The Bystander Effect
Security cameras running on the day before Thanksgiving showed a Boston woman being mugged by two men. People passing by did not assist her. Three years ago in Hartford, CT, Angel Torres was run over by a hit and run driver. He eventually died from his injuries. Not only did the driver flee, but 9 cars and numerous people on foot failed to stop, intervene, call police or help in any way.
It could be argued that this is an example of how calloused and uncaring we have become in American society. Perhaps, but this phenomena is nothing new. In 1964, New York resident Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death by a serial killer in the view or ear shot of over 35 people. For various reasons, Genovese struggled and died without anyone having rendered appropriate assistance. NYPD authorities theorized that everyone assume that someone else would intervene.
Why do citizens remain uninvolved? Fear is clearly a motivator in many situations, and rightfully so. These days, people also fear being sued or having to appear in court if they intervene. Almost everyone has cell phones, why can’t they call 911 from a safe distance? Recently, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow brought up an interesting theory. http://keithablow.com/
This generation has grown up surrounded by electronic media; whether video or Internet gaming, personal computers, chat room, text messaging, smart phones, Wii, or television. Things can become so intense with on-line gamers that a Mr. Lee of Tageu, South Korea died after playing Starcraft for 50 hours straight. Authorities reported that the cause of death was exhaustion and heart failure. Maple Story, an online virtual reality game where players purchase virtual items for real, live money has over 50 million subscribers to this one game alone.
Ablow posits that this involvement with electronic media which screens out one-on-one, in person encounters contributes to a sense of unreality when someone is confronted by an actual violent event. Ablow states that people in emergency situations often say, “it seemed like a dream” or “it didn’t seem real”. His theory is that the continuous filter of chat or Twitter or text messaging between people and the “real world” contributes to delayed or stunted reactions to real-life emergencies.
Why do good people remain uninvolved when someone else is being hurt? What can be done about it? How can law enforcement facilitate the public getting involved as good citizens while at the same time not exposing them to unnecessary risk? What about it LET community? What do you think?
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