Beyond Disturbing

Back in August of 2007 we spoke about Genovese syndrome after gun shots were fired and nobody called the police. I’m afraid this is much worse. Thanks to a reader for sending:

“I was listening to the radio this morning, apprently two men were arrested for beating a homeless man in front of a grocery store in columbia heights. apparently it took 15 min before someone bothered to call the police. The one man shoved the homeless guy and the other guy punched him in the face. When the homeless man got up he was punched in the face again. Then a couple picked him up and moved him to the curb. He’s in critical condition and might die. The two men were arrested and may face murder charges. This is according to the radio.

They talked about what kind of place Columbia Heights is, and why did no one bother to help him out, why did it take so long to call the police?”

WJLA has a security camera video and reports:

“A brutal attack was caught on tape outside of a District grocery store in a story you’ll only see on ABC 7/NewsChannel 8. But perhaps what’s more disturbing is the number of people who walked by the injured man and never stopped to help.

It happened about 5:15 p.m. Tuesday near the intersection of 14th Street and Parkwood Place in Columbia Heights. Twenty-four minutes would elapse before medical help arrived. Sources tell us the victim is on life support with bleeding on the brain. He is not expected to survive.”

It occurred outside the Panam grocery store. Have we as a society really become so complacent?

56 Comment

  • This is frightening. I’ve always wondered if anyone would call police on certain streets in ColHgts. I feel safe around Park Road but other areas north are very sketchy. Its important to point out that the 2 homeless men who attacked the other homeless guy all knew each other from a nearby shelter, so it wasn’t a person just walking by, but that still doesn’t help matters.

  • Vonstallin

    First off, I’m glad they caught the bullies who did it and I hope they get jail time. I hope when they land in jail some one show them two what its like to get pushed around hard…

  • Quite disturbing indeed. The perpetrators should get a hefty amount of jail time though, considering the victim is not expected to survive they’ll most likely be facing 2nd degree murder charges.

  • I would like to think that I would have called the police. I do think I would have had I seen the fight. I am afraid I don’t think I would have if I was walking by after it happened. I guess it sucks, but I don’t call for every guy that I see laying seemingly unconscious or whatever on the sidewalk.

  • There are almost always drunks passed out on the sidewalk on that stretch of 14th Street. You’d be on the phone a hell of a lot if you called the police each time you saw one. I agree with Jimmy D, though, I would have called the cops if I saw the actual altercation. But there is so much boozing, drunken swaggering, scuffles, etc. around there I don’t really think it’s shocking that this happened. You just get used to it.

  • I certainly hope not. I went to Giant around that time, and until the gorcery store was identified I was scared/sickened/embarassed that I could have possibly walked by this man.

  • In the summer I call the police several times a week, if you aren’t then either you aren’t out on the street or you can’t identify a drug dealer.

  • This is pretty damn disturbing, and I don’t get disturbed that easily. It’s one thing if you see a drunk passed out, but this was an incident that took place in daylight in front of a grocery store that has a bunch of foot traffic. I cannot believe nobody called for nearly 20 minutes; I’m practically speechless. The answer to your question PoP is yes, people have become that complacent.

    At least they caught the people responsible…

  • God knows I am not trying to excuse this. But I wonder if the fact that it appears as if there are other people standing around the guy made the bystanders think that this guy was being taken care of? I don’ t know. It’s awful.

    If I saw the fight happen, yes, I think I would have called.

  • I call the police every time I see someone unconscious or otherwise obviously in need of assistance. Of course, whether or not the cops respond is a different, and very frustrating, question.

    I wrote a post on the CH news forum about a time I called the cops to report a man who was lying on the sidewalk disoriented– turned out he’d been beaten up– and how it took 10-15 minutes for anyone to come, even though we were right across the street from the firehouse on 14h. Some DC fireman (according to his handle) took me to task for the posting, but never explained why he thought I was being unfair.

    The corners around the PanAm market can be scary. There’s a herd vibe around there; *they* are clearly the predators, and I am the prey. I might be able to understand why the kinds of people who DO call the cops wouldn’t have wanted to get involved. Though I like to think I still would have, maybe once I’d gotten myself out of sight of the perps and any friends they had hanging around.

