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As Man Lay Dying, Witnesses Turned Away
February 15, 2003 5:15 AM   Subscribe

As Man Lay Dying, Witnesses Turned Away "D.C. police released a startling surveillance tape yesterday that shows a daylight killing at a Northeast Washington gas station and witnesses doing nothing to report the crime or tend to the victim as he lay bleeding on the concrete." Is this just a product of D.C.'s crime and chaos or signficant of a more callous nation?
posted by owillis (46 comments total)

 
Bystander Apathy is a well-documented phenomenon in most Western cultures. Cross-reference this with the case of Kitty Genovese [sic]. If you saw someone dead in a public place, you might reasonably assume that someone else had already reported it. It's not necessarily born of a callous indifference to the suffering of others.
posted by RokkitNite at 6:01 AM on February 15, 2003


Perhaps not, RokkitNite, but I don't think anyone can doubt urban culture's propensity for "not getting involved" when other human beings are in trouble.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 6:05 AM on February 15, 2003


It's rough, but my bet's on c) that's just what people do sometimes.

Here are some random Kitty Genovese links.
posted by lumpley at 6:06 AM on February 15, 2003


I think people in DC are a little shell shocked when it comes to gunfire at a gas station.
posted by CrazyJub at 6:07 AM on February 15, 2003


"We record hundreds of cases nationwide each year in which people witnessed horrible crimes but react with depraved indifference, refusing to intervene or even call 911," Mizell said. "The encouraging news, however, is that we record thousands of cases in which people did get involved, often heroically and at their own peril."

I'm just glad that it is news when this happens. When we stop reacting with sadness to the poor souls who witness and ignore then our society is dead.
posted by ?! at 6:34 AM on February 15, 2003


I can see not jumping into the middle of something while it is going on. I mean, I am hardly a large enough or strong enough person to stop someone from getting beaten or stabbed, and I certainly can't stop a bullet, but really ... how much involvement does it take to dial 9-1-1, or after they saw that the shooter had run away, to see if the guy was alive or at LEAST tell the clerk. It's a cop-out to say that's just the way people are. People shouldn't BE that way.

Once some jerk rear-ended a teenaged girl at the corner right outside. I went out to see what had happened and told my roomie to call 9-1-1. Then he got out of the car and went to her car, pulled her out and started to become physically abusive to her (because he had run into her at a stop sign - yeah). I ran downstairs, and intervened ... probably at peril to myself. Meanwhile, my neighbors were all standing on their patios and peering out their windows, and our call had been the only one made to the police. Sure I was scared to do that, but no way in hell was I going to see some five foot tall 15 year old on her way home from work at Jack in the Box get beaten up by some big, hulking asshole.

I assure you that my opinion of my neighbors changed drastically that day. I knew that should I ever need help, I was on my own.
posted by Orb at 6:43 AM on February 15, 2003


People in DC on the 500 block of Florida NE are probably shell shocked yes. There are areas in every city like this.
posted by stbalbach at 6:46 AM on February 15, 2003


Adding to lumpley's: an explanation from social psychology.
posted by gramcracker at 6:56 AM on February 15, 2003


Donkor said he tried to call 911 immediately after he was told about the shooting but got a recording and hung up.

Hell, I thought that when I've heard of that happening, it was a joke or an exaggeration. Living in DC has just moved to the top of my list of Stupid Things Not to Do.
posted by alumshubby at 7:00 AM on February 15, 2003


21st century mindthink:
"Call 911? Have you tried to find a public phone lately? Let alone, one that works. Besides, gas station attendant? Probably some foreigner, and how much time will I have to wait around for the cops who will, of course, want to question me, probably even think I'm a suspect. They'll probably want me as a witness at the trial. Forget that!"
posted by mischief at 7:26 AM on February 15, 2003


"In the City of Rulers there will be a great tragedy,
men against men, brother against brother,
The tall two will fall, the innocent will be jailed,
while the innocent plead, the great people will turn away",
The third big war will begin when they turn their heads to those in need."

