Friday, July 10, 2009

If you see something, say something

All over the New York subways there’s an ad campaign that states “if you see something, say something”. When I first saw these ads I thought they were amusing, but painfully obvious. Of course if you see a crime you should say something. But the longer I lived in New York the more I began to realize that too often people let things happen and do nothing. Many people witness assaults or other crimes but do nothing because they feel it’s none of their business. While it may be none of your business, in many situations if a witness had spoken up or called the police the situation could have been averted. In the Chris Brown- Rihanna incident, it was a stranger in the neighborhood who called the police after hearing Rihanna call for help. If that stranger never called the police, would the world have ever known?

After a while I realized this subway ad campaign was really important, because people often are reluctant to speak up. I believe this is a common problem not only in New York, but across the United States. This issue is related to teen dating violence because silence and family privacy is a norm that enables violence. According to the Prevention Institute, this norm encourages silence around domestic and dating abuse and discourages those who witness it from intervening. This norm is reflected in the fact that even though teens turn to their friends for help first, “teens also express reluctance to intervene in dating violence situations and did not perceive that their help would be effective.” Thinking about the previous post But What Can I Do?, if you see a friend or a stranger in need, better to do too much than too little.

I would like to urge everyone to step outside of their individual life and think about themselves as a member of a larger community. Be that person who steps up if you witness abuse or another crime in public. You don’t have to be the hero, rush into a dangerous situation, or be overbearing when you don’t know the situation. But don’t simply sit quiet and try to ignore it if someone is being hurt. Call the police or try to safely help the person in need. You may not know if your help is needed, but if you see something it’s definitely worth it to say something.

-AR(BTC intern)


  1. I completely agree, though I find myself frustrated with the fact that calling the police doesn't always accomplish anything.

    Example: I used to be roommates with a couple, both of whom were sometimes abusive to each other. One night, amidst an intense shouting fest, I heard crashing and the guy calling out for help from the other roommate's boyfriend, so I called the cops. It was at least half an hour before the police showed up, by which time my roommates had more or less stopped, and when they came to our door my roommate (the female in the couple) told the cops that nothing was going on, so they left.

    Now, there wasn't necessarily anything else that I or the cops should have done. It wouldn't have been safe for me to try to step in, and if there's no visual or audible sign that any violence is continuing to go on, the police can't do much more. But in the delay between me calling and the police arriving, anything could have happened. Also, they took the female's word for it when she said "nothing to see here," when in fact she was the abusive one. Perhaps they wouldn't have been as trustful of the male. (It also doesn't help that this was a fourth-floor walkup in Brooklyn, so between the cops ringing the buzzer and walking up there was plenty of time for them to cover up and pull themselves together.)

    Nonetheless, I can't over-stress the importance of calling the cops when you see or hear something that sounds like it could be a dangerous situation. The police can't do everything, but they can do something, and they can do more than you can acting alone.

  2. This ad campaign is addressing one of the most revolting flaws in our society. We are not a community anymore, but a collection of individuals motivated by our own selfish desires. We are not a 'help your neighbor' society, but a 'help your neighbor only if it benefits me' society. It's sad that we have to be reminded and told to do the right things.

  3. What kind of people are we that we have to be told to report crimes we witness? With the new generations placing such an importance on not snitching, along with the glamorization of crime and making money at any cost, we are in for a long, uphill battle to maintain the values that built this nation.

  4. It’s true that speaking up or even calling the police when you see something wrong, is not always as easy as this post makes it sound. It often puts the person reporting in a very difficult place. They may have to go to court as a witness, or like the commenter above, have the police arrive a second too late. But aside from these considerations which may impede people from speaking up, I also have to agree that our society can be very individualistic. The way it is structured sometimes seems that it rewards people who work hard for themselves and think less about their community. While this type of individualism may make for a wealthy business person it allows other values (like caring about others, and creating a sense of community) to fall by the wayside. The same successful business person might decide it’s not worth their time to ask their neighbor how they’re doing, or be kind to a stranger on the street. While I understand that everyone is not like this, and there is no way to change an entire society (which has been fairly successful, depending on your definition of success), I do think it’s important to remember that everyone is human and to take the time to care about others. So as hard as it may be, it’s important to do one’s best in trying to help someone who is in need. It’s likely what we would want others to do for us.

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