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Shades of Kitty Genovese
April 25, 2010 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Homeless man Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax was stabbed several times in the chest while saving a woman from a knife-wielding attacker in New York City. He then bled to death while dozens of people walked by -- one stopping to snap a picture of the dying man with his cameraphone before leaving the scene.

Regarding the title of this post: Wikipedia on Kitty Genovese and an article on the "Bystander Effect" and her case, 45 years later from NPR. Also, The Murder of Kitty Genovese: "The epitome of public apathy...or gross exaggeration by the New York Times?"

PsychWiki: The Bystander Effect.
posted by zarq (82 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
The video on the New York Post link shows 25 people walking past the man as he lay dying. :(

For Mr. Tale Yax, a hero who deserved far, far better:

.
posted by zarq at 9:10 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


What the fuck is the matter with people? Even if I think somebody is just drunk in the street, I call 911.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:13 AM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


For the first time in history, most of these people could have called 911 using an object in their pocket. Most people fundamentally suck. You've just got to try to be different.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:20 AM on April 25, 2010 [20 favorites]


It's particularly sad that even the woman whose life he saved did not call 911, or apparently do anything. Weird coincidence that the two incidents occurred only a little over a mile from each other.
posted by Houstonian at 9:23 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do I understand right that people were walking by his corpse, rather than ignoring him as he lay dying? It's not better, but I'd prefer to think that at least he wasn't in a position to be saved and died because passers-by neglected him.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:25 AM on April 25, 2010


That's really sickening.

.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:26 AM on April 25, 2010


Jesus. How alienated do you have to be to snap that picture and walk away?

New York is usually better than this. On behalf of my city, I apologize to Mr. Tale Yax's family and friends.

.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:27 AM on April 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


Obligatory Kitty Genovese reference.
posted by millipede at 9:31 AM on April 25, 2010


this makes me sad beyond belief...

.

a thousand times for Mr. Tale Yax.
posted by h0p3y at 9:31 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


many people ignore the homeless while they live, why should we expect that to change while they die?

.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:33 AM on April 25, 2010 [14 favorites]


From a comment:

Isn't it clear from the video? The pile of blood was hidden under his body! It's a very sad thing that happened, and perhaps it's even sadder that we are used to seeing men, face-down, passed-out in our streets, but it doesn't mean that people don't care about other people. They didn't know that he was bleeding! Hopefully we can all learn that a man lying down in the street is always cause for concern, but these people did not call 911 because they were too lazy, or didn't want to get involved; they didn't call because encountering a man lying on his face in the street is a sight seen as frequently as a Chase bank in this city. We are all used to looking the other way, and that is the real shame.

Watching the video on this computer would be rather complicated. Can anyone confirm that the blood was hidden underneath his body? Although this from the second link would still be true,

Another even lifted an unresponsive Tale-Yax, saw a pool of blood below his body and then walked off.

I'd like to think that 24 people walked past a man lying down on the street and only one person walked past a man bleeding to death. I can live with the knowledge that 4% of New York are (is?) terrible people.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:39 AM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, but when you are walking early in the morning and see a homeless man face-down on the sidewalk (a not-infrequent occurrence), you assume they are passed out drunk, because 90% of the time they are. You don't stop to see if they're okay, because that can turn into a dangerous situation if they awaken still intoxicated. I say this as a social worker who genuinely cares for the plight of the homeless and understands that the majority of the time their circumstances are caused by mental illness that they didn't have the resources to treat. But, I'm also a person who cares for her personal safety and lives in NYC and would likely have walked on by too, not assuming the worst.

But the guy who lifted him up and saw the pool of blood and walked on by, now that was effed up.
posted by greta simone at 9:42 AM on April 25, 2010 [33 favorites]


Did he look injured or dead to the passersby? I can't tell. It doesn't sound like it in the Times article.

In the 16 years I lived in New York City I passed people asleep on the sidewalk thousands of times. Thousands. In some neighborhoods, if you stopped to check the pulse of every prone figure, you might as well make that your life's work. I did sometimes stop to look at people who seemed particularly slack or lifeless. If they were breathing, I moved on. If it was freezing weather, I called 311 and asked them to contact an agency. But really? Passing by people lying on the sidewalk? It's a common experience in New York City. Sometimes they're homeless, sometimes they're drunk bridge-and-tunnel idiots, sometimes they're trustafarians trying it out, sometimes they're needle dopes who took a big hit in the wrong neighborhood. You just can't tell.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:43 AM on April 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


I'm still shocked by the fact that in the richest country in the world, losing your job also means losing a roof over your head. People walking past dying people on the street just seems like more of the same to me.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:47 AM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody / outside of a small circle of friends.

.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:47 AM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


I skipped work and went to lunch with my girlfriend one day last week. About a block from the restaurant the car in front of us stopped at a stop sign and waited for a woman in business attire to cross the street. After she had past the car took off, narrowly missing the elderly homeless woman behind her. It was the saddest and most infuriating thing I've seen in a while.

