Sunday, December 19, 2010

My subway stop

Last week, I had to leave work early.

Since it was late afternoon, the subway car was filled with students who had just gotten out of school. Shortly before we arrived at my stop, I heard a commotion breaking out on the other end of the car. One of the adult passengers standing near me kept repeating, “Go to the other end of the car and pull the alarm.” I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about.

Still, I started walking toward the other end of the car — nearer to where the commotion seemed to originate. It was then I saw a teenage girl pummeling a smaller teenage boy who was sitting in one of the passenger seats. As she was finishing, a teenage boy took his turn pummeling the seated victim. Other kids were hovering around as were adults who had done nothing to try to break up the beating.

A momentary panic hit me. I’m not a small guy, but with graying beard, book in hand, backpack on my shoulder, and glasses perched on my forehead, I’m hardly menacing. Do I step in and risk a gang of teenagers descending on me? Do I walk to the other end of the car and “pull the alarm,” now that that fellow’s instructions had become clear? Or do I do as everyone else seems to have done and mind my own business?

I regularly dole out advice to readers who find themselves in such situations, but what’s the right thing for me to do here?

I would never advise readers to put themselves in harm’s way in such a situation. Jumping in and starting to wrestle with the kids who are pummeling the seated teenager seems fraught with peril. But standing by while this kid is getting hurt just isn’t right.

Half expecting — or at least hoping — that other adults will help out if I insinuate myself into the situation, I continue walking toward the entangled teenagers and shout, “Cut it out!”

Remarkably, the pummelers retreat. The victim gets up and moves to the other side of the train as quickly as he can. He’s pulled his hood up over his head and is slumping against the door, but he appears to be a safe distance from his attackers.

When the doors open to my stop, he also gets off the car. I walk him up the stairs to the station attendant, tell her that the kids who accosted him are on the last car of the train, and I sit with him. It’s only then that I notice that his nose his bleeding and a black eye is beginning to welt up. The attendant radios for medical help and also says she will call ahead to alert authorities that the accosters are still on the train — along with witnesses to the incident.

The victim’s cousin gets off the next train and comes to sit with him. I give the station attendant my card and tell her to call if they need to know what I saw.

I don’t know what caused the fight. I don’t know who the others involved were. But I do know that in such situations the right thing to do is something, anything . . . even if it’s something as simple as yelling out, “Stop it! Stop it now!”

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics.

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yawningdog said...

Bravo for you, getting involved is a dying attribute.

A few years ago, I was coming back from the bathroom to the McDonald's play place with my kids. I saw a group of teenagers sliding down the slides on trays. They were big kids and going very fast on those trays. You couldn't miss what was happening the noise was incredible.

I acted instantaneously. I walked right up to the group and chewed them out. I told them they didn't belong in here, that what they were doing at their size and at those speeds would kill any kid they hit and I ended that if they didn't leave immediately I wasn't calling the manager, I was calling the cops.

They left, the other parents in the room thanked me. None of them said 'Boo' to those teenagers, they just got their kids away from them and let them take over.

la hats said...

u r right!Stop it! Stop it now!

Bill Jacobson said...

A second hurrah for you, Jeffrey! The right thing to do in this situation is anything! The strong need to stand up for the weak in any situation they are faced with! Surely multiple adults might have subdued a few unwieldily teenagers? Standing by while others get pummeled is definitely not right!

If more of today's adults would step in with youth they don't step out of line, the world would be a better place. A generation ago this happened far more often.

William Jacobson
Cypress, CA