- Nostradamus 1654
posted by bradth27 at 7:52 AM on February 15, 2003


I certainly can't stop a bullet...

Actually any of us could.

Bad joke aside, it is rather sad that people behave callously. But then, we have no idea what was going on inside that guy's head.

Maybe he was so terrified the only thing he could think to do was act as though nothing happened. Or maybe he was just gutless.

Until and if the cops find him, no one will really know.
posted by bwg at 8:21 AM on February 15, 2003


They probably all went home and started planning methods of protesting the actions of the killer that did not involve intervening in the situation itself. I mean, who knows what that could escalate into?
posted by RevGreg at 8:47 AM on February 15, 2003


from RevGreg: They probably all went home and started planning methods of protesting the actions of the killer that did not involve intervening in the situation itself. I mean, who knows what that could escalate into?


Haaa! That's the best. Thanks for the laugh.


(It's even funnier than than the idea that anybody on MeFi is clueless enough to quote Nostradamus .)
posted by Ayn Marx at 9:05 AM on February 15, 2003


***(It's even funnier than than the idea that anybody on MeFi is clueless enough to quote Nostradamus .)***

No, what's even funnier is that you thought that was an actual Nostradamus quote.
posted by bradth27 at 9:29 AM on February 15, 2003


"a more callous nation" Of course! We all know that this could NEVER happen in another nation.
posted by HTuttle at 9:45 AM on February 15, 2003


Oh look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed
They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends


— Phil Ochs [on Kitty Genovese]
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:49 AM on February 15, 2003


very wrong and callous, and [it] is getting worse,"

What could be worse?(please I don't want to know)

I assure you that my opinion of my neighbors changed drastically that day. I knew that should I ever need help, I was on my own.

I ended up moving because of a similar situation. I'll add, the neighbors that turned their back to me, imho will one day be in the same situation yet they will be the ones victimized. That is why it made me feel sadder knowing these are my neighbors, good grief.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:42 AM on February 15, 2003


Having walked out the front door in the middle of the night to help someone screaming and covered with blood, I can well imagine that most people would be too scared to do this. But go ahead, do it anyway. If you die assisting a crime victim, it's an honorable death, which is the most anyone can ever hope for!

I'll never forget when my skinny little five-foot-tall neighbor came out her front door with her pepper spray in my defense one day. It does happen, when you least expect it.
posted by sheauga at 10:50 AM on February 15, 2003


Didn't Jerry, Elaine, Kramer and George go to jail for this very thing?
posted by eustacescrubb at 11:02 AM on February 15, 2003


I'm proud to say I have intervened three times in escalating domestic disputes between couples (who were complete strangers to me) in public. In those kinds of situations, it's useful to remember that you are dealing with a cowardly bully. A real man would not hit a woman. So on all three occasions I simply waded in, talking big, and the guy disappeared toot sweet.

Obviously nobody would advocate jumping into the middle of a knife fight or shootout...but I always felt a sense of pride afterwards that I had showed courage, and because of those experiences I know that if someone I loved was threatened I would step up to the plate.
posted by vito90 at 11:02 AM on February 15, 2003


A real man would not hit a woman.
That is so sexist! ;-P
posted by mischief at 11:11 AM on February 15, 2003


I used the pronoun I (or a variation) 9 times in my last comment.

But enough about me. What do you think about me?
posted by vito90 at 11:30 AM on February 15, 2003


On group-think, I recall a study similar to the one linked by gramcracker that suggests people are more likely to intervene if the victim and the criminal appear to be strangers. If it seems like they know each other, bystanders are more likely to hang back to try and assess if it's a serious situation or if it's a joke or if it's a "personal" matter. The study had a group of people in one room with a phone and in the next room there was noise of a scuffle and a woman's voice called out either "stop it, joe! leave me alone!" or "who are you? what are you doing?! get away from me!". In the latter case, people were more likely to pick up the phone and call for help.