Bless this man. He deserved better.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:52 AM on April 25, 2010


I don't think making this about personal responsibility is the right call. If the message we get is, "Wow, people are fucked up not to do anything!" we can walk away assuring ourselves that we would have done otherwise. We can put the blame on the individuals who walked by. The blame needs to be put on us as a collective. We let people sleep in the streets, freeze to death in the winter, go hungry: this is just more of that, and it's all on our conscience.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:02 AM on April 25, 2010 [27 favorites]


I'm sorry, but when you are walking early in the morning and see a homeless man face-down on the sidewalk (a not-infrequent occurrence), you assume they are passed out drunk, because 90% of the time they are.

You really don't call 911? Because they might be injured, or because they might have drunk themselves into a dangerous state, or because they're at risk?

I always do. The streets are no place to be unconscious, and it's never a good sign when somebody is passed out in a public place like that. The drunk tank is better than the streets in these circumstances.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:07 AM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


What, exactly, would you have wanted these people to do?

I mean, I understand why people are all GRAR but think about it? If you see a man with a bunch of knife wounds what exactly can you do?

Someone had already called the police, would calling them again have made them come any quicker?

Other then that, what would have wanted these people to do?
posted by delmoi at 10:11 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm still shocked by the fact that in the richest country in the world, losing your job also means losing a roof over your head.

Really? It happens in the UK, too. PDF of a study in the UK about why people sleep rough.
posted by Houstonian at 10:11 AM on April 25, 2010


I object to the term "homeless man." The correct word is "homeless". Appending "man" to the end suggests that the homeless are human.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:11 AM on April 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


There's a teeny, brittle woman who sat on the steps of the subway near where I work. One night my boyfriend and I were walking down those steps when we noticed a group of teenagers clustering around her and laughing. The woman was lying on the steps, still as death, while the kids took camera phone pictures. One woman, maybe a tourist, tossed a dollar bill at her feet while I opened my phone. She smirked at me when I glared at her and explained, "Oh, I always give them money."

The woman wasn't dead, just very sick and sleeping in the cold. She woke up shortly thereafter and I told her I'd called 911. She told me she just hadn't taken her medication and was fine, please don't call the hospital. She forcibly got up and left before the ambulance arrived, and I haven't seen her since. She could as easily left and died on some other street.

Linking to the Kitty Genovese story serves a purpose, but as several commenters noted in the link to the video, the man looked like he'd passed out, and no one could see the pool of blood. He looked like every other person who passes out on the New York sidewalks in the early morning. People walk by because it happens a lot, and it's easier to shrug off the duty of caring for the indigent and ill, to respond and worry about them, easier to attribute to part of the local color ("Those crazy homeless!") than think, my god, you are so unsheltered that you sleep on a sidewalk. I've done it, too. I'm sorry for doing it. I'm sorry Mr. Tax-Yale died because he got stabbed, but he might as easily have died from some other, less noble cause, and then he'd have been another sad heap that looks only half-dead to a city of people who see this all the time.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:12 AM on April 25, 2010 [10 favorites]


Someone had already called the police

what
posted by found missing at 10:13 AM on April 25, 2010


delmoi: "I mean, I understand why people are all GRAR but think about it? If you see a man with a bunch of knife wounds what exactly can you do? "

--The first person to call the police wasn't for hours
--You don't actually know that someone has called the police, but assume someone else already has and don't ensure that someone has because you do not feel individually responsible
--This diffusion of responsibility is specifically called the bystander effect, it's one of the many flaws of our psychology that we should actively work against while acknowledging that people are all flawed and make mistakes without being evil
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:14 AM on April 25, 2010 [12 favorites]


Someone had already called the police, would calling them again have made them come any quicker?

Did they know that? It was't like there was a sign on him saying "911 called".

They had no way of knowing that anyone had called the police.

Calling 911 takes almost no time and/or effort. So what if its a duplicate?
posted by anastasiav at 10:15 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm glad you linked to the Kitty Genovese story because as far as I'm aware the NYTimes did grossly exaggerate and just plain get the story wrong. Not that events like these aren't horrible, just that trusting the first news story that gets all the attention to them will be accurate has already turned out to be wrong in the past. The claims of someone turning him over to see stab wounds and not doing anything just don't make sense to me. Are we sure this person didn't call 911 or have someone do so? What kind of person puts in the effort to check on someone but that doesn't do the obvious upon seeing they are dead or dying? I can't fathom a reason or explanation for that.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:17 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, I didn't realize that it took so long for 911 to be called. That is a bigger problem then.
posted by delmoi at 10:18 AM on April 25, 2010


Okay he was stabbed at 5:40 AM, and the first 911 call was at 7:23, according to the Post article. The NYT article doesn't give a timeline.
posted by delmoi at 10:21 AM on April 25, 2010


Also, if you are worried about calling 911 inappropriately, call 311.

There is a way to program it into your cell phone, I haven't done it yet though.

In any borough of New York City, call 311.

