Anyone Know if the Woman in Distress Outside the Shaw Library at 8am is OK?

by Prince Of Petworth August 27, 2015 at 11:15 am 143 Comments

shaw library
7th and Rhode Island Ave, NW

A reader reports:

“On my walk to the Shaw Metro south station, I passed by the Shaw library. Right in front of the library’s sign, a woman was laying on the ground, on her side, her back against the sign. I could not see her face but her head was on her hand. She appeared motionless. I did a double take, because at first I thought she was sleeping there, but then I saw she was in work clothes — a nice pink and black dress with sheer tights — and her purse was tipped over on the ground next to her and her shoes were off, like kicked off.

I looked around to see if anyone else was alarmed by this, and no one seemed to notice, until one man asked another man nearby “Did that lady fall out?” They both kind of took a look and then shrugged and went about their business. I did not stick around either, thinking if she was part of some violence that I did not want to be around there to get involved, especially with all the gang related issues in my neighborhood lately, but I did call 911. The police showed up because they called me back to get more information on where exactly she was, although I was gone by then. So I don’t know if she was there when they showed up or what the resolution was, but I’d be eager to hear if others witnessed this.

Obviously, the bystander effect, myself included, is very real and very disturbing. Perhaps she just felt sick and laid down — but if you’re feeling sick enough to lay on the ground motionless with your belongings scattered everywhere, I still think that’s worth an emergency call and would hope someone would call for me if I was in that position…”

  • jcm

    You didn’t ask her if she’s ok? You couldn’t wait for the police/ambulance to show up? That’s terrible.

    • LP

      +1 that was my first thought. What is wrong with people??

    • MM

      Imagine that OP asked if she was ok. She said no, not ok. What should OP do? Call 911
      What if she said she was ok? If I were OP, I still would have called 911

  • Mike

    What kind of person are you not to ask if she was ok? You are pathetic.

    • Katie

      Not agreeing or disagreeing but they said why they left:

      “I did not stick around either, thinking if she was part of some violence that I did not want to be around there to get involved, especially with all the gang related issues in my neighborhood lately, but I did call 911.”

      • GBinCH

        Katie – that’s a pretty poor excuse. It would be one thing if there was a man standing right there with a gun. But the fact that there has been past violence in a neighborhood, but from the sounds of it nothing going right there at that moment, doesn’t excuse you from not doing anything.

  • Not me

    I hope you are never in the position to know what it is like to have a medical emergency and be left all alone on the sidewalk while people pass by. Good God. That poor woman. She deserved better than you and those two men.

  • L3

    You couldn’t even ask if she was ok? Wow.

  • forserious?

    As someone who has fallen and subsequently passed out on a sidewalk, but was awake enough to be aware of people basically walking over me though I couldn’t move, may I suggest you actually approach the person or at least be decent enough to stick around until the professionals arrive.

  • andie302

    I saw this woman what sounds like several minutes after this poster. There were 3-4 bystanders already, and one woman in particular was actively on the phone. No emergency personnel were there yet, so I called 911 just in case. I didn’t think it would be any help to stand there (and I have zero medical training), so I continued on my commute. I’m also wondering about the outcome – I hope she is okay. When I spoke to the dispatcher she said that police and EMTs were on the way. I assume they arrived shortly thereafter.

    • Leslie

      Wow. I lived in NYC for years and once saw a man collapse on the street. For everything people say about NYC, about 12 people were on it–calling 911, directing traffic, loosening his collar, trying to flag down police.

      I’m glad you called 911–but if you or your mom was lying in the street motionless, what would you want people to do? Stay with her or make sure someone else who seemed trustworthy was willing to stay until help arrived. The fact that there’s gang activity and you’re willing to just leave someone helpless there says a lot about your character.

      • Leslie

        Sorry, didn’t mean to post under someone else’s comment!

      • mtp

        Well said.

      • anon

        Yes, my impression living in NYC (and Chicago) is that bystanders react quickly to things like this. I am glad other bystanders did offer help and assistance to this woman. If there are already some offering help, there is no reason for everyone walking by to get involved. But if no one is offering help, it is sad when no one does.