That's always stuck in my mind. If I was ever being attacked where people could hear, regardless of who was doing the attacking, it might be important to scream out: "I don't know you!"
posted by amanda at 11:35 AM on February 15, 2003


So the washingtonpost.com doesn't host the video or even provide a couple snap shots from the video? What kind of crap coverage is that?
posted by willnot at 11:36 AM on February 15, 2003


I'm pretty sure nowadays I wouldn't do something like that -- when I hear or see something funny, I'm likely to check it out, I pull over for cars stopped by the side of the highway sometimes, etc.

But I remember being 19 and living in LA, and waking up in the middle of the night hearing yelling outside. There was a definitely an angry confrontation going outside in the parking lot, punctuated with one party banging on the truck of the other one. This escalated for about 15 minutes. At one point, someone ran away and I heard what I thought was a gunshot. I'd only lived there for about a month, and I can tell you I was so shellshocked by the reality of the situation and scared and not even sure how you called the police that I just froze. If it'd been me now, I would have called the cops in a second. As it was, my timid first-time-away-from-home barely semi-mature self just couldn't think presented with the situation. This freezing up happened to me a couple of times inside the first few months of me living there.

I think there's some good insight in the social psych link above, but sometimes I think there's more to it -- when you're confronted with something totally outside your experience you just start to detach, and it's easy to just ignore it or run away. I think it takes practice to be able to quickly adapt to an unfamiliar situation. After a couple of months of this, including seeing situations where I did step up to the plate, I started to get a better feel for what it took to really pay attention to what's going on around you, and adapt and respond. I still got/get shocked sometimes, but not so often.
posted by namespan at 11:41 AM on February 15, 2003


i remember standing in line at a burger king restaraunt during lunch a few years back. the store was packed and i was like the 10th person in line for register 5. all of a sudden a man fell down on the floor and began convulsing. he looked like a homeless person and no one seemed to pay him any attention so i tried to ignore what was going on, assuming that this episode was normal.

finally - it took a good minute or two - someone decided to see what was wrong with him and the ambulance arrived soon after. it's one of those things that sticks in my mind, reminding me that i was one of many people who was too cowardly and selfish to help someone because of the fear of public ridicule.
posted by poopy at 1:16 PM on February 15, 2003


And has that changed your behaviour since, Poopy?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:46 PM on February 15, 2003


Well we (U.S.) do socialize people to depend on offices of the state to handle their problems and socialize against getting involved.
posted by rudyfink at 2:11 PM on February 15, 2003


actually FFF, a couple of years later i had a somewhat similar experience.

i lived in a very poor and crime-ridden black neighborhood, the only white person within 10 blocks. my street wasn't that bad although i did find hookers hanging out on my doorstep late at night sometimes.

i knew that i wasn't wanted (can't blame them really) and i still don't know why i decided to live there. after a couple of months though people began staging dogfights on the corner where i lived. you could hear the dogs fighting like mad at all hours of the night and it really pissed me off (i love dogs but i also had to get some sleep!).

one night i was drinking and i heard the fights start up again. however, this time it sounded like a puppy being badly mauled. i tried to ignore it, but i was feeling a little more confident because of the booze so i dialed 911. someone picked up the phone and (scared out my wits) i hung up immediately. of course i was too ignorant to know that they had traced the call and 5 minutes later cops were knocking on my door. the people were still out in the street with their dogs and there i was, a puny frightened white man in a tough neighborhood (now i have a vague idea of what it feels like to be a minority), not knowing what the hell to do. the cops asked me what was wrong and i told them.

after that little encounter, i carried a knife and mace with me wherever i went.

as to whether or not i'm a 'good person'? fuck no.
posted by poopy at 2:43 PM on February 15, 2003


I hate links like this.