Outside New York City, call (212) NEW-YORK / (212) 639-9675.
In April 2008, Mayor Bloomberg announced the expansion of 311 to include human service referrals, creating the nation's largest social service information and referral center.
Cool, I didn't know that.

I personally am reluctant to call 911 for a few reasons. Not necessarily good ones.

One, medical care can bankrupt people and so they sometimes get really pissed if you call an expensive ambulance (did it one time anyway when someone had alcohol poisoning but she was pissed). Or they don't like the medical establishment for whatever reason, mental health, involuntarily committed, doctors treat them like shit, or they just don't like the doctor. Of course they can still refuse care so it's not necessarily a reason not to call, just something I think about.

Two, because I don't trust the police. I always think, do I really want them to get involved, will it make the situation better or worse? Draconian drug laws, police brutality, general shitty bigoted behavior on the part of police, a warrant...it's risky for the person I'm calling about.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:26 AM on April 25, 2010 [20 favorites]


By the way, 311 will transfer you to 911 if they determine it's an emergency. They're quite efficient.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:27 AM on April 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


I've only been to New York City twice. From my experiences there, though, I would believe that if I stopped to call 9/311 every time I observed someone unresponsive in the street, I would be doing nothing but. (Granted, this was more than a decade ago.) I'm also sympathetic to IFDS,SN9's concerns, as well as the resources of paramedics and emergency rooms who are basically required to work for free transporting these folks and giving them a place to sober up.

It's shameful, though, that the richest country in the world has no better solution to people lying insensate in the street for whatever reason than unnecessary hospital visits, which may be the least good use of dollars spent for actual help given ever.
posted by KathrynT at 10:48 AM on April 25, 2010


You know, to all the people pissing and moaning about how nobody helped:

This guy helped. He fought off a woman's attacker. Look what he got for it.

It's not indifference, it's survival. You want to roll some freak on the street over and get stabbed or spit on? Or worse?

Nope.

Yes, this guy deserved better. Not because he helped a woman out, and got stabbed, but because he is a human being and all human beings deserve better.

Did he get what he deserved? How many times do we wish people would get what they deserve, for better or worse?
posted by Xoebe at 10:54 AM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


delmoi: I mean, I understand why people are all GRAR but think about it? If you see a man with a bunch of knife wounds what exactly can you do?

Well, if someone had just been stabbed, I'd imagine that wadding up some cloth and applying direct pressure would probably do a lot to help slow the blood loss until medical attention could arrive. However, three hours later, I suspect that boat has already sailed.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:04 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


You really don't call 911? Because they might be injured, or because they might have drunk themselves into a dangerous state, or because they're at risk?

I get where you're coming from, but my first thought about what would happen if I called 911 is that I'd be handing the NYPD a nifty chew toy they might otherwise ignore. Especially since, if he's still drunk, he's liable to do something that pisses the cops off once the interaction starts.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:04 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The sad thing is that some cops are not in a hurry to help either.

One night I saw a man lying on the sidewalk using a concrete step as a pillow. It was obvious he was very drunk. I was in a hurry (had to catch the last train of the night) so I didn't have the time to help him but I couldn't just leave him there. It was cold out and he wasn't dressed for it.

Fortunately, I had just passed three police officers about half a block away. I returned to the three officers and told them there was a man passed out on the sidewalk. They eyed me suspiciously.

"It's OK," they assured me.

A bit confused, I repeated myself.

"There's a man unconscious on the sidewalk. About half a block from here in that direction."

"OK, OK. We know," they said but didn't move. They seemed annoyed that I was bothering them with this.

"It's pretty cold out. He might develop hypothermia. Could you please check if he's OK?"

They grudgingly started walking in his direction. I hurried off and caught the last train.

You never know. Maybe someone did tell the police and they just took their time getting there. Who knows? If the average Joe passes thousands of drunks sleeping on the sidewalk the average police officer must see tens of thousands. After all, they are the ones with the unpleasant task of waking up potentially angry drunks.

Like most accidents, this was probably a series of unfortunate coincidences and tragic errors of judgment by all parties involved.

Frankly, the only person I blame is the bastard with the knife.

Whatever happened, this is sad and tragic on so many levels. I hope homeless man hero Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax rests in peace.

.
posted by stringbean at 11:05 AM on April 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


I live and work in two relatively well-off sections of Los Angeles (Santa Monica and West Hollywood, respectively), and if I called 911 every time I came across someone who was unconscious on the sidewalk, I would be making emergency phone calls literally eight or more times a day. If I was downtown, it would likely be double or triple that. Emergency services are not equipped to handle that sort of phone load, and wouldn't be inclined to do so even if they could.

About ten years ago there was a homeless man who spent every day sitting in a wheel chair around the corner from the office where I worked, asking people for change or leftovers when they left the neighborhood diner. He died, for reasons that I never learned, and none of the hundreds of people passing him noticed for many hours, because while he was dead he looked exactly the same as he had during the many times when he'd simply been asleep.