        I also find it sad that we look at what people are wearing to see if they might need help. We all do it. It is sad that people have to sleep on the streets in our cities, such that if they look like they are homeless or a habitual drunk, we walk right past, because in our society there is nothing we can really do for them, there aren’t places to provide them a home or help. That is truly sad.

  • Lauren

    Wow, this makes me sick that no one stopped to stay with her and ask if she was allright. What is our city coming to? Thanks for calling 911, I guess.

    • Lauren

      Ok, glad to hear there are at least some kind people in DC.

    • anons

      Earlier poster mentions that they walked by after and several people had stopped. But oh my word, how do you just walk by when someone is alone and visibly in distress??? It speaks to one of the things that frustrate me the most of this city: the detachment so many people have from each other. This is a woman in work clothes, clearly not some gang member, and in a very populated area. My best friend lives near there and suffers from health issues. It pains me to think that this could have very easily been her on her way to work, and people just shrug and go along their way, or just shrug, go along their way, and make a phone call from where they can’t even see if help has arrived or the person has gotten worse.

      • Jesse F.

        I moved out here from SoDak in January and I would completely agree. One of my biggest complaints about DC is the detachment between people. People seem almost afraid to make eye contact or any sort of contact with one another.

        • jaybird

          D.C. is filled with people from South Dakota and the like.

        • rob

          on point. too busy.

        • Trip Throckmorton

          Is SoDak a thing?!

        • “SoDak” probably has a lot fewer people who will flip shit on you for actually making eye contact, though.

          • K.B.

            Also from SoDak (yes, it is a thing), and you get used to the no-eye contact thing. I will say that similar situations happened in May (man had seizure on metro platform and everyone stood there, while I administered 1st aid), June (woman was sideswiped by a car while on a bike, crashed to ground, I rushed into the street to help and stuck with her until all was clear), and July (lost dog wandering streets, and I took it home and figured out getting the pup home). Not saying I’m a good person. I just would feel extremely guilty if something worse happened because I didn’t help – and I operate under the principle that – hey – maybe someday that person will help someone else, ya know? ;)

      • Anon

        Also agree. Once I tripped and fell flat on my back on the sidewalk, and everybody kept walking, pretending not to notice. Someone even partially walked OVER me, as I was still lying on the ground, blocking their path. The only person that offered any sort of assistance was a cab driver who pulled over and asked me if I was okay as I was getting up. This city can be very disheartening sometimes.

        • HaileUnlikely

          For goodness fvcking sake, if somebody literally stepped over me and didn’t even have the decency to go around, I’d take them down if I weren’t hurt too badly to do so.

        • sunnytime

          This same thing happened to me too! People literally stepped over/around me!

  • ke

    Well, it’s good that the OP called 911, when other people seemed to pass the woman by. It would have been better if he/she stayed. Let’s look out for each other, people! Even when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable or frightening. And, it’s a good reminder that the bystander effect is real and powerful; we all need to actively recognize and combat it.

  • RobertMorse

    Not sure what happened to the lady but at about 830 there was a fire truck, ambulance and police cars out front. I was crossing further down at 8th but could see them up by the entrance.

  • Anon X

    Thats not the bystander effect. There was no obvious danger and you recognized, without doubt, that she was in distress. You were in a hurry and wanted to get to work. I’m sorry… but you’re a terrible person. I’ve been in that exact situation multiple times and have always called 911, tried to talk to the person, or gotten help somewhere else… if not all 3.

    You shouldnt have written in with this at all… there is nothing right about what you did and you cant blame it on anything other than your own selfishness.

    • Anon X

      I take back what I said. I didnt realize you did call 911. I am sorry for jumping to conclusions.

      • Nerrrrrrrrd

        No, you are spot-on. I get the sense that the OP posted this to mitigate the guilt he (she? I’m leaning towards he) was feeling after failing this situation so hard.

  • SJH

    This is a community! Which is likely why we all live there. If someone needs help no matter the situation try to help them. This is infuriating. I’m sure you would want someone to help you if you were having a problem. What a disheartening article to read.

