more. Sometimes I get frustrated at the politics of criticism, which just tears down concepts, but never replaces them with an alternative.

  9. Christabelle

    This issue has been troubling me also. It seems a fine solicitor, husband and father on his way to work one morning lost his life when he intervened in a street altercation between a man, who seems to be a long time associate of biker gangs with a history of violence and a young woman companion/model/actress/whatever who parties hard with such types.

    When there is a street level violent clash between a fundamentally decent person and another long comitted to extreme violence who is also armed with a gun and/or mentally unstable and/or affected by drugs and alcohol [or all of the above], then there is normally only ever one outcome.

    Anyone who is not well trained should be extremely careful about intervening, including fit, healthy males of strapping proportions.

    I worked in maximum security male and female prisons for many years. I received a lot of training on how to instantly identify threat levels. This was fleshed out with hostage negotiation training, and a decade of experience, working with psychotic, drug affected, unstable, violent criminals.

    As a result of all this, I feel very confident about making split second decisions about intervening or not as well as accurately assessing the violence level of a wide cross section of people and whether they may or may not have a weapon.

    Lesson 1 is never intervene in a street altercation with anyone who had prison tattoos, no matter how big you are or how confident you are with negotiations! An average person will not win such a confrontation.

    Over the past 25 years I have had to make such decisions many dozens of times in work places as well as away from work. My observation is that you get better and better at making these decisions the more often you are exposed to such situations. Lesson 2 – people who are fundamentally decent, who have not had high exposure to violent situations to test themselves and who cannot instantly assess who is mad, bad or is likely to carry a weapon,[or any combination of the above] are the one most likely to get hurt – badly hurt.

    I have intervened a number of times when I witnessed street level violence and on other occasions I deliberately chose not to. I have zero guilt about not personally intervening and those of you agonizing about this issue should drop pointless guilt.

    I am a conservatively dressed premenopausal woman, aged 50, very plump, very short and with a hair bun. I am not fit enough to take on and defend myself against any attacker. I could not run fast enough to get away from a toddler. Even if my characteristics were different, I would still have chosen not to personally intervene in the situations where I made that decisions. Even if I was a fit, strapping man with a weapon, I would have made the same decision.

    The instances where I did nothing to intervene personally to save someone from violence [but I called the police on my mobile out of sight of the perpetrators – its important they not see you summoning help if they are serious bad guys as that will be sufficient to get you attacked also] was with two incidents – one in George Street in Sydney and the second in a lane way running off a street in Cabramatta, also in Sydney. I also restrained my companion from yelling at them to stop or walking into the alley in the latter case.

    Why? Because both instances involved a group of young men attacking a man on his own. The lone male was on the ground having the hell kicked out of him. The vicious pack mentality meant no intervention by middle aged women or even a large male could possibly halt the assault and would likely result in us being subjected to the same or worse to the person intervening. The Cabramatta incident also clearly to me involved a group of young men who were in a dispute over a drug deal. They were all intoxicated, including the man being kicked. The George Street incident involved a heavily alcohol intoxicated group. Lesson 3 – Drugs and alcohol mean you cannot argue with them as they are too drunk or stoned to reason with, so don’t even try.

    I got out of the line of sight of both groups and out of their hearing and called the Police. Yes, the delay in preserving my own safety could have cost someone their life. I made all those mental calculations and decisions in a split second. I can live with this – even if it had meant the person was killed in the delay. Lesson 4 – getting yourself killed or damaged for the rest of our life is not a solution.

    Of a number of incidents I have inserted myself into, one was almost a rerun of the most recent incident. It involved a shrieking young woman being dragged by her hair backwards by a young male into a car left with the engine running and the doors left wide open, duct tape rolls visible on the seats. The car had screeched at high speed into a University student accommodation car park minutes before. The young man had no accomplices, no weapons [no where to hide a weapon either] and both his hands were fully occupied with the screaming, squirming young woman. I barrelled into the young man, yelled at him very loudly to let her go, yelled the Police were already on their way, and pushed at him hard to knock him off balance. This allowed the woman to break free, run to a nearby house and slam and lock the door behind her.

    My spilt second decision was that it was a domestic [often extremely dangerous to intervene in] but most importantly, that the young man was a puffed up coward, without a weapon and without the hardened skills exhibited by someone with a true predilection for violence. The young woman was not actually being terribly harmed but if he got her into his car with the duct tape, that could get out of hand quickly.