The fact of the matter is, almost all of you would have done the same thing. It's true. Lots of experimental research into this kind of thing, When human beings are in groups and something unexpected happens they'll look at everyone else and try to figure out the 'socially correct' thing to do. It's just the way we're wired. Since no one else knows what to do, they'll all just stand there.

The bad person here is the person who shot the guy, not the innocent onlookers who only acted like normal human beings.
posted by delmoi at 2:54 PM on February 15, 2003


People suck, it's not a surprise. People are only willing to help those who don't really need help. People would sooner bum out a cigarette then a dime, it's just how it is. I'd figure people would intervene in violent situations, not out of altruism, but out of the need to preserve their own territorial rights. When somebody is harassing or physically abusing somebody else on my turf, the message I receive is that I'll be next. I've seen things go down around my (sic) bar and I usually just round up some heavies and deal with the motherfucker (sic) in question. It's an issue of territory and keeping the peace so I may enjoy my territory.
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:24 PM on February 15, 2003


It's just the way we're wired.

Then I am glad I am wired differently than everyone else. I have often jumped into situations where I knew neither party, but I knew that there was something going on that isn't right and should be both reported immediately and stopped as soon as possible. I don't look to others to determine my actions, and in fact, when there is a crowd around just watching or ignoring what is happening, it makes me angry enough to want to do something myself even though at 5'5" and 100 pounds dripping wet, I am hardly threatening to someone who means to do someone else harm. I guess in the back of my mind I am always hoping that if I am ever the victim that someone would come my my aid, even though I realize that the chances of that are slim.
posted by Orb at 3:50 PM on February 15, 2003


delmoi: Yes, the bad person was the shooter. The sad persons are those conditioned not to help. Those studies measure how people do react, not how they could react. I think if we fostered a population of people who do help it would eventually be the norm. Then again, I am a dreamer.

elwoodwiles: I guess you could say then my territory extends to the limits of my vision. :) Rereading your paragraph I wonder if you intended to post in one of the war threads? I think it would have fit well there.
posted by ?! at 4:16 PM on February 15, 2003


"The fact of the matter is, almost all of you would have done the same thing."

I for one would not deny that. In fact I'm relatively sure I have past experience that let's me know that yeah, I'm a desensytized coward. Am I proud of that? No. I just know my limits.

I might wait until I get home, if I made it, or somewhere safe and then called 911, provided I wasn't too busy. The guy's already on the ground. I could opt to chase after the guy, but I'm allergic to lead poisoning. There's no incentive to get involved nowadays. Mischief's "21st century mindthink" is to me, right on the money. Let's say I get involved, the police may turn their attention to me. Scrutinize. Look for skeletons in my closet. Suspect me, and I was just trying to help. Where's the encouragement? Best to just not get involved if you weren't involved by any way other than proximity.

Sure I'd like to save a cute bunny rabbit from a mean old snake, but maybe the snake's doing its predator thing and it's supposed to do that and I just shouldn't get involved, y'know? Lest I become the next cute little bunny rabbit.

"If you die assisting a crime victim, it's an honorable death, which is the most anyone can ever hope for!"

Maybe for Star Trek fans who embrace The Klingon Way. The best I personally can ever hope for is not dying a bloody painful death, honorable or not.

"Didn't Jerry, Elaine, Kramer and George go to jail for this very thing?"

Yes, which I took to be not only a great end to a show about nothing but also a powerful message about our society, which is (whether Senfeld would admit it or not) what art like Seinfeld is supposed to do. Basically I took it that the writers were saying thanks for the years of watching them do the show, but someone should look at what passes for entertainment these days, because basically the foursome were walking trainwrecks and we were voyeurs watching them get in and out of squirmy predicaments. Oh but for the grace of God go I...

People rubberneck on the side of the road when they see an accident. Maybe it's subconsciously to insure in themselves that it's not their face in the driver's side window of the wrecked car. Sometimes people laugh nervously at other people's despair. I think it's because they're relieved it didn't happen to them this time.