  • Part of me wants them to be able to ID the guy who was loading groceries into his van, literally inches from the man on the ground, and to charge him as well if the victim dies. The whole story is horrifying, as are the people I saw on the news this morning who said that that’s just the way CH is.

    I also call the police every time I see someone unconscious in public but what others have said is true – the authorities just don’t seem all that interested sometimes. A man collapsed at our corner one summer afternoon (turns out he was wasted drunk) and my husband spotted an MPD cruiser further down the block, so he ran down thinking it would be the fastest way to get help. The officer was NOT pleased about having to respond. Then again, I called about two men laying motionless in my neighbor’s backyard a few months ago; within 5 minutes, an MPD officer, an ambulance, and a fire truck had arrived. They were also drunk and sleeping it off, but still. I will never understand how anyone can ignore that type of situation. They’re still human, even if they are poor, drunk, black, Latino, or otherwise not like you.

  • I’ve had passed out drunks on my doorstep or in the alley behind my house. I always call 911. There is no good way to distinguish between “passed out” and a head injury without a medical assessment. Furthermore, someone drunk enough to pass out on the stree is high risk for aspiration/pneumonia, hypothermia, etc. I don’t think there’s any excuse for not calling 911.

  • Dreas, of course I’ve never met a white DC Cop, racism isn’t an issue with the responding police and institutional racism toward “the other.”

    I remember calling the cops on someone sprawled on the sidewalk in Winter 1997 and the cops just saying the guy was drunk and leaving him there on the sidewalk until I told them I was just going to call an ambulance. Can you imagine living in any suburban city and the police walking away from someone sprawled on the sidewalk in the winter? I mean, I am not trained to deal with anyone dangerous, but I can call people.

    I saw someone die on Park Rd at 14th around 2001 and yes, I was the only one who called. the people who did not notice were Latin and Asian and the people who got upset and called the police were white yuppies. I definitely think some of this is cultural with white people upset over 1960s racist accusations from their youth and immigrants without that guilt just not caring about their fellow man. Hey, I witnessed that with my own eyes!

  • My guess is either folks thought he was passed out, or they hoped he was just passed out. Its not clear to me if anyone actually saw the beating. I know I don’t look twice at guys laying on the sidewalk if there’s no obvious trauma. As far as I understand it, passing out or sleeping on the sidewalk is something like a right of passage among some of our neighbors. I’d have to see blood or something before I thought they might need help…

  • I first learned about Genovese syndrome during college, and it continues to make me cringe whenever I hear a similar story.

    I remember seeing a disturbing video on the news last year when an elderly man was hit by fast-moving car. A security camera caught the whole thing on tape. It was in the middle of a city (can’t recall which one) and many people saw the man get hit, fly in the air, and fall to the ground. Despite all of the eyes witnessing the event, many continued with their day and left the man in the street without calling the authorities. I believe a significant amount of time passed before a phone call was even made (it’s thought that every witness assumed someone else had called). He eventually passed away.

    This story and the one listed on PoP both shocks and saddens me. It teaches the lesson that we can never assume someone is accounted for, and calling the police or fire department is the least we can do when it comes to a human life. Let’s hope that the readers of the story and the witnesses of the event will choose to make the right decision if this horrible situation occurs again.

  • I don’t know LJG, I’d think such events are a natural consequence of having thousands of either stark-raving-mad or totally addicted people wandering the streets. There’s a guy near my office that’s been screaming at litter for over a decade now, and he spends much time face down in the gutter (literally). I don’t have any such folks near my house, but there’s a crew on Georgia Ave which is always in various states of drunk and passed out. The idea that I am their keeper is silly, as is the idea that they should be my keeper. In civilized and well-governed parts of the world there are teams of medical and social workers who roam and keep an eye on such “lost souls”. I’ve seen them in action in San Francisco, New York, Paris, London, and elsewhere. Here the burden of such services is passed to us normal citizens, and I for one lack the ability, not to mention the empathy, for such care.