    The young man’s friend who lived in the same student accommodation as the young woman then tried to tell me all was fine, that I should go without checking on the young woman’s welfare and that it was “all cool” because the attacker was his friend and the woman’s boyfriend. Obviously I told him to go back to his room and mind his own business. I checked on her welfare and contacted University security as the attacker was also a student at the University and he needed to be banned from the student accommodation area – he did not live there, was driving far in excess of the speed limit and assaulting a female student who did live there. My bringing this to the University’s attention was a mark against the young man with the University. The Muslim Students Association then put in a complaint that I was racist, to try and coerce me into dropping my statement about what I saw and heard. It did not work of course, as the shrieking meant there were a number of other witnesses, all of whom corroborated my story and not his, but it was stressful dealing with his false allegations and certainly took up a lot of my time. Lesson 4 – if you do involve yourself, expect retaliation.

    A second incident also was a domestic outside a CBD place I was staying at. It was late at night with very drunk and stoned male and female involved, with the male smacking her hard in the head and upper torso with an open hand, and then dragging her around by her hair while verbally abusing her. I stepped out a door close to the scene but on the inside of a high brick fence. had armed myself with a favourite baseball bat [Louieville slugger], which I told him I would use on his head if he did not let her go. I was in a flanette nightie, slippers and my hair was askew. I looked like a nutter with my baseball bat and that was exactly how I wanted to look to him.

    He commenced arguing with me that she was “his woman” and he could do whatever he wanted with her. The distraction caused by my verbal challenge and appearance with the bat distracted him enough to allow her to get loose and take off. He was dazed and drunk and started off after her after swearing at me. I was happy to take the abuse as I knew I was safe and she was getting away while he stood and abused me. He was so out of it that he could not have jumped the high brick fence to get me before I could step back inside a self locking, solid core fire door. I had my exit worked out before confronting him as well as the timing of it all. Lesson 5 – Never confront anyone who is violent without a very safe exit strategy and enough time to execute it.

    I stepped inside and called the Police, who were there in less than 2 minutes. He had caught her and was again dragging her across the road by the hair and she was shrieking. He was bundled off in a paddy wagon screaming “But I love you darl. Don’t sign any complaint.” She began fighting and kicking at the police when they picked this man up and locked him in the paddy wagon. Lesson 6 – sometimes the so called victims in an altercation can be more vicious and more dangerous to a good Samaritan than the perpetrator. People who live very straight lives without a lot of exposure to violence would never factor this into their assessment of the possible dangers in a situation.

    This is my way of saying – do not personally intervene unless you know what you are doing. Use modern technology [cell phones, phone cameras, following at a distance discreetly] if you can without being caught. Do not feel guilty if your assessment is you do not have the skills to stop an assault or even a death. If that perpetrator was willing to kill one person in a rage, one or two more won’t matter to them. Making yourself a victim is never a solution. I recall the words of a Victorian man who hid in a tree and watched while the Nazis slaughtered his entire family. He said he was screaming inside his head and wanted to attack them, but didn’t and as a result, he survived the war and can attest to the atrocity and other things he witnessed.

    These Hollywood notions of heroics can be very dangerous to the health and well being of males in this society. It it usually they whose bodies literally bear the brunt of such interventions and their families who live the rest of their lives without a husband and father as a result of a wrong split second decision to help someone. I know this will be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t believe such actions should be labelled heroic or praised. If these people had, for one moment, realised they would be killed and their families left without them, they would have worked out another mode of intervention which did not involve them personally inserting themselves.

    My coworker and I practised routines where if clients were becoming abusive, screaming etc, one of us would by prearrangement, enter their office and start screaming at them even louder. The off the air client would sit back happy if they thought someone else was getting stuck into the person they were angry with. We even had routines to fake heart attacks and fits as well as other techniques to shock people out of a building rage. Inserting yourself physically should not be encouraged or lionised.

  10. Christabelle, thank you for your extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. I think you made some really important points.

    I still think that the two bystanders were heroic. But it’s really important to stress that you are risking your life by intervening in a situation like the one the other day. I doubt that the two men even thought about the fact that they were risking their lives, or contemplated the consequences. As my husband said, it’s important to contemplate the consequences and weigh it up.

    In one of my other posts on this topic, I dealt with an article where a man accused Melbournians of being homophobic because they didn’t intervene to stop a gay bashing at Flinders Street Station (one man being beaten up by a gang). I don’t think this shows homophobia at all. I wouldn’t have intervened (much as I decry homophobic violence) because as a lone young woman, I would just have gotten beaten up myself. As you say, the best tactic is to go around the corner (out of sight) and call the police.

    I think the press should include some sensible tips as to how ordinary people can deal with violent situations in their reporting of such matters.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s