  • fancy

    Dang yo, don’t be so hard on the bystander. He/She called 911, maybe more could have been done or maybe not. I don’t blame someone for moving along considering you never know what you’re getting into by interfering. I once asked a woman on the sidewalk if she was ok/needed assistance (because a guy was screaming and waving his arms at her), and he instantly turned to me, starting screaming that he was going to F me up and other obscene things. Truly terrifying. I can’t bring myself to look anyone in the eye on the street, let alone interfere, for the sake of my own safety/sanity/survival in this town…

    • AG

      This woman was alone though! At the very least, OP could have called 911 from across the street and kept tabs until help arrived.

    • Leslie

      You should consider moving if you are that fearful.

      • Fancy

        You know, sometimes I do think about moving, but I’m a longtime DC resident and I’d prefer to stay here. I just wanted to add my perspective that perhaps the OP isn’t a horrible human being as others have stated. There are plenty of us that have experienced unexpected/fearful situations in DC and maybe we don’t always have the “best” response to it in that moment, but that doesn’t make us a bad person. Sometimes the fear gets the best of us. I spent many years in DC in a different mindset, but lately there have been so many things I’ve experienced personally and seen in my neighborhood that it’s made me really sensitive about my perceived personal safety. I wish it wasn’t that way, but unfortunately it has been lately. It makes me sad. I love this town.

        • LCDC

          Not to mention, it’s much easier to pass judgement on the internet, whereas you can’t really say for sure how you yourself would act in a given situation when you weren’t there.

  • CarmieCarms

    So, as much as people apparently love hating on the OP, has anyone heard or seen anything about this? The past is in the past. Please post if you know of anything rather than scolding someone you don’t know.

    • mtpresident


    • AG

      Past is in the past, but OP seems to think that this was an acceptable way to handle the situation. I hope if he or she reads this, or perhaps others who think the same way, and they find themselves in a similar situation, they think twice before just walking along.

      • Leslie


    • No, this person needed scolding. Outside of calling 911 s/he did not do even the simplest humane thing, which would be to at least stand there until help arrived. I think the OP did not really post seeking information about the outcome, but absolution for terrible behavior. Pointing out when someone has behaved abhorrently is not the same as “hating” them. Hopefully this person will learn something and be a better person.

      • HaileUnlikely

        This was near peak commute time at a location with heavy pedestrian traffic, as well as drivers who stopped at the light who should have been able to see this woman as well. Yet, unless by luck the OP was the very first of the hundreds of passers-by who I’m sure also called 911 and thus was the one who the police called back, it is apparent that hundreds (yes, hundreds) of others walked by and either were so oblivious that they did not even see this woman at all, or else didn’t even care enough to go to the trouble of calling 911. I agree that the OP could have done more, but it appears that by virtue of having a forum to communicate with the OP, we are scolding the one who did the most while ignoring hundreds (again, I’m confident it was hundreds) of others who did literally nothing. If we’re intent on scolding people who need scolding, we could reach a broader audience by setting up a tent (sort of like that silly police tent a few blocks away) and scolding everybody who passes by at the same time tomorrow – most of them probably passed by at the same time this morning as well.

      • HaileUnlikely

        p.s. Odds are that the vast majority of people scolding the OP here would have done the exact same thing, or even less. I’m not saying this applies to you any other specific person here, but the probability that every single person here who is piling on the OP would have done better is extremely close to zero.

  • Outback2010

    I did see this as I was on my way to work as well. While I was driving down 7th street and there was an ambulance and a police cruiser that were on scene, they were departing at the time though, no sign that the ambulance was in a particular hurry to get the woman to a hospital or anything. I actually didn’t see the woman at all. But it couldn’t have been a serious health emergency or the ambulance would have been rushing her off right?

    • Anon

      “an ambulance and a police cruiser that were on scene, they were departing at the time though, no sign that the ambulance was in a particular hurry to get the woman to a hospital or anything…..But it couldn’t have been a serious health emergency or the ambulance would have been rushing her off right?”

      Not necessarily. :(
      I’ve seen the aftermath of several serious stabbings and other violence in my part of Columbia Heights, and the ambulances have often driven off disturbingly slowly, and then are often blocked off by traffic even after they get going (Irving/14th or Park/14th, e.g.) . To give credit where it’s due, though, the police response is usually pretty quick and overwhelming.

      • GBinCH

        I’ve seen similar things and have always wondered if there’s maybe a medical reason for driving slow? Perhaps they’re not trying to shake or the through the victim around by driving too fast?

