Should We Expect Indifference?

I live in San Francisco, where we can be assured help will be summoned in an emergency if we carry our own cell phones — and can use them.

Oh, sometimes bystanders will help.  The Castro District is one of the better places to have an emergency because the atmosphere of the neighborhood encourages a protective instinct.  One of the most memorable examples — from years ago, although I’m confident it would be handled the same way now — was something you don’t ordinarily associate with the Castro.  A car was pulled into the southbound bus stop at Castro and Market Streets, and the passenger side door was open.  A man was sitting in the front passenger seat with one foot on the curb and a wristwatch in his hand, timing the motorist’s labor contractions.  Another man was standing at the curb, writing down whatever you’re supposed to write down when that happens.  An ambulance arrived promptly, and judging by the fact that the siren wasn’t turned on when the woman was taken to the hospital it appears likely they made good time.

In spite of the supportive environment in the Castro, most people there are pretty street smart.  Anyone trolling the neighborhood to take unfair advantage of the hospitality will get dubious results.

When you consider what a lot of people in the LGBT population have been through, it makes sense.  We haven’t had easy lives, and we’re more inclined than the average person to empathize because we know how it feels to be isolated and vulnerable.  We’re fed up with bullshit, though, and uninterested in hearing it.

Other parts of the city are up for grabs.  Sometimes there will be a good response in a crisis, other times not.  A few years ago, several people besides me got involved when a bicyclist was hurt in an accident in the Financial District.  Sometime before that, I fell on some stairs in the same part of town and bystanders just walked around me.  In each case, I don’t know if the people present were San Francisco residents or commuters from outside the city.  Next time I’ll conduct a census.

The link at the end of this post goes to an NBC New York report, with video.  The vulnerable person was rescued eventually, by an MTA employee.  I’m curious about what was going on in the mind of the person who recorded the video instead of trying to help her.  He or she probably has more Instagram followers now because of it, and some people find that admirable.

In my condo building, we have security officers.  The people who work those shifts are very efficient because they have a genuine concern for others.  Besides following a strict policy, they understand the importance of using judgment and getting involved at appropriate times.

In the NYC subway video, one person in a private security uniform is shown on the platform, walking by the trapped passenger.  There’s always a chance the security officer has lousy peripheral vision and just didn’t see what was going on.  I doubt it, though.  That person was probably off-duty, so what the hell?  It wasn’t salaried time.

When I first visited New York City in 1994, I expected things like this subway nightmare.  I kept my fingers crossed, and didn’t have any trouble.  However, on one afternoon I offered assistance to a woman who had slipped in a gutter in Midtown.  She got away from me as quickly as possible, probably because she wasn’t used to being offered help from someone without an ulterior motive.

My most recent visit to Manhattan, in 2012, made a different impression.  People were very cooperative with each other.  I wasn’t sure whether the September 11 tragedy strengthened “community values,” or if something else was going on.  I was there only a few days, so maybe what I saw was the exception rather than the rule.

I plan to revisit New York later this spring, and hope the community environment is similar to what I saw in 2012 — not 1994.

By the way, we should never assume a train will not move when the doors fail to close properly.  Although modern train and bus systems have a safety lock, a YouTube video recorded in San Francisco demonstrates that nothing is guaranteed.  The San Francisco Muni passenger’s video is below the NBC New York link.

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