• This past Sunday, my 11 year-old son and I went roller blading down at Venice Beach boardwalk.  We love to “people watch” and, believe me, that place has more than its share of diversity (more like weirdos).  We observed a couple, pushing a double stroller, arguing loudly.  They were creating quite a scene and my son couldn’t help but stare.  I tried to usher him along but he was fixated on this couple as the man aggressively snatched the stroller from the woman and pulled away from her.  She tired to regain control of the stroller as a struggle ensued.  He then pushed the woman away as she clung to a lamppost, bracing herself and crying.  After a few seconds, she regained her composure, caught up with him and snatched the stroller back from him, jolting the children inside.  She took off as fast as she could but he caught up to her, grabbed her arm and pushed her to the ground.  He went after her, and was about to kick her but stopped once he realized that there people walking around them.

    I was shocked that people just kept walking, pretending not to see anything and that no one stopped to help the lady get up.  It’s known as the “Bystander Effect” whereby people see something bad happening but don’t help when other bystanders are present.  Actually, the more bystanders there are, the less likely people are to render help.  There are many factors, which contribute to this response.  Some people become frozen and are unable to react, while others may believe that someone else will help and therefore they don’t need to get involved.  Some other people think that it isn’t their problem so they shouldn’t get involved.  This phenomena has played out in various scenarios such as car accidents, kidnaps, robberies and other life-threatening incidents.  Afterwards, when asked, the bystanders all acknowledged that they should have done something to help.

    So, there I was, caught balancing on my rollerblades and watching the sequence of events unfold right in front of me.  A flood of emotions rushed through me as I was concerned about the lady, worried about traumatizing my son and hesitant to confront the abuser all at once.  Should I get involved?  Do I call the Police?  Maybe it’s none of my business?  Would I want someone meddling in my affairs?  Maybe someone else already called for help?  All thoughts that took precious time away from my getting help.

    Luckily, I snapped out of it and was able to call for help. I’d attended some first responder training back when I was in the Navy and the rules were very basic.  You don’t have to be a hero or try to resolve the scenario yourself.  Of course, there are exigent circumstances whereby you may be compelled (out of instincts) to take action (like a car fire or other imminent danger).  However, for the most part, there’s too much that can go wrong even if you’re trained to handle these situations. People’s behavior can be unpredictable under stressful circumstances.  So, know your limitations and prepare yourself to assist by simply calling for help, even if you think someone else may have already called.  It doesn’t matter if a crime has occurred or not.  It’s not your job to figure it out. So, err on the side of caution, call for help and let the authorities sort it out. Your job is to make sure they get there!