        • GBinCH

          *Throw, not through. Lovely phone autocorrect.

        • HaileUnlikely

          Depending on traffic and distances involved, the benefit of getting there 90 seconds sooner likely does not outweigh the increased risk of being involved in an accident if driving significantly faster. Driving 80 miles to the hospital in rural Montana it might, but driving a mile from Shaw to Howard or Columbia Heights to WHC, the math is a little different and is unlikely to favor driving as fast as possible.

      • anon

        Don’t they sometimes work to stabilize the person on site before loading them into the ambulance to take them to the hospital? Maybe I watch too much fictional TV and am wrong, but I think there can be medical benefits to the EMTs proving some treatment onsite quickly, instead of just rushing to the hospital.

    • Steve

      Not racing off can mean the victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

  • Kingman Park

    ITT: A bunch of people who would have “done better” if they were in OPs position.

    • Anonymous

      ITT: people who actually have “done better” when confronted with a similar situation. Then again, I was in downtown NYC for 9/11 and actually helped lots of friends and strangers in distress. I’ve also comforted people hit by cars or merely passed out on a Metro platform.
      Anyone in distress – gainfully employed or homeless – deserves some help and a person there to hold their hand until help arrives. Absent an actual shoot out, the area outside the Shaw Metro stop at rush hour is hardly dangerous. The OP’s mealy-mouth excuse sounds like an ex post facto rationalization.

      • Nerrrrrrrrd

        So much love for this comment. These are the people who are taking over DC, by the way: upwardly
        mobile, lifestyle-obsessed strivers who’d rather keep their head down than say something as simple as “are you OK?” They might get yelled at in public! How embarrassing, to be wrong like that.

        • anon

          Yes, but we’ve all learned to ignore the homeless on the streets. I think that, the presence of people in distress (homeless, often sick, physically or mentally) lying on our streets, has to some extent inured people to reacting to people lying on the street. If we never saw anyone lying on the street as OK, then people would react whenever they saw it, or so I think.

      • 20th street

        Did you just pull a 9/11 card? Thought that died with the 2008 Republican primary. Yikes.

        • Park Rd

          What a lame comment… “Pulling the 9/11 card” in response to someone sharing a totally relevant story to the OP.

          Nice job reaching peak hipster cynicism. Why don’t you just set down your macbook air and go have a PBR?

  • AE

    The most important thing was to call 911 and that is what OP did. S/he did not ignore the woman. What difference would it make to stand there and wait?

  • C. R.

    I’m amazed at how many comments this post is getting. Mainly because we all know this woman is clearly employed (pink and black dress with sheer tights — and her purse..) and not homeless. @jcm and @mike, had she been homeless, you wouldn’t have taken the time to type your smug remarks. I’ve been here for years and have rarely ever seen someone help out the homeless in dire situations. I’m no exception. But skip the high and mighty pompous civil servitude act. You’re no better.

    • anon

      Once I witnessed a car make a left turn and strike an individual on a bike. The guy on the bike hit his head hard when he fell and wasn’t wearing a helmet. While he didn’t appear homeless, he also didn’t appear to be someone who had a “typical” DC office job. This was late at night and I’m a female. I stuck around and called 911. I waited till the ambulance arrived with the driver of the car and the victim- the guy wanted to get up and walk away. The driver of the car and I convinced him not to and the ambulance was able to take him.
      Point of the story is- don’t assume that people who think it’s outrageous the OP didn’t stick around to make sure the lady was ok (myself included) also would not help someone who didn’t appear “professional” in a similar circumstance.

      • HaileUnlikely

        I think how one responds is also a function of whether one witnesses an actual event or whether you just come upon a person sitting or lying on the sidewalk. You saw the person get hit and go down, thus you had sufficient information to know that he didn’t just get drunk and lie down right there and pass out on his own. I think that is the difference in expectations that is being revealed by commenters here: I suspect most would help a person who they suspected was homeless if they saw him actively sustain an injury, but would walk right on by if he was just lying there the whole time. I’ve seen both too many times to count, and have done both on a few occasions.

