What Have We Become?
Last night, before heading to bed, I read an article that shook me to my core. At this point in my life I should know better than to ingest news right before bed, but hey, slow learner.
The article described a rape that took place on a train. A rape that took place in full view of other passengers. A rape that took place because none of those passengers could be bothered to intervene.
With just those details one could be forgiven for immediately defaulting to it happening somewhere “over there” where rapes are unfortunately common, where women endure atrocities daily, where rape is even made to be the woman’s fault, retribution, shame. But no, this sexual assault took place Friday night in Philadelphia.
And not one passenger could be bothered to even dial 9–1–1 on their phone. Surveillance video from inside the train show not only the entirety of the attack, but the indefensible behavior of every other person on that train.
Police Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt was shocked after viewing the video.
“It’s disturbing that there were definitely people on the El and no one did anything to intervene or help this woman. It speaks to where we are in society; I mean, who would allow something like that to take place? So it’s troubling.”
Troubling. That word is doing some heavy lifting there, Tim. Having been raped, I cannot imagine the compounded psychic damage that woman will now live with knowing that she was being brutally violated and not a single human being in the vicinity moved to help her, to speak out.
It was an employee of SEPTA (the train system) who finally dialed 9–1–1 and authorities managed to apprehend the man at the next stop.
The woman was taken to the hospital. And quite frankly, her fellow passengers should be taken to hell. Do not pass GO. Do not collect a Pearly Gate ticket.
After troubled sleep, I woke with the equivalent of a hangover — not borne of alcohol, but of disbelief, anger, and sadness for what this says about humanity these days. This takes “I don’t want to get involved” to despicable depths. That nowhere in the response of those people was a moment’s thought of “What if that were me, my sister, my mother?” Only a selfish “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
Call me crazy, but part of being among people, in a crowd, etc, is the feeling that should something go down, there are witnesses, helpers. That the better angels of even the biggest bastard’s nature will move him/her/them to aid. That thought has been tumbling in my head like clothes in a dryer since last night, along with the disturbing thought, What have we become?
I know we are divided more than ever. I know that the chasm between vaccinated and anti-vaxxers is Grand Canyon in scope. I know that the mere site of a red hat on a head speaks to the contents of the head and heart upon which it sits. I know that I am immediately eyeroll-y and suspect of anyone who purports to be a Christian in their bio — far too few actually acting Christ-like these days.
But come on. Seriously, COME ON.
I started thinking about our Yes, Virginia efforts. About how we know that donations inevitably go to those with whom we share not a shred of political or humanitarian commonality, but we donate anyway. This community has always been about embracing the bigger picture, the children who should not be held to account for their parents’ choices, beliefs, mishaps. I do due diligence with each person/family we help, but my queries and backgrounding do not stray into territory that would color this mission of ours. We help because people are in need. We help because we see ourselves in others. We help not only because we should, but because we can.
To say I needed some ray of light this morning is an understatement. And lo and behold, it came from an unexpected source.
Our weekend TV viewing typically begins with international soccer. Now, before your eyes glaze over, I ask that you stick with me here. You don’t have to love the sport to love the story I am about to tell.
It happened in this morning’s match between Tottenham Hotspurs and Newcastle in the English Premier League. Rabid fans on both sides. Packed stadium, cheering, points on the line. Focused players, serious referees, managers stalking the sidelines. A 2–1 scoreline 5 minutes before halftime. A corner kick being set up — corner kicks being a prime scoring opportunity.
Suddenly, play stopped. Spurs defender Sergio Reguilon made the center ref aware of a medical emergency in the stands. And center back Eric Dier ran to the sidelines to get emergency medical crew and a defibrillator. The game was immediately suspended so the fan could be cared for. Halftime was called early.
The spectator was treated and taken to the hospital. All because the village worked the way the village is supposed to work. The societal contract was honored in its entirety. One life was important enough to total strangers — even the highly paid, uber competitive players on the field — to stop what they were doing and intervene.
The rape enablers in Philadelphia would be wise to take note.
THAT IS KNOWING YOUR PRIORITIES. THAT IS SEEING YOURSELF IN THE PERIL OF ANOTHER. THAT IS COMPASSION. THAT IS HUMANITY.
I write often about Stepping Up and Stepping In. The idea that privilege all too easily allows us the ease of looking down or away when someone is in need. Allyship is that way far too often. It is really easy to slap a rainbow flag in your newsfeed or profile picture, but true allyship means stepping in when real life threatens those for whom you purport support. The same way that seeing someone being assaulted means you step up and step in to render aid, hell, even render distraction because as DGMSer Jacqueline wrote this morning, “If I saw something like this even beginning, there’s no way in hell I’m not getting involved. What in the actual F is wrong with every single one of these morons? If he had a weapon to use against me, he can’t be raping her. Sometimes it just takes one person to step up and the crowd follows.”
We may not like each other these days, but in the end, we are all we’ve got. Think about how you move through this world and how, while it may not be a thought at the fore of your mind, it is in there somewhere, the faith that your fellow man and woman would come to your aid in the public sphere.
The holidays are coming. Yes, Virginia is going to be ramping up again. People are hurting. Children are going to go without. So allow me to channel a little Ted Lasso here — my request is simple: Be the soccer players, not the train riders.
Let’s restore some more faith in humanity. Because we can.