Why

“No Papi! No!”

Her shout rang out in the subway station.  I looked across the station and saw a man with his hands around another man’s neck slamming him against a wall.

“Papi! Let go!”

The woman was standing a few feet from him next to a baby carriage. She wasn’t pulling him away from the receiver of his aggression – I guess to do so might lead to her getting hurt.

My mind simply studied the facts that I could see on the downtown platform, as I stood directly across from the action on the uptown platform: hands were wrapped around a man’s neck slamming a head into a tiled wall; the victim had two satchels hanging from his shoulders and they were swinging back and forth as he struggled to get free of the hands around his neck and he was saying something I couldn’t hear; the victim was Caucasian maybe in his late 40’s-50’s, the assailant was Latino in his twenties.  The assailant was angry about something.

Who are these people?

Baby carriage + woman screaming “papi” (Mother of child? Wife? Girlfriend?) + man (Father of child? Husband? Boyfriend? Brother? Crazy man?)  =  Family?

Man being assaulted =  Aggressor being corrected? Victim in the wrong place?

I was one of a number of subway commuters who were silently watching.   Were we all wondering/thinking the same thing?

Why didn’t any of us do something? Say something?

Was it fear?

Uncertainty?

Incredulity?

Has watching violent movies made us into unaffected viewers of the world’s horrors?

But we watched.

We observed as the man with the younger man slammed a man’s head against a subway station wall, and a woman screamed “Papi! Let go!”

And we did nothing.

We could all hear her cries.Those of us on the uptown platform had a pretty good view of the action.  The others on the downtown platform stepped away and watched.  None of us cried out, “STOP!!! LET HIM GO!!!  POLICE!!!!”

We were frozen as we watched.

Why?

I asked a doctor, he said that it was natural that we all froze.  He said that we were not trained to deal with an event like that.  Some people freeze.  Some people take action.  It’s normal.

An MTA employee was on the platform.

He approached the two men and said, “Break it up.”

The brief distraction was enough for the victim to wrestle free from his attacker’s hold and hurry to the other end of the platform.

The Latino man mumbled, took over navigating the baby carriage and seemed to follow the victim to the other end of the platform.  His female companion pulled out her cellphone, her neck assumed the now familiar cellphone reading/texting curve as she followed him, eyes focused on her phone screen.  She seemed relaxed, like nothing unexpectedly violent had just occurred.

That’s when I felt myself break out of my trance.  In retrospect, I had been in a trance.  Like a deer frozen in headlights when the smart thing to do is to keep running.  That’s when I felt myself blink for the first time since the incident.  I looked at the other commuters near me.  We were all stunned and silent, but I could feel an unspoken “Wow!” bouncing from one mind to the other.  I didn’t realize that I had been holding my breath until I felt myself inhale.  It wasn’t a gasp for breath, just a continuation of a one breathing cycle that had been interrupted.  Wow! In just seconds – maybe 15 realtime seconds –  a man’s sense of safety had been altered.

As the uptown train roared into the station, I lost sight of the couple and their baby carriage.  My setting altered from platform to train car.  I was joined by other commuters headed somewhere in the direction I was going in, but my mind was still on the downtown platform watching a grown man attack an older man.  My mind wanted to ask the aggressor, “Were you defending your family?  Did he bump into the carriage? Why?” – but was silenced by disbelief and shock.

Would you  judge him for being violent ?  Would you ask, “Why?” Or would you assume it was an ABC “What would you do?” episode?

 


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