    Again, if I saw someone being beaten or actually injured or bleeding, I would of course help post-haste. But there’s not enough time in the day, or minutes on my cell phone, to care for the legions of guys laying on the sidewalk at any given moment. Get used to such things as another cost of living in the most corrupt and disenfranchised city in the free world.

  • Neener, you’ve really never met a white MPD officer? Over 25% of the dep’t is white.

    This story is sad as hell, but not at all surprising to me. Folks here really don’t like to get involved in other people’s situations [unless it’s in the nosy-neighbor kinda way]. We as a city aren’t quite to the point of stepping over a dead body on the sidewalk, but we’re close.

  • I think the “Genovese Syndrome” only applies to the people who saw the fight and did nothing. There’s just no excuse for it, and I have no doubt that every reader of this blog would have done something.

    But, once it became a matter of “just another homeless guy lying in the street”, a different and equally odious dynamic took place. I’d guess that 99% of us have walked by an unconscious “homeless” dude without a second thought. We’ve just gotten so used to seeing these unfortunate substance abusing or mentally ill people letting themselves rot away in the street. It’s a national shame that we allow these crazy/addicted people to live in their own filth literally on our doorsteps; they need inpatient mental care and long-term supportive care.

    It’s incomprehensible to me why we don’t provide that immediate mental care, just as we’d provide immediate medical care to a critically injured person found on the street.

  • The studies I read back in school found that if one person goes to aid a person, many others will follow. We just need to take the first step. On another issue, when somebody collapsed in the street behind our house, I called the police and they responded with an ambulance in less than two minutes.

  • This is such a hard issue. We live by that corner and the liquor store and empty lots are a prime hang-out for drunk men, most of whom end up passing out at some point or another. We usually call for passed out guys and *always* call about fights. The problem is that it’s the same guys over and over and over again. And while we have always been very impressed with the patience and professionalism of the EMTs and their fast response time, we often wonder if we’re doing more harm than good by calling about the passed out guys. We always end up with at least one emergency vehicle responding, but sometimes we’ll have 1 or 2 fire trucks and 1 or 2 ambulances. I’d say 25% of the time the EMTs end up taking the person away. Most of the time, they just make him wake up and move on — often to just pick him up where he has passed out a few steps away. But they’re always here for at least 15 minutes, and sometimes much longer. And what if someone else needs an ambulance but the closest team is tied up making a drunk guy move on?

    The worst thing about this is that neither calling nor not calling is really a solution. The guys who are drinking from morning till night and passing out and fighting every day have an addiction and need help. And we have no idea where to even start with that issue.

  • This incident doesn’t surprise or shock me at all. A girlfriend of mine moved away from DC after she was beaten right where this happened, on a weekend afternoon, while passersby watched and did nothing. A man on the corner said something obscene to her and she responded angrily, so he beat the crap out of her while no one stopped him. And yes, the cops blamed her for inciting it.

    Several years ago I was attacked on the street by a homeless man who beat me with a knotted rope when I ignored his demand for money. It was at 18th and Columbia, on a weekend afternoon, I was crying and I fell. No one made a move but a lot of people stared, “likeohmygod!”

    It actually surprises me that people are so shocked when no one helps a stranger.

  • DC, you don’t know trouble. Did you see what folks are ignoring in Detroit?

  • I’ll try to approach this sensitively: Let’s not forget that this area is pretty much dominated by a shadow society, the marginally legal, the not-at-all-legal, the newly legal, and the legal by birth. This is a society that shuns calling police or anything that draws attention. It’s cultural, to an extent; where they’re from the police are crooked, and sometimes even here.

    Just last weekend, I was walking downtown, and caught five teenagers beating up a homeless dude in broad daylight. Called the cops. As soon as one of the kids saw me dialing, they scattered away. F*$kers.

  • David and Christina have it right, and the official term for the phenomenon is “diffusion of responsibility.” The more people who witness or hear a crime, the less common it is for any one of them to help or contact the police. This only holds, interestingly, if each individual knows that there are many other people around.