        • anon

          I suppose you could be right. Someone lying in the middle of the road vs an apparent homeless person lying on the sidewalk is a bit of a different situation. If they were in obvious distress I would hope I’d do the right thing, but I have never been in that situation.

      • Sara

        I’m pretty sure OP was telling us she looked professional to point out that typically someone who looks like they’re on their way to work might not stop on the sidewalk to take a nap. I would definitely hope you would call 911 if you see anyone, homeless or not, involved in an accident.

    • ChenChen


    • YJ


    • anon

      If the women appeared like she might be homeless she might have just been sleeping there. It’s a little sad that people are so willing to ignore the homeless, but the truth of the matter is that most of the time you see a homeless person laying on the street they laid down there on purpose and are not in need of help – at least immediate, medical help that would necessitate a 911 call.

      This woman was, at least according to the description offered, pretty clearly not someone who would just sit down and take a nap on the street, therefore she pretty clearly needed immediate help. The OP called 911, so that is something, but to not even take the time to ask the woman if she was okay is unconscionable. There was no danger here, if the OP saw the woman get attacked or in a fight, then great, the OP has a right to be afraid and want to move on, but that was not the case. There are any number of situations where the OP could have provided invaluable help even without any medical training. The OP deserves condemnation for not seeing if she could help immediately.

      • anon


    • Just wearing a pink and black dress and owning a purse does not mean someone is employed.

    • jcm

      You don’t know me, or what i’ve done or not done. If it makes you feel better to think everyone behaves the way you do, then more power to you I guess. The truth is we aren’t all like you. People call ambulances for homeless people in distress literally every single day. But keep telling yourself it’s ok to ignore them because everyone else does too, if that makes you feel better. I’d hate for you to feel any shame about your callous behavior.

    • jf

      I have to agree. I definitely think OP could have done more and his or her actions don’t show the best judgement but people are hating on her a bit too hard. Anyone on here who has ever walked past a homeless person in winter when we are on hypothermia watch and not called the hotline does not have any room to judge.

  • Dognonymous

    Knew the OP would get an (in my opinion) undeserved pile-on as soon as I read this. I don’t think I would have done any different, except maybe stick around for 5 minutes till the professionals arrived. My perspective on this sort of thing is that I don’t have any medical training, so there’s no way I should be doing anything to someone on the ground and unresponsive when I just might make his or her situation worse.

    • 5 minutes

      Sticking around for those 5 minutes could mean a lot. What if the ambulance doesn’t see the person? Or what if you could get them talking, thereby keeping them awake and responsive?

  • Mike

    I am sickened by this.
    Say what you want about a small town, but I grew up in one (8000 people), and this would NEVER happen. I am so glad I was instilled with values that include looking out for others (even strangers). I would have absolutely checked on this individual, and offered assistance if needed.
    Sometimes I can’t stand it here.

    • anonyomous

      +1. I agree, Mike. Perhaps the city does this to you, or perhaps people are lacking empathy (there have been studies to suggest that society is losing the ability to empathize, especially among the young- some of this is attributed to too much screen time, not enough time living among and learning about people who are different from them, etc). Who knows. Dognonymous’ comment definitely disturbs me, which is basically I call the police, but have no medical expertise, so therefore, there is nothing else I can do. Wrong! If it was my mother, father, or other friend, I would hope that someone would be by their side and offer words of comfort/assurance. There are epileptics out there who have seizures you can barely see- what a scary thought that they might be on the ground quietly seizing while people just walk on by.

      • BadReligion

        Would you mind citing these studies?

    • anon

      But in that same small town did you have drivebys just around the corner ?

      • SF

        Please. The most disturbing part of this letter is the weak excuse about recent gang-related violence. If we’re so scared to stop for somebody in need at 8 am on a Thursday morning we might as well just give up entirely.

        • Me


    • d

      Turn your small-town indignation down a bit – this doesn’t always happen here, it just gets attention when it does. I’ve seen multiple cyclists get in accidents (dooring, potholes, etc.) and have been among several others rushing to assist and wait for the ambulance. People here are generally good, even if they don’t always do the right thing in the heat of the moment.

