I keep thinking about a BBCnews radio report I heard about a man in an Indian city sideswiped by a van. He was knocked down, injured badly, bleeding. The van driver got out, looked at him, then got in the van and went his way. Crowds of people passed the injured man for the next hour–it’s on some surveillance camera in a nearby window–and many looked at him but no one stopped to help, or called the authorities. Blood spread in a pool out from the man. Eventually he bled to death.
The report indicated that these incidents happen fairly often there–they happen here too, at times. In Oakland after the earthquake here were people looting cars in which injured people were crying for help. A documentary about enslaved sex workers in America described an abducted girl screaming for help as her brand new pimp beat her for resisting her first “customer”–and this happened in a busy truck stop parking lot. But apparently ignoring the injured is not unusual in India. (It’s also a place where people perennially ignore the enormous number of children who die of dysentery from quite preventable causes, preventable if local politicians spent a relatively small amount of money.)
The government in India, appalled by this especially egregious incident, decided to start offering cash rewards to people who help others injured on the street. Asked why they need to motivate Good Samaritans financially–the govt official explained the underlying truth. These people might’ve helped, except they’re afraid of the local police. The police in India have a long history of harassing those who call in to help the injured. The person reporting the problem would be harshly questioned and might be detained for days. A law was passed to prevent the police from doing this, but people either don’t know about the law or doubt the police will change.
But that doesn’t mean people bypassing the man who bled to death should not to be held accountable. We understand them better, having heard the history. Yet they are still in the wrong. And this whole syndrome, this spreading attitude of “we’ll help only up to a point, unless there is risk to us” is widespread through the world. Judgment calls about how much we can help are made regarding Syrian refugees. The risks to us are substantial–but we should help anyway. Because a man is bleeding to death on the street.