    Believe it or not, it really has nothing to do with compassion or caring. The same phenomenon is common in disasters or any other time when people are faced with something they are not familiar with. The human brain immediately tries to match the current experience to a past one, to determine the proper course of action, and failing to find one, uses cues from the environment. If everyone around you is doing the same thing, then the brain interprets this as meaning the correct course of action is to do what everyone else is doing, which is nothing. So it becomes a reinforcing mechanism as no one is doing anything but looking at others to determine what to do.

    What David describes is a phenomenon called “modeling.” When one person attempts to help, perhaps because they are a first responder in real life (so they have training on what to do and their brains use that information), others will quickly follow their lead. That’s why, in a plane crash like the one into the Hudson a couple weeks ago, the flight attendants are trained to yell simple, loud instructions (“Open seatbelts! Get Out! This Way!) over and over. That gives the passengers the information they need very quickly.

    The answer to this phenomenon is, if you are the victim, to designate a helper. When I was attacked in 2004, and had a brick smased in my face, there was no one around but there were cars driving by. I went into the street and simply pointed at some cars and yelled “Help Me.” At least one of the drivers pulled over and called 911 (although she didn’t risk getting out of her car until the police arrived). If you are the passerby, even if there are a lot of people standing around, you have to get involved and model the correct behavior. Even if you fear for your own safety and don’t want to physically get involved, calling the police (and loudly announcing the fact if you feel safe enough to do so) should get the ball rolling.

  • Just a note to the anon above who said that EMT’s only transport the passed out dudes about 25% of the time – with very few exception, EMT’s can NOT transport conscious adults without their consent. We have to ask them if they want to go to the hospital, and if they can vocalize the word ‘no’ then we can’t take them. If they then take 2 steps and lose consciousness we can take them under what’s called ‘implied consent’.

    The rules are odd, but please folks, just call 911 if you see someone unconscious. There are firehouses with ambulances and fire trucks/engines [that all have emt’s on ’em now] every few blocks in this city. Dispatch will prioritize calls so don’t ever feel like you’re “tying up the system”. As someone said above, sometimes it’s hard to tell just by looking if someone is passed-out-drunk or has lost consciousness for some trauma-related reason.

  • In the summer I pass at least one passed out drunk guy every day. I’m not calling the cops every freaking day – that’s not my responsibility. Unless they are bleeding, that’s their problem.

    As for the person above who said that it’s horrible that we don’t provide mental help – we do. But unless they are a clear danger to themselves or society, they can’t be committed involuntarily. It’s not a crime to be simply homeless. We have to wait until they do something illegal, like beat up another homeless guy or get caught with crack, until we can do anything about it.

  • RCR, why isn’t it your responsibility? And what does it cost you to dial 911 and keep walking while you make your report to the operator? And why are you so sure everyone is drunk? I called in one such situation, and it turned out the man (middle-aged, laborer clothes, hispanic– just like most of the drunks in my neighborhood) was on his way to a diabetic coma. Good thing the EMTs checked for his med-alert bracelet.

    Remember the NYT columnist who was beaten in DC a couple years ago? He died of his injuries because no one stopped to help (thinking he was passed out drunk) and because the EMTs treated him like a drunk and never evaluated him for trauma. By the time they found out what had happened to him, it was too late.

    Sure, the great majority of folks prone on DC city streets will be there of their own accord, more or less. But you might be the one to place the call that saves a life. Just call. It’s free for you, might be priceless to the other guy.

  • Well said.

  • “In the summer I pass at least one passed out drunk guy every day. I’m not calling the cops every freaking day – that’s not my responsibility. Unless they are bleeding, that’s their problem.”

    That marks a new low in PoP commenting. My god, sometimes I cannot believe I chose to live amongst you people. I’m 7 months pregnant and it terrifies me that if something happens to me while I’m walking around CH, no one is going to step up and help, even if all that means is a 30-second call to the 911 dispatcher.

    Seriously, I am stunned. Speechless. What is wrong with some of you? Where did you learn to live like this?

  • On a sub-freezing day, I don’t think it’s right to not call for help even if you know 100% for sure that the unconscious person a passed-out drunk. Yeah, it is their fault for getting into that condition, but c’mon, these are people, not dogs (which I’m sure you all would help).