      • S

        I’ve also witnessed people tripping on loose pavers while walking downtown and bystanders rushing to their aid myself included. I have been one of these unfortunate people who has wiped out on the sidewalk and had the wind knocked out of me momentarily and there was no shortage of concerned people trying to assist me. There are those out there that probably would keep walking but we can’t generalize and say its all these inconsiderate city people.

  • 20th street

    OP called 911, gave details and moved on. The fact that OP is following up shows at least part of the OP gave a shit. Sanctimonious tendencies here are incredible. People giving OP a hard time will be zooming right by in a car in few years after they eek out a little more property value and sell. Good on ya OP for at least making an effort and following up.

    • Anon

      +1 Shame on everyone rushing to judgment. I think the OP knows it would have been better to stick around, but what I want to know is whether everyone giving the OP a hard time (particularly the ones calling names) has ever done less than the absolutely best thing in any situation? I’m guessing yes. Have you ever passed by someone who needed help in any way? Probably, but most people would probably not admit as much publicly. We should be scolding all the people who did nothing, not the one who did something (even if it wasn’t perfect). OP – good for you for calling 911 and recognizing that calling and staying would have been even better.

  • twtwdc

    I realize I’m posting down at number 40 something, but really, the OP took the time to post this event on POP to try and “make sure” the person down was alright! That is the new modern attitude I just don’t understand.

  • blue peter

    all these self-righteous posters are nothing make me sick – the smugness makes me sick. if you’re all such upstanding citizens, why are frittering away your time tearing apart a person who was simply trying to do the right thing. so what if OP didn’t stop and bring the woman back to consciousness with her own hands? She made an effort, perhaps not all she could have done but why not thank her, and if you really can’t help the urge to chime in, why not do so in a non-combative, constructive manner – not in an outrageously hypocritical and passive aggressive rant from the comfort of your office? is this how they do things in “North Dakota” or wherever you come from? all the sanctimony on this post is too much…you all talk about community but all you’re doing is denigrating a member of said “community” in what, an effort to make yourself feel better about yourself? I bet none of you would confront someone in person the way you so blithely confront the poor OP here…hypocrites all

    • anonymous

      Or perhaps, blue peter, people are frustrated or afraid of what might be seen as a general lack of empathy that transcends this one particular story. That’s what this is for me, anyway. Yeah, I disagree with how he or she handled it. Points for calling 911, no doubt. But there is something disturbing about seeing a human being helpless on the ground and not stopping to offer assurance/help/etc. No way around that- this really isn’t debatable. I do think, however, these posts are probably more aimed at a general fear that this is what our city is and this is what YOU should expect if you ever become incapacitated.

      • Apparently it is debatable, as that seems to be what’s happening here in this thread among several people.

      • Work horse

        People have been concern-trolling about lack of empathy in big cities since the 1890s. DC isn’t “becoming” anything, it is what it always has been.

        • anonymous

          Sorry, what is “concern-trolling”? I think there are definitely bigger obstacles in cities when it comes to the bystander effect, but the idea of a lessening empathy is not unique to cities (nor did I suggest that in my post). There is a growing literature on the subject.

  • Anon

    For what it’s worth, I have found people in DC to be kinder than people in other major cities. I was kneeling in front of the Safeway in Petworth after a bag ripped trying to rebag the food that dropped. Approximately 5-6 people stopped to see if I was okay and see if I needed assistance.

    • SL

      I agree.

  • ntd01

    A little late to the conversation, but for what it’s worth, I think this is a good time to reflect on how we react to homeless individuals in similar situations. I know there are countless times I’ve walked past a homeless person lying completely motionless on the sidewalk. I don’t always notice these things (and I think 98% of passerby’s in this city fall into that category), but when I do I stop nearby to make sure they are breathing, at least.

    The thing is, I’m not sure how I’d react if it did appear a homeless man was unresponsive and motionless. I’d like to think I’d help and other passerby’s would as well – but that’s probably naive.

    With all the anger directed at OP for a lack of action today, let’s just reflect on how often we may have ignored someone in the same exact position just because they didn’t look as clean cut.

    • sunnytime

      Well said

    • I think many people are afraid of what will happen if they wake the homeless person up. It seems like there’s a weekly posting here about some deranged individual shouting at / chasing after / etc a biker, runner, other miscellaneous person, so it’s not entirely without reason.