The homeless crisis in America is terrible, but it's not one that emergency services can solve. Programs to get housing and treatment for those who need it is the only thing that will help, although that's harder work than tutting about the callousness of New Yorkers.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:08 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Saw a car accident; didn't call 911 b/c I was pretty sure emergency services were overloaded.
posted by found missing at 11:12 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Chicago Public Radio's always excellent This American Life radio show had an excellent segment yesterday, that talked about how a recent Somali immigrant called 911 when he saw a homeless woman sitting on a Central Park bench late at night.

The immigrant literally could not fathom that such things were "normal" in America.
posted by Dimpy at 12:21 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


You don't think New Yorkers care? Try walking down the street with your shoelace untied. Every third person will bring it to your attention: "Hey, your shoelace is untied." Of course, if you are walking down the street with a knife in your chest, they'll pretend not to notice ...
posted by Faze at 1:22 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Let me tell you a similar story from personal experience:
Back around 05 I suffered a kidney stone attack while walking around Delores Park in San Francisco. The pain quite literally floored me and dropped me to the grassy part of the sidewalk moaning in pain , on my knees, clutching my abdomen. I tried to use my cellphone to call 911 but the pain rendered me unable to even dial. I was like this for maybe 10 minutes before I was able to dial out. And while I was doubled over on my knees moaning in pain and fumbling in my purse for my phone - a 40-something year old woman - dozens and dozens of people walked right passed me....

Nice little yuppies with their 2 abreast strollers and their kids (I recall this so clearly) ....
Nice little gay couples out for a stroll ...
Nice young hipsters wearing their iPods and jamming ...
Nice middle aged men walking to who knows where ...

Dozens of people in 1 10 minute period (it felt like an hour)

No one asked if I was OK or needed help. No one stopped.
I'm a Veteran who worked in a field hospital and saved half a dozen lives in my career.

I used to want to help the world and make it a better place for people.
Now - not so much.

It's not just large Corporations that are Bastards like I once believed.
It's all of us.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 1:42 PM on April 25, 2010 [14 favorites]



Parasite Unseen "I live and work in two relatively well-off sections of Los Angeles (Santa Monica and West Hollywood, respectively), and if I called 911 every time I came across someone who was unconscious on the sidewalk, I would be making emergency phone calls literally eight or more times a day."

Troll or not.
What John Stewart said ...
posted by Poet_Lariat at 1:44 PM on April 25, 2010


I used to live in New York, in Manhattan and in Brooklyn. I spent one evening in Manhattan making my cab driver stop and pick up a guy I saw attacked as we rode by, then take him to the nearest hospital ER. On another afternoon in Brooklyn, I and a number of other people who saw a man strangling a woman hailed police and called police on a nearby phone (pre cell phone days.) On still another afternoon, in Brooklyn, I and others ran to a pay phone to call police when we saw a hit and run.

I'm sorry, but people lying on the sidewalk is a sign of trouble. My current city, Seattle, is a homeless mecca, partly because we have services, partly because the climate is temperate here, and partly because of the poverty, mental health issues, and addiction issues that put a lot of people on the street everywhere. I still check out anyone I see sitting or lying on the sidewalk, to make sure they are not in trouble. I call police -- now on my cell phone -- when I see someone being attacked or otherwise apparently in distress.

Calling for services when we see someone in trouble is part of living in a community, no matter how large.

This story of indifference makes me feel quite sick. The only difference I see with the Genovese case is that this poor man was unable to cry out for help.
posted by bearwife at 2:01 PM on April 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


For anyone thinking this is a New York / San Francisco phenomenon, my best friend's wife, in a new outlying suburb of Dallas (Rowlett), was out walking around the block, tripped over an uneven part of the sidewalk, and broke her ankle. She was on the grass SCREAMING for help, and nobody came outside. Nobody in the distance outside bothered to do anything, either. She had to crawl a couple of blocks back to her house and get help. This boils down to a "most people suck" kind of issue, or if not that, an incredible culture-of-fear problem, with people watching too many Nicolas Cage thrillers or something and being too scared to get involved in outside drama.
posted by crapmatic at 2:02 PM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Quadrupling the note that calling 911 for someone lying on the sidewalk can be a full time job in NYC. It's just not done.

On the other hand, calling 911 for someone one the street falling ill, for someone threatening people, for someone in an accident? I can't count how many phones flip out every time something like that happens.

Just the other night, I helped up some old lady who had fallen on her front sidewalk. Amazing, huh? I know, I was supposed to just spit on her and take her purse, but I actually helped the old hag.

So to call us insensitive pricks is pretty fucking stupid.
posted by fungible at 2:27 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Quadrupling the note that calling 911 for someone lying on the sidewalk can be a full time job in NYC. It's just not done.

Thanks for schooling us rubes. Last time I was there I must have been too busy looking up at the skyscrapers to see all the people lying face down in the middle of the sidewalk.
posted by found missing at 2:32 PM on April 25, 2010


1. This man deserved better.

2. I'm a woman, and I've been threatened by homeless dudes in various states of inebriation/mental confusion a few times in NYC. Just for walking too close/sharing a subway car. It's as terrifying as you expect, and pretty much removed my willingness to go up to homeless strangers and help them unasked.