    Remember David Rosenbaum. He might still be alive today if people hadn’t assumed that the unconscious man on the sidewalk was “just another passed-out drunk”.

  • “RCR, why isn’t it your responsibility?”

    No, the question is why should it be my responsibility? I’m not a police officer. You know, I would call the cops if they would actually arrest these people for public drunkeness or trespassing or whatever. I’m not calling 911 every day, free or not.

    And I think there’s a bit of difference between a 7 month pregnant lady and a construction worker who reaks of booze. I don’t see pregant ladies passed out on the sidewalk every day during the summer.

  • Please note that two people moved him from a sprawling-over-the-curb position to an on-the-sidewalk position. He must have been very intoxicated judging from the way he fell from the first punch – just straight back with his limbs too slow-reacting to break his fall somewhat. A very sad tableau.

  • CPT_Doom, you remind me of something I learned when I was taking CPR classes not too long ago; part of the routine of things that you’re supposed to do (clear airway, check for breathing, yadda yadda) is to designate someone in the crowd that is likely to have gathered and say “You! Call 911!” And point to them. I felt like a clown in class when we were practicing it, but yet, I can see why it would be necessary. I can’t swear that I wouldn’t be shocked into inaction by some event. I hope I wouldn’t, but I can’t swear to it. But I can’t imagine walking away from a direct command do DO something.

    Re that Detroit link: Holy effing crap.

  • I was just at Red Rocks about an hour ago, and wouldn’t you know it, there was somebody passed out (at least what appeared to be) catty-corner right where the new restaurant is going to be on 11th and Park. I don’t know the circumstances around what happened, but there were fire trucks, ambulances, and cop cars there in what appeared to be a very short time.

  • Dreas, that is exactly what it means. I am not trying to be all cynical and hostile, but you cannot expect people in the city to step in. People just don’t want the hassle.

    That’s why all those tips about sticking to well-lit, well-traveled sidewalks at night or in unfamiliar places are so ridiculous. People keep their heads down and keep walking. Sad and true.

  • AngryParakeet, that’s one of the dumbest statements I’ve seen on this dumb blog. You realize the fall happened after the punch, right?

  • I don’t understand what AngryParakeet said that didn’t make sense. That the guy must have been very drunk because of the way he fell after he was punched? What’s so dumb about that.?

  • In the summer I pass at least one passed out drunk guy every day. I’m not calling the cops every freaking day – that’s not my responsibility.

    dumbest comment of the week

  • No, the question is why should it be my responsibility?

    gee I dunno, why do you think? Ask you mom.

  • This is why I am desperately trying to convince the powers that be to sell my house because I want to move back to an area where jackasses like RCR don’t live and when someone’s down they call the ambulances 100% of the time and there’s real mental health services offered by the county.

  • If you get hit the right way and hard enough, you can go down like that and be sober as a judge.

  • Well that’s probably true. But I wouldn’t call it the dumbest post on this blog by any stretch.

    I feel like saying to all the people depressed by this thread — I will call the police if I see something happening to you! I will! I have before! But I can also understand why people who have been attacked feel the way they do.

    I honestly don’t think that we as a city lack for compassion, though. I’m sure some people do…but I think a lot of the time, people are more stupid and unsure than literally uncaring.

  • Well, the guy who got knocked out died. Hope those two guys get what the max the law allows…

  • Many years ago a guy jumped me from behind while I was walking east on Corcoran Street between 17th and 16th Streets, about a quarter block in from 17th Street. It was about 9:00 pm so not terribly late. He wanted my wallet and I wasn’t going to give it to him. (This was before everyone packed a gun and also before cell phones.) We wrestled in the the street during which I yelled profanities at the top of my lungs. A car came down the street, veered around us and kept going. Finally a lady called from a top floor window, “I called the police” and the guy got off of me and ran down an alley.

    The experience made me realize first hand there are people who will simply veer around “trouble” and move on. I was also and still am very grateful for the anonymous woman who called the police and then let us both know.

    I believe in Karma and know which person I’d want to be.