      • S


    • Anons

      Twice in the last 2 days I’ve stopped and asked someone who may or may not have been homeless if they needed help. One was breathing but didn’t answer, I called 911 (while other peple also stopped after I made the call, and two people in vehicles paused to ask if she was ok). The second one needed to find her inhaler and she was then fine. Both were sitting on the sidewalk, for what that’s worth
      I fell off my bike, people came over to help me.
      Saw a woman crash on her bike, many people stopped to help
      Many people in this city are looking out for others

  • HaileUnlikely

    I agree that it would have been better if the OP had stopped to help, but let’s get some perspective here: given that the the police specifically called back the OP, it sounds as if few if any others even called 911, unless the OP just happened to be the first of all 200 people who would have passed by and called 911 who they tried to call back. Yes, he or she could have done more, and perhaps should have, but it is painfully evident that a large number of people did even less.

    • textdoc


  • HaileUnlikely

    There is a large body of psychological research demonstrating that humans are extremely bad at making accurate predictions about what they would do in a situation that they aren’t in. One or two of those piling on here telling the OP that he or she is a horrible person might have stopped to offer direct in-person assistance to the individual in question here if they had actually been in the OP’s shoes, but I would be willing to bet significant money that at least one of you would have done what the OP did or less. (Heck, I’d be surprised if more than one or two of you would have actually stopped, but I’m not so reckless with my money to be willing to bet that all 50 of you would have behaved the way I’d imagine…)

    • blahblahblah

      This is spot on. Hindsight is 20/20 and everyone may think that they know exactly what should have been done. But actually putting that into action in a real life emergency is sometimes harder to do. The ability to think clearly and remain calm in an emergency is not a universal skill that everyone is born with. People get scared, confused, freeze, run away, etc. The OP called 911, which is the important thing. Yes, there is more that could have been done. But getting medical help to the lady was the #1 priority, and the OP did it.

      • textdoc


  • snooze

    Spot on Blue! Personally i would have been thrilled she called 911 had i been on the sidewalk.

  • Learn from This, People

    While the OP’s response was atrocious, it’s also very much the product of our collective helplessness. The vast majority of Americans have no idea what to do in an emergency and no idea how to help anyone who has been hurt.

    I was a lot like OP until I took some combat first aid and emergency survival courses in preparation for deployment, as a civilian, to a war zone. I took away both incredibly important lessons on how to survive an emergency and how to help other people, but also tremendous confidence in my ability to at least take action, any action, in an emergency.

    This has served me pretty well in two specific instances. I once helped an elderly man who was confused and hypothermic in a parking lot in January. Just this summer, I helped a lady who suffered a seizure on a street corner in Capitol Hill. I’m pretty sure I helped save the older guy’s life, because no one else bothered to help him, but I was just one of a bunch of people who helped the seizing lady. In neither case did I actually do anything physical to save the person, but I helped make sure they got medical care and didn’t get run over by traffic. So I don’t consider myself, in any way, heroic, because it was the EMTs in both cases who actually did the work of helping.

    But I’m really, really glad that I helped in both cases, and that I probably helped save that guy’s life, and that I know I have the confidence to act in an emergency. So if you know, or suspect, that you’d react like the OP, then I recommend a thousand, thousand times that you enroll in a CPR or first aid class, that you take some sort of emergency or survival training, because even if you don’t use the specific skills you’ve learned, then at least you could do SOMETHING. Do nothing, and you guarantee disaster. Do something, and at least you have a chance of helping.

    Our society, our affluence, have infantalized us. We’re collectively helpless in the face of danger. Lady in need on the street? Too scared to stop! Metro train car filling with smoke? Can’t escape until daddy–er, the train conductor–tells me to leave. We’re turning into human veal. But we don’t have to be this way.

    • anonymous

      I think I like every part of this post. Well said.

    • ke

      Totally agree. I have a great deal of admiration for the men who disarmed the train shooter last week, one of whom went on to render life-saving first aid to another man. Did you see the quote from the father of one of the men?: “It is better to die like a lion than be slaughtered like sheep.” Between that story, and the story of the people on the Metro who did nothing when Kevin Sutherland was stabbed to death, I’ve been looking around for first aid/emergency training. We all need to take some responsibility for ourselves and the people around us.
      Has anyone heard of a class in the area that combines some kind of self-defense with first aid training?