3. The one time I did help a man it was in the train station (can't remember what station, but it was in Manhattan in the middle of the day) and he looked bad. He asked for help (not money), and I gave him a bag of fruit snacks I had in my purse and my bottle of water, and went looking for an MTA person to help. They did not give the smallest portion of a shit about this man, who looked like he might be dying and was lying down, crying out in pain right on the subway platform. I hung around and kept asking until they finally sent a transit cop, who also did not appear overly concerned. Then I had to leave because I had nothing else I could do.

I suspect that my experience is not unusual, and I'm pretty sure it had something to do with lots of people's reluctance to stop.
posted by emjaybee at 2:35 PM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Last time I was there I must have been too busy looking up at the skyscrapers to see all the people lying face down in the middle of the sidewalk.

That's okay. We don't look up at the skyscrapers either.
posted by fungible at 2:37 PM on April 25, 2010


I don't think making this about personal responsibility is the right call.

I think it's exactly the right thing to do.

Assume for a moment that this man was visibly in trouble--distinguishable from the normal sight of a passed out or asleep homeless person. People will still walk by; it's the curse of the Bystander Effect. We don't want to get involved, and we assume that someone else will take care of it.

A less serious example of this happens on my bus sometimes. Someone wants off of the crowded bus, but can't make it to the doors before they start to close. Everyone watches, but no one says anything--and the person misses their stop. That is, that's what happens if I don't say, "wait a moment, there's one more!" to the driver.

I do this because I'm aware of the effect.

Simply educating people about the Bystander Effect has been shown to change their reactions in situations where, previously, they might have simply stayed quiet or walked away. Making them aware that that they can't rely on other people to act, that to guarantee a person in distress gets help they have to take personal responsibility for getting that help, makes it more likely they will stop, ask the man bleeding on the street if he's alright, and call an ambulance when they discover he's not.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:04 PM on April 25, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm thinking of a rule or principle whose name I can't recall which dictates that one point and somebody and say "You! Call 911!" instead of "Somebody call 911!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:34 PM on April 25, 2010


I have broken up fights between strangers, stuck my nose into plenty of other people's business, called the police when necessary, and I am pretty sure even I would have walked by this person if the blood wasn't visible. He would have looked like any other sidewalk sleeper. If he had been face-up it would have been different. He was just unlucky. It's awful.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:55 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know if this is specifically new yorikish behaviour - I stopped a guy running away with a womans bag in the street near my home, tried to hold him down while police got there while some of my neighbours just hung out the window filming it with their phones.

Time after that some guy comes up to me and starts hassling me in the street, says he's going to stab me - starts hitting me - I fight back and he's down, he then goes away muttering. Then I realise that a wee goth kid has been filming the whole thing on his mobile phone.

Some people really don't give a fuck.

Personally I intervene all the time, which makes me a pain in the ass but at least i kind of give a shit.

Only sleeping ? well he would have had some cardboard or blankets if he was sleeping.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:59 PM on April 25, 2010


also if you compare the sidewalk before and after, it looks like a trail of blood is coming from the body.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:06 PM on April 25, 2010


If someone is in obvious immediate trouble, and are not being actively helped, you help them. The degree of trouble defines the acceptable degree of inconvenience. This should be automatic.
posted by HFSH at 4:14 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Stay classy, human race.
posted by Kskomsvold at 4:28 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Saw a car accident; didn't call 911 b/c I was pretty sure emergency services were overloaded.

This is the number one reason that people don't help. Not indifference. Now that you know this, *always* call 911 just in case someone else didn't. You might save a life. I've done this ever since I read that research following the Genovese case.

And, New Yorkers usually do help if they see something untoward. Last week as I was walking up 1st Ave in the 70's, a woman tripped and fell on her butt rather awfully and everyone stopped and the closest person to her asked if she was OK and helped her up and everyone else stood there till she walked away.

Second anecdote. Some guy choked while walking down the street in front of Memorial Sloan-Kettering, which is near where I used to live. Passing doctor or other medical person Heimliched him immediately. Of course, if you are going to choke, it is convenient if you do so in one of the most health-care dense sites in the city (Cornell Presbyterian is just a block over).

Passed out homeless people is more complicated because you typically didn't see anything happen to them before you walked by. The person who found him bleeding after he shook him and the people who photographed-- that's unconscionable. Walking by, however, if you see a passed out homeless person on the side of the street is a logical response because this is simply so common and you can't stop to help all of them.

If you see someone passed out *in middle of sidewalk or street* however-- not on steps or in doorway or other place where they are likely to be sleeping or to have deliberately gone there to nod out or if they seem like they may be dead or in trouble for some reason-- you should call 911.