"Obviously nobody would advocate jumping into the middle of a knife fight or shootout..."

I wouldn't advocate jumping into a domestic dispute or actually any dispute among strangers of any kind. If it hasn't disrupted into a knife fight or shootout, there's nothing saying it couldn't after you jump in, and then sometimes it's too late to run.

"...people are more likely to intervene if the victim and the criminal appear to be strangers. If it seems like they know each other, bystanders are more likely to hang back to try and assess if it's a serious situation or if it's a joke or if it's a "personal" matter."

That's the History Accessment portion of our First Impressions of one another. The average human makes a lot of unconscious determinations about a stranger before that person even opens their mouth. This is part of what leads to prejudice and is sometimes wrong, but it's also a survival instinct. Unconsciously you often read body language and make blanket accessments of people without even knowing it. It's a natural part of being human. Evolutionists would tell you it's because of how our brains evolved from caveman days. I think it's just how we're wired to react quickly to a wide variety of situations.

If you meet two strangers and they seem to know one another, you treat them differently (sometimes as if they were one entity at least until they separate) than you would if they seemed to have no prior knowledge of one another. If two people are holding hands, one assumes they're somehow an item and the more comfy cozy they are with each other the more you assume. Two people coming to blows? Well first impressions of that could speak more volumnous than one of my average posts.

Most police would probably say they prefer breaking up a fight between two complete strangers than they would between a married couple. There's more emotional baggage and "history" between the married couple, and who knows what you're getting into if you get involved.

I once read somewhere of an account of a rape victim who lay in an alley after it happened, too in pain and too frightened to move. She cried out "rape" and no one came. Then in desperation she cried out "fire" and someone their head out an above tenement window. Don't know if that's a true story, but I read it somewhere.

I've gotten very adept in downtown Dallas at ignoring homeless people. I could opt to 'get involved.' I feel just giving them five bucks is doing more harm than good. It's encouraging their lifestyle and giving them no reason to improve their situation and exit from their curious safety zone. However, the alternative is to really get involved and spend all my time helping them improve themselves, and I'm too busy trying to keep myself from becoming one of them. It's hard to save the drowning when you're barely treading water yourself. Drowning people tend to drag the barely swimming types in with them. So like I say, I've gotten very good at ignoring homeless people, or just flat saying no to the persistent ones. Seeing them like extras in The Night Of The Living Dead. I think that's just one more step towards societal desensitivation. If that's a word.

I mean if you can ignore the homeless, ignoring a gunshot is not much harder to do. In fact sometimes it's easier.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:53 PM on February 15, 2003


Can anyone who quotes Nostradamus take themselves seriously?
posted by Satapher at 5:30 PM on February 15, 2003


it's good to see you pop up again zachsmind (hi, we've never met). i don't always agree with you and consider you long-winded as hell, but damn, you can come up with some interesting observations.

regarding the homeless: for some odd reason this is something that's close to me. don't know why but maybe, like you said, i'm 'trying to keep myself from becoming one of them' or, more accurately, 'i can see myself in them'. i can't help but give them money (and i know what it's for), because i see the desperation, the utter hopelessness in their eyes. many of them take advantage of this and hit me up for whatever i got.

but there are those who don't ask for anything, the ones who are too afraid to look at other people and mumble to themselves, the ones who have been beaten down by years of humiliation and solitude, waiting for the end. i give them money (usually at least 5bill). this doesn't make me a righteous person but it is a place where i can find some sort of salvation for all the many wrongs i've committed in my life.

i don't know, just blabbering now.
posted by poopy at 5:37 PM on February 15, 2003


They probably all went home and started planning methods of protesting the actions of the killer that did not involve intervening in the situation itself. I mean, who knows what that could escalate into?

