When someone’s getting hurt, whose business is it?

On Jan. 28, a 15-year-old female was seen brutally beating another girl in the Seattle bus tunnel. The incident was captured on video by surveillance cameras. As shocking as this vicious attack was, the camera also revealed a different sort of disturbing behavior: unarmed security guards in yellow vests, standing and watching the beating — which continued with kicks to the head and the ribs after the victim was knocked to the ground.

The questions at hand are: How could these security guards stand there and do nothing? Why did they make no physical effort to stop the beating? How far would this attack have had to go before human decency would supersede the “rules of engagement” on which these security guards based their decision not to intervene and not to even attempt to restrain the teenage girl, so the beating would stop?

“On a human level, they certainly should have intervened. Everybody agrees on that,” stated Sgt. John Urquhart from the local sheriff department. “However, their role in the tunnel, what they’re trained to do, what they’re ordered to do, is to observe and report. In other words, not get involved. And that’s really very, very common with civilian security. Unfortunately, the public expects more.”

While one can argue that it is important to follow orders and abide by policies, there is something to be said for humane behavior, which includes empathy and concern for others. The guards acted callously and “just did their jobs.” How many of us could stand there, witness a teenager get punched in the face and ribs and do nothing? If we had been those guards, how many of us, fearing for our jobs, would have followed the company’s rules? Were all of the guards born callous, or were they carefully taught?

Statistics reveal that, with few exceptions, we are largely a society of bystanders. When we encounter psychologically or physically harmful situations, most of us choose to look the other way or wait for someone else to handle it, because of peer pressure, low self-esteem, embarrassment or simply not knowing what to do. Are we capable of redefining and improving our role as pro-social bystanders, a.k.a. “upstanders”?…

Changing bystanders to ‘upstanders

On Oct. 12, 15-year-old Michael Brewer of Deerfield Beach, Fla., was set on fire by five of his peers. The five teens were subsequently arrested for the assault on Michael, which resulted in second-degree burns that covered 80 percent of his body. He is still in the hospital.

Michael”s crime? He was a “snitch.” Michael had owed one of the boys money for a video game. He never paid the money. One of the boys stole Michael’s father’s bicycle to get back at him. Michael reported the theft, and the suspected boy was taken to a detention center. On the day before the burning, the suspect was released from the center, and witnesses reported that one of the five boys yelled, “He’s a snitch!” As a result of Michael’s “snitching,” the five boys doused him in alcohol and used a lighter to set him on fire.

What Michael did used to be called “tattling.” Over the years, it’s been known as “ratting,” “narcing” and, more recently, the mob term for informant (“snitch”) was revived by drug dealers and gangs and brought back into vogue.

Today, providing information to police is a violation of street ethics, punishable not just by intimidation, but sometimes death. This “no-snitching code” is reinforced in rap music and the media, giving American youth the message that not only is it honorable not to report crimes, but that it is OK to retaliate against those who snitch.

What is particularly difficult about the growing acceptance of not reporting criminal activity or helping police investigations is that it creates more bystanders. Bystanders assume a position of not getting involved, often out of fear. It has become a code followed not just by people in the criminal world, but by citizens and our youth, as well….