Basically, if in doubt, err on side of calling.
posted by Maias at 4:43 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was last in NYC a year ago for no more than two days, and outside of Grand Central station in the middle of the sidewalk on Lexington, there was a guy just lying on his backpack outside. He was face up and blinking, middle aged, and just lying back like he was on a lounge chair. Additionally, the same weekend, near Times Square at around 3 pm, I saw a woman bend over like she'd been shot in the stomach or was holding her stomach like she was going to vomit. When I got closer, I saw she had pulled her underwear down and was urinating and defecating on the side of the building (I really wish I hadn't seen that and I quickly crossed the street when I realized what was happening).

In my whole experience living in the US, I have never seen a woman defecate on the side of a building in broad daylight, and honestly, I wouldn't have expected it to happen on a fairly populated street near Times Square, or at all. I hadn't considered calling the cops for either situation (if that guy wants to lie on the sidewalk next to Grand Central, then he can do it until the cops make him do something else, maybe he's tired). If that woman has to go to the bathroom, I'm not going to tell her not to or call the cops on her. Something in me now tells me that calling the cops would have been stupid.

I don't know why these people didn't stop for this guy, if they thought he was homeless and/or drunk or if they just didn't want to get involved. I don't know what exactly happened. I don't know why the woman he helped didn't call for help. Maybe she was drugged out or terrified or crazed. Maybe people were scared or confused and couldn't tell whether it was safe for them to get involved or feel brave, and not everyone is a take-charge person. It's terrible what happened to this guy, but I really believe that if it had been Arlington, VA, or even Boston maybe, or any other place, someone would have done something and that just makes NYC an anomaly.

All people are not evil and bad. They're mainly misguided and confused and don't know what's going on.
posted by anniecat at 5:28 PM on April 25, 2010


An (apparently homeless) man fell and passed out in the driveway to my apartment building, which I could see from my window. I didn't feel safe going to investigate, and I wouldn't have been able to help, since I'm 95 lbs with no medical training. So I called 911 and watched out the window until they showed up. A dozen people passed by him on the sidewalk; no one stopped. And passed-out-people on the street are NOT a common occurrence in Milwaukee, unlike NYC.

I understand not stopping and helping if you have no medical training or you feel unsafe. I don't understand not calling; it's absolutely no cost to you (literally, your carrier cannot charge you for the minutes) and it may save someone's life. I've called 911 many times when it's been a duplicate call. They say "thanks, we're on it," and that's it. There is really no reason not to call.
posted by desjardins at 5:29 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Quadrupling the note that calling 911 for someone lying on the sidewalk can be a full time job in NYC. It's just not done.

I do it all the time and it's done all the time by all the decent people in the world.
Apparently those kinds of people don't appear to mingle with you so I Take your experience as being valid and genuine.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 5:31 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


And you don't live in NYC. Point, counterpoint.

Only sleeping ? well he would have had some cardboard or blankets if he was sleeping.

Have any of you ever been here?
posted by fungible at 5:51 PM on April 25, 2010


"I've only been to New York City twice. From my experiences there, though, I would believe that if I stopped to call 9/311 every time I observed someone unresponsive in the street, I would be doing nothing but."

Do you mean the New York City on the East Coast? Because I've lived in that city for over 25 years and I don't often see people passed out in the street (and have called 911 for some of them). And I spend a lot of time in places where your visitor would never go and probably feel deeply uncomfortable.

Generally, I call 911 if there's no obvious sign of alcohol or other drugs - and am much more likely to if they are neatly dressed. There was a time 20 years ago where I saw a lot more of them and we didn't have cell phones but now there's no excuse, the dispatchers are pretty efficient and you don't have to wait.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:59 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Have any of you ever been here?

By this, do you mean that homeless people are somehow different in NYC than in other places? Or do you mean New Yorkers' attitudes toward the homeless are somehow different than in other places?
posted by Houstonian at 6:04 PM on April 25, 2010


In my whole experience living in the US, I have never seen a woman defecate on the side of a building in broad daylight,

I've been in New York City for a quarter century and never seen this - but if I did, I'd call 911.

Seeing two people who badly needed help in two days is unusual, but midtown isn't really where people actually live. Still, if you made one 911 call a day, it'd be less time than you spend brushing your teeth...

"Only sleeping ? well he would have had some cardboard or blankets if he was sleeping."

Have any of you ever been here?


So where are these areas in the city where you see people just lying on the street asleep with nothing? Do tell me, I'll go visit them...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:04 PM on April 25, 2010


Shit, that's cold.

.
posted by bwg at 6:31 PM on April 25, 2010


You kids. In the early 1960s, on the Bowery, you'd see dozens and dozens of men lying unconscious on the sidewalks, side-by-side, like the dead in a Matthew Brady photograph, for block after block after block. All the way from Canal up to the East Village. In the middle of the afternoon. Isolated sleeping drunks were common elsewhere around Manhattan. During the great homeless years of the 1980s, they lay all over Grand Central Station, and I can recall stepping over prone bodies in pedestrian tunnels in Union Square, 42nd Street subway stations. You saw people urinating and defecating (and worse, don't ask) in major thoroughfares often enough not to be surprised. I suspect it was much, much worse in the 1940s and 1930s.
posted by Faze at 8:43 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


So where are these areas in the city where you see people just lying on the street asleep with nothing? Do tell me, I'll go visit them...

