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Why People Don’t Help Crime Victims

By James Donahue

The great news coverage of the brave New York citizens and first responders who came to the aid of the 155 souls left stranded on the wings of a downed US Airways jet in the Hudson River is typical for Americans in times of major crisis.

People have a tendency to want to plunge into burning buildings, dive into submerged vehicles and we even recall the man who risked his life when he dropped under the wheels of a passing subway to save the life of another soul who had fallen.

Yet there have been recent news events . . . some of them captured on video . . . of people getting violently mugged, robbed, or struck down by passing cars and left lying bleeding in the street while others passed, paying little or no attention to the crime occurring before their eyes.

One news commentator asked how people could ignore something like this after one such video was put on the air.

The answer is quite easy to find. Streetwise Americans have learned, sometimes the hard way, how to choose the event for personal involvement. It someone’s child is trapped in the burning house, go in and save it. If the woman is being mugged and robbed in a public parking lot, we don’t see it.

The difference is police involvement. The moment an innocent bystander steps into a crime in progress, he or she becomes not only a witness but often a “person of interest” who may or not be charged as an assessor to the crime, if not as the mugger.

Notice how quickly meter reader Roy Kronk became a suspect in the Fox News sensationalized Caylee Anthony child murder case. Kronk noticed something suspicious in a wooded area close to a road he used in Orange County and made three separate calls to the Sheriff’s Department before he got anybody to respond. It turned out to be the child’s body, and Kronk immediately became a suspect in the case.

Who needs that kind of trouble?

As a news reporter I often found myself a witness to events that led to arrest and court proceedings, and often civil litigation. It was not uncommon to be subpoenaed to testify in court about what I observed or photographed. Being ordered to appear as a court witness alone can tie a person’s personal life in knots for days. Court cases can drag on for days, if not weeks, while witnesses are forced to wait outside the court room, often under guard, and forbidden to discuss the case.

Imagine how suddenly becoming a suspect in a crime case would affect us. This is exactly why people turn away from crimes in progress and have a strange loss of memory if ever asked about it.

We believe the first impulse most people have is come to the assistance of anyone we see who is in some form of trouble. But in cities like New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Miami, where violent street crime is nearly as common as pigeon droppings, the natives know when to stay out of other people’s affairs, and they do it with skill.

Remember the little feature story about the New Jersey parents who named their child Adolph Hitler Campbell? While the child admittedly is the namesake of one of the most brutal mass killers in human history, it was not an illegal name. Yet the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services has since seized little Adolph Hitler Campbell and his sisters and removed them from the home. The girls are named JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell.

Until government again becomes our friend, expect an escalation of that odd “them n’ us” mindset.