Really late in the game, but I can't resist:

No, they probably went home and wondered why they spent all that money to buy this guy guns. I mean, didn't they see what that would escalate into?
posted by botono9 at 7:10 PM on February 15, 2003


I live five blocks from this gas station and there's a lot more going on to this story than first look. During DC's stint as murder capital of the world, nobody was calling the cops. Marion Barry was in power and there was a lot of political corruption in DC. The police force wound up hiring convicts to fill their ranks, many who committed violent crimes. Most of the people here are used to ignoring crimes as a way to avoid the wrath of the culprit.

Now step into today where DC's on the grow somewhat. A lot of areas are being denitrified and they're building the new SEC building 10 blocks away from this gas station. This outrage is sort of a call to arms to lean on the cops.
posted by destro at 10:59 PM on February 15, 2003


regarding the homeless: for some odd reason this is something that's close to me. don't know why but maybe, like you said, i'm 'trying to keep myself from becoming one of them' or, more accurately, 'i can see myself in them'. i can't help but give them money (and i know what it's for), because i see the desperation, the utter hopelessness in their eyes. many of them take advantage of this and hit me up for whatever i got.

I have the opposite reaction. I can see myself easily among the homeless — I've spend one or two nights on the street, in fact — and I have a morbid fear of homelessness. Which is why I avoid homeless people like the plague; the less I have to contemplate that particular fate, the better.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 12:33 AM on February 16, 2003


I think mischief has hit the nail on the head.

If you see a murder and you report it, you a) might have to go into witness protection which means your entire life, as you know it, is SCREWED, and b) you gotta go to a trial and spend lots of time getting it sorted out.

Screw that, say most people.
posted by wackybrit at 3:09 AM on February 16, 2003


wackybrit: at least it isn't all people. And, TV aside, the vast majority of murders are not mob hits.

Let's review: "Price then drops from view, and the gunman runs back across the Florida Avenue and disappears from sight."

"After the shooting, one witness -- who was just feet away from the gunman -- looked for a moment at Price's body and then turned away. Not only did he finish pumping his kerosene, but the man paid for the purchase and drove off, giving the camera its clearest look at Price lying by the pump."

That witness is the sad case. There is not a single reason any of you have written about to stop that man from helping the victim. The shooter was gone. The victim wasn't asking you for spare change. The witness could have yelled for help and given the victim a little comfort as he lay dying. At the very least the witness could stopped pumping his kerosene and told the station owner.

Unless, of course, the witness was a criminal afraid of the police.

What excuse does the law abiding, morally secure Metafite have for not helping the victim?
posted by ?! at 9:22 AM on February 16, 2003


Nostradamus 1654

Or just modern gullibility. You decide.
posted by holycola at 9:28 AM on February 16, 2003


Let's review: "Price then drops from view, and the gunman runs back across the Florida Avenue and disappears from sight." ... There is not a single reason any of you have written about to stop that man from helping the victim. The shooter was gone.

Let's review, indeed. The description you quote is the murder as captured by a security camera. When the gunman "disappears from sight," he is out of view of the security camera. That's all. The killer may not have been "gone" at all at that point.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:13 AM on February 17, 2003


And then again he could have been.

Considering his earlier behavior ...run in...shoot...run away... I would take the bet he wouldn't have run back to stop someone from walking in the gas station to report the crime.

After all, the kerosene customer wasn't stopped from paying his bill. If we follow that the gunman wasn't "gone" at that point why didn't he take a potshot at the customer? The gunman couldn't have known the customer wasn't going to report the crime. That he was only paying his bill.

So, given normal circumstances and the tape description, I have to go with the gunman running out sight of the shooting.

I still haven't heard a really good answer for my question: "What excuse does the law abiding, morally secure Metafite have for not helping the victim?"
posted by ?! at 9:21 PM on February 17, 2003


After reading this post I saw the video. The wittiness pumping kerosene was not alone there was also a public bus in the picture of things, too.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:12 PM on February 18, 2003


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