Greatest concentration I've seen is in Greenpoint in the mornings, about one every ten minutes if you're walking.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:55 PM on April 25, 2010


I guess the way to reconcile this is to say: the problem isn't that people walked on by without calling for help, and from this we can conclude that people suck; the problem is that it is so common and unremarkable to see human beings so totally destitute and outcast that they are, for all appearances, lying dead in the street, that when one of them actually is dead, because he has recently been murdered, nobody can tell the difference.
posted by stammer at 8:56 PM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


I don't know about anyone else, but the last time I came across a hopelessly drunk homeless man downtown, I put him in my car and took him to the shelter where he lives.

I'm not saying anyone else has to do that, but I always ask if someone needs help. It's impossible to be or, consider yourself to be, a decent person and no do so.
posted by klanawa at 8:59 PM on April 25, 2010



I don't know about anyone else, but the last time I came across a hopelessly drunk homeless man downtown, I put him in my car and took him to the shelter where he lives.


I'm not much of a people person anyway to strangers, homeless or not. I'm pretty shy. So I'll just stick to donating to reputable charities.
posted by anniecat at 9:17 PM on April 25, 2010


I remember walking home with a friend one night, and we passed a girl with her arms wound tight around her legs, sobbing. I walked on by. Another night, another drunk girl. My friend stopped, kneeled down, asked "Are you okay?" And the girl sobbed, "No."

It turns out she'd been raped. She was nearly paralyzed with...with the effing horribleness of rape. She had been at a bar, and a man took her back to his place, and he raped her. And she left, made it out to the sidewalk, and sat there, sobbing, until my friend stopped and asked, "Are you okay?"

I would have passed right on by. I'm so ashamed. It's hard to think about that. I'm one of those people. There's no excuse for it. There are excuses; I won't make them. In any case, that friend of mine, he's my hero. He is the second best man I know. And now I'm proud to inconvenience my friends and make sure that that drunk guy, or that unruly girl, are okay. Because you can't tell, ever. And I don't want to leave anyone alone on the sidewalk.
posted by punchtothehead at 9:54 PM on April 25, 2010 [19 favorites]


You kids. In the early 1960s, on the Bowery, you'd see dozens and dozens of men lying unconscious on the sidewalks, side-by-side, like the dead in a Matthew Brady photograph, for block after block after block. All the way from Canal up to the East Village. In the middle of the afternoon. Isolated sleeping drunks were common elsewhere around Manhattan. During the great homeless years of the 1980s, they lay all over Grand Central Station, and I can recall stepping over prone bodies in pedestrian tunnels in Union Square, 42nd Street subway stations. You saw people urinating and defecating (and worse, don't ask) in major thoroughfares often enough not to be surprised. I suspect it was much, much worse in the 1940s and 1930s.

My mother's family lived here until the 1970s, when crime drove them out. The stories they tell me are so far away from what I experience now. Even on the outskirts of the city, in East New York, I encounter the dystopia that existed back then. This incident is terrible, but not really an excuse for saying that things are so bad now. While we should try to make the city better, it was much worst before.

Personally, I almost never encounter people who look like they need help and when I do we have 311, which is a fairly new thing.
posted by melissam at 6:14 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty ashamed to admit I would have walked by, too. As a small-ish woman, I wouldn't put myself in what could be a dangerous situation with a drunk man.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:40 AM on April 26, 2010


What I take from the Bystander Effect is that this behavior is not unique to New York City or New Yorkers, rather that this is some sort of unfortunate side-effect of humans living in big cities.

From the Wikipedia article on the bystander effect:
There are in fact many reasons why bystanders in groups fail to act in emergency situations, but social psychologists have focused most of their attention on two major factors.

According to a basic principle of social influence, bystanders monitor the reactions of other people in an emergency situation to see if others think that it is necessary to intervene. Since everyone is doing exactly the same thing (nothing), they all conclude from the inaction of others that help is not needed. This is an example of pluralistic ignorance or social proof.

The other major obstacle to intervention is known as diffusion of responsibility. This occurs when observers all assume that someone else is going to intervene and so each individual feels less responsible and refrains from doing anything.

There are other reasons why people may not help. They may assume that other bystanders are more qualified to help, such as doctors or police officers, and that their intervention would be unneeded. People may also experience evaluation apprehension and fear losing face in front of the other bystanders.