  • Dear Prince of Petworth:
    The above and other comments are quite revealing what kind of people live in Petworth. Was contemplating looking for housing there, but having second thoughts about it.
    Nevertheless, I enjoy following your blog.

  • To clarify for “Anonymous” at 4:05 “SO” : What happened to me happened in the heart of Dupont when I was living in Dupont. In Petworth I’ve found more “neighborhood” than I found in five different parts of Dupont, Logan or Mt. Pleasant. I really love the vibe of Petworth and recommend people to look at it as a neighborhood to consider if moving to DC. Not to say any of us in any part of this city couldn’t have something happen and have people walk by and do nothing. I think the reality is that it could happen anywhere in DC and other places in the US. I think it’s indicative of one side of what’s become of us. The woman who called the police was the good side.

  • CityGuy:
    I was not referring to your comment, but all of them and earlier once (for example the nastiness that Tina invoked a little while ago). Have visited Petworth several times now and liked it, but still sense a certain tension, for example when people let their guard dogs out when I am checking out the alley ways. Never mind, maybe the time is not right yet for me. S.O.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    S.O. There are readers (and commenters) from all over the city on this blog. I’d hate for you to conclude that a neighborhood (Petworth) is not for you based on a post about a crime that didn’t even occur in Petworth…

  • The man who was injured in this situation has died:

    I hope his attackers are prosecuted to the fullest extent.

    S.O., if you feel a place isn’t right for you, then it isn’t right. No harm, no foul. But people aren’t asked to state their residency when they post here, and I think you’re going to find a handful of touchy people everywhere you go. If you find a place that is universally nice and free of tension, please let me know because I’d like to live there as well.

    I’m curious though — why are you “checking out the alley ways,” what does that entail, and doesn’t it seem normal to you that people might be concerned to see someone they don’t know behind their homes?

  • Thanks Christina, that alleyway comment troubled me about that post as well. Damn sure when I see people casing my house from the alley that I go out there. People have been mugged in our alley- anyone who doesn’t live on our block will get challenged. That’s common sense.

  • This entire situation is pathetic and completely shameful. Everyone who walked past this gentleman or anyone else they see “passed out” on the street should be ashamed of themselves and if there is anyway to ID a person who fails to react (simply dialing 911) they too should be prosecuted.

    Making a call to 911 instead of just walking by with your stupid iPod stuffed in your ears or your head up your a*s is as horrible as what the suspects did to the victim.

  • WDC, where did you read that David Rosenbaum, the New York Times reporter, died in part because passersby didn’t stop? He was beaten on a quiet residential side street after dark. The inspector general’s report mentions multiple failures on the part of DC emergency services but does not reference bystander apathy.

  • “Making a call to 911 instead of just walking by with your stupid iPod stuffed in your ears or your head up your a*s is as horrible as what the suspects did to the victim.”

    No. It’s not. Something can be bad without having to be equally as bad.

  • It may seem heartless to say, but I’m sure many of the residents in the neighborhood there will be quietly glad that there’ll be three fewer disgraceful drunks loitering around the grocery store from now on. I know I’d be ecstatic if it were my ‘hood. D.C. should be far less tolerant of vagrancy and public drunkeness. Let’s import from Singapore the practical solution of cops with long bamboo canes and loose them on street corner degenerates, litterbugs and truants.

  • Along the same lines (as this incident, not the previous comment), this is also sad — there was an incident in Temple Hills earlier this week where several people heard gunshots but no one bothered to report them or go outside to investigate and the teen who was shot bled to death where he fell in a woman’s yard and wasn’t discovered until the next morning:

  • I used to live on Holmead Place, right behind the Giant. One night a young kid tried to mug me. I screamed my head off and resisted long enough until the kid ran away. Luckily, I was not hurt and was able to hold onto my bag. After the kid ran off, I looked up to see neighbors still sitting on their porches. They watched the whole thing go down and did NOTHING about it. I know they saw it. I know they heard me screaming. As a young woman new to D.C. it absolutely disgusted me that no one bothered to acknowledge what was happening right in front of their houses. It saddens me to say, but it comes as no surprise that residents of that neighborhood could walk by a dying man. Shameful.

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