      • Learn from This, People

        I don’t know of any course that combines the two that’s available to the public, but that just sounds like a market opportunity for a clever entrepreneur.

        But if you ever find yourself in a locked room with a murderer–which is what happened on both those trains–then the simplest thing you can do is: throw things at his face. Throw things at his face. Throw things at his face. Yell at everyone to throw things at his face and don’t stop. It’s hard to keep murdering when your face is getting pelted. If you have no weapons to fight back and you have no way to escape, then the best you can hope to do is distract him for as long as possible until you CAN escape or someone with a weapon appears. Because the alternative is, as all those folks on the metro on July demonstrated, to huddle in a corner and hope that the murderer doesn’t proceed to murder you when he’s done with his first murder. Because–and I want to make this clear–they were locked in a box with a murderer and their instinct was to do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Wait for death and hope for the best, I guess.

        Like I said, we’ve turned ourselves, collectively, into human veal.

  • textdoc

    Jeez. The OP called 911. Yes, it would’ve been better if he/she had stuck around until the police/ambulance showed up, but I don’t think he/she deserves all of the condemnation he/she’s getting in the comments here.

    • fka Shawess


    • MPinDC

      Calling 911 is the most important thing. If I’d stayed around I wouldn’t be able to do anything but stand there. As someone mentioned above, having first aid/CPR training would be useful

  • Come on people.

    Last week when I was walking my dog by Thomas Circle an ambulance and firetruck pulled up and about 8 first responders wandered around until they found a guy who was passed out drunk on the sidewalk. They shook him awake and he got right up, a little groggy, said he’d partied too hard the night before and he walked away, clearly fine. The trucks pulled off – it all took about 2-3 minutes. I asked a man standing nearby if he was the one who called the police and he said that he was. I asked if he had even tried to wake the guy up and he said that he had not.

    I went OFF.

    PEOPLE. Every time you call 911 for a person in distress the city sends out an ambulance and a firetruck – jamming up intersections, costing tax $, and keeping resources tied up from people who actually NEED help.

    If the drunk man HAD actually been in distress, the jackwagon who called 911 could have actually provided life-saving CPR (or found someone who could have) or been WAY more helpful to the dispatcher during the time it took first responders to get to the scene instead of just standing and watching like a coward.

    Oh but let’s all pat him on the back for calling 911 and “doing the right thing.”

    No. Your first move when you see a person who might be in distress should be to determine if they’re actually in distress. When did we all get so allergic to basic human interaction?

    • Yeah, nope

      Sorry, I would never try to wake a man who appeared to be passed out in the middle of the park. I would call 911 and let someone trained to come and handle the situation, however.

      • How many training hours do you think the EMTs needed to learn how to properly shake a guy on the shoulder and say “hey man are you okay?”

        • Yeah, nope

          Honestly that’s their job! I’m not taking any chances of someone waking up and freaking out on me. No way.

      • anon

        This. With all the stuff people are taking these days, you NEVER know what could happen if you try to intervene yourself. Drugs make people do crazy things. Mentally disturbed people do crazy things. Your regular run of the mill “Joe” can do crazy things. You cannot predict how someone will react. Let trained professionals handle it.

        • Cassie

          Exactly this. If you disturb someone passed out, they could attack you because of their disorientation or the drugs in their system. Or they could actually be laying in wait to rob you. Family and friends would be so distressed if you got hurt.
          Also, police tend to get to these situations before EMTs, and they’re trained to defend themselves if attacked.

    • anon

      You went “OFF” on someone for trying to help another person? WTF? Please, wise one, tell me what how you would have single-handedly saved this woman’s life!

    • Nope, even sane and non-drug using people can become very violent in medical emergencies. I’ve been hit hard by a friend who was having a diabetic seizure. Apparently the seizures can cause the person to experience a “nightmare” and believe they are being attacked.

  • So much victim blaming in here! My stars!

    • FridayGirl

      Now someone is going to say that that’s not true because the OP wasn’t the victim and so we can blame her all we want, apparently. I agree with pixelww below… y’all are a buncha bullies. What’s up with