They may also be afraid of being superseded by a superior helper, offering unwanted assistance, or facing the legal consequences of offering inferior and possibly dangerous assistance. An example is the limitation of California's Good Samaritan Law, limiting liability for those attempting to provide medical services as opposed to non-medical (extraction from automobile) services.
posted by AceRock at 7:35 AM on April 26, 2010


And if you yourself are in an emergency or are in need of help, one way to counteract the "diffusion of responsibility" is to call people out. Say "You in the green shirt, come help. You in the hat, call 911." Make people take individual responsibility.
posted by AceRock at 7:41 AM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


You kids. In the early 1960s, on the Bowery, you'd see dozens and dozens of men lying unconscious on the sidewalks, side-by-side, like the dead in a Matthew Brady photograph, for block after block after block. All the way from Canal up to the East Village. In the middle of the afternoon. Isolated sleeping drunks were common elsewhere around Manhattan. During the great homeless years of the 1980s, they lay all over Grand Central Station, and I can recall stepping over prone bodies in pedestrian tunnels in Union Square, 42nd Street subway stations. You saw people urinating and defecating (and worse, don't ask) in major thoroughfares often enough not to be surprised. I suspect it was much, much worse in the 1940s and 1930s.

Seconding this. I grew up here in the 70's, 80's and 90's, and there aren't as many homeless on the streets as there used to be.
posted by zarq at 7:43 AM on April 26, 2010


I was in NYC, Manhattan and Brooklyn, 80s. We didn't have cell phones. I still called. And yes, the homeless population was much larger then.

So, all you I'm too busy to call folks in the Big Apple, please find the time to dial 911 or 311.

Over and out from the West Coast.
posted by bearwife at 8:44 AM on April 26, 2010


When you help people who are injured, there does exist a risk. I recall one video which showed a 'good Samaritan' helping some wounded lying on the street, and an Apache gunship sent a barrage of 30mm rounds through his fleshy body.
posted by yoyoceramic at 8:52 AM on April 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


True story. A good samaritan type from college stopped to help someone on the side of the road to see if they needed any help. He was shot and robbed and his car stolen. Fortunately he did not die, but it made a lasting impression on me. Possibly this is in the back of people's heads.
And if you walk by and assume it's just a homeless drunk on the sidewalk, well, that's sad, but it's reality. There are people who want to help, but also know how unstable and mentally ill some homeless people are, and are afraid to get assaulted. Calling 311 or 911 is the correct thing to do, but I would not approach a homeless person on the sidewalk. Neither would I try to intervene in a mugging, as this poor guy demonstrated, getting stabbed in the chest multiple times. 911 is really the only option unless you want to put your life or physical safety in danger.
posted by WilliamMD at 9:15 AM on April 26, 2010


Simply educating people about the Bystander Effect has been shown to change their reactions in situations where, previously, they might have simply stayed quiet or walked away. Making them aware that that they can't rely on other people to act, that to guarantee a person in distress gets help they have to take personal responsibility for getting that help, makes it more likely they will stop, ask the man bleeding on the street if he's alright, and call an ambulance when they discover he's not.

This is really important to remember, and if you're someone who, like me, is more naturally inclined to help in an emergency situation, you need to remember that once people around you see you do anything to help, they're going to figure you've got it all under control. I just took my CPR re-certification class last week, and one thing that they stress is that you do not make a general request to the crowd like "Someone call 911!". You pick someone, point and look them directly in the eye, and say "YOU, go call 911!". Otherwise, it's most likely that each of the 20 or so people around you is going to figure that someone else is taking care of it.
posted by rollbiz at 10:11 AM on April 26, 2010


Missed it the first time, but exactly what AceRock just said.
posted by rollbiz at 10:14 AM on April 26, 2010


"One, medical care can bankrupt people and so they sometimes get really pissed if you call an expensive ambulance "

In most cases, this is not true. You should only get a bill if you're actually transported to the hospital. The fire department I'm with only bills if we actually transport someone. As a result, we get people calling 911 at 2am just to have a free (albeit brief) physical.

As far as this goes, what happens is often that people just assume that someone else has already called 911. Go ahead! Call 911! Worst thing that happens is that they tell you that it's already been reported. Maybe it's different in a small town. Out here we will get 15 people calling 911 to report a cow loose on the highway.
posted by drstein at 12:15 PM on April 26, 2010


I've related this before, but when I had a heart attack, I manged to exit my apartment after calling 911, but dropped my keys after locking my door. After lowering myself to the floor to get the keys, I realized that I didn't have the strength to get back up, so I rather awkwardly laid myself down right outside my door.

Several minutes later, one of my neighbors, who I'd never met, exited her apartment, and looked straight at me lying there. I could have said something to her, but my energy was fading fast, and even speaking was more than I wanted to do, as I knew that I had to hold out until the ambulance arrived.

And I thought, there was nothing to say; I'd already called for an ambulance. I'd have liked it if she'd stayed to comfort me, dying is lonely, but conserving what little strength I had was more important than comfort, so I consciously decided not to say anything. And talking would have been a difficult feat by that point. I was however, even in my distress, vaguely embarrassed that she probably thought I was a drunk. As I was thinking this, she walked down the hall and around the corner and I was left to wait alone.
posted by orthogonality at 10:22 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Quadrupling the note that calling 911 for someone lying on the sidewalk can be a full time job in NYC. It's just not done."

Boy Howdy is this thread going to put some perspective in my head the next time some thread is extolling the virtues of NYC.
posted by Mitheral at 7:40 PM on April 27, 2010


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