A week ago, I stepped outside a restaurant on 14th Street NW. A man was standing on the corner. And then all of a sudden he wasn’t. He was flat on his back. A car pulled up. The driver rolled down his window and shouted to the man:
“Are you all right?”
I looked at the driver. I looked at the man. The driver idled and idled. He waited for someone to do something. I wandered over to the man’s side. I didn’t get that close. But I asked if he needed help, if he needed paramedics. I waited like a good 30 seconds for him to answer. He didn’t. He just stared up blankly into the night sky.
I turned away and called 911. I was put on hold. By the time the dispatcher came on, a police cruiser had pulled up to the corner.
Two years ago, I saw a group of kids beat the crap out of another kid just up from MLK Avenue SE. I mean this kid was getting stomped. I sped past the kids, pulled over and called 911.
I say all this not because this was a big deal. I say this because I felt like a weenie. It felt very strange to call the police on people. We’ve been told over and over again by D.C. Police and District officials that we shouldn’t clog up 911 with lame calls. It has to be important. The police have important stuff to do. I have been told by cops that they have to go on so many lame radio runs that it takes up too much time from real police work like making arrests, etc.
So it’s interesting that so much has been made about the 166 people that passed by their fellow citizen in need in Columbia Heights. Today, Fisher has an amazing analysis of the videotape. He writes:
“Eventually, a worker in the Pan Am International market called for an ambulance, which came promptly. As soon as the medical team arrived, 22 people gathered to watch as the man was placed on a stretcher. Jose Sanchez, 31, died three days later from brain injuries suffered when he fell to the pavement.”
What happened to Mr. Sanchez was tragic. And the people who passed him by should be ashamed of themselves. While the suspects in the Sanchez case have now been charged, the incident continues to stir debate.
Fisher interviews residents along 14th Street about why nobody went to Mr. Sanchez’s aid. Some of the answers feel legit: We see men lying on the street all the time. True. People were afraid to stop. That’s entirely possible but, damn, if that’s not a really lame excuse.
“Call them reasons, call them excuses — whatever their name, they are legitimate yet insufficient. Yes, some passersby were hurrying to get food for their families, and some have cause to fear the police or the drunks, and some are sick of seeing people who lack self-respect urinating and sleeping on the sidewalk.
But a person was flat out on the ground, dying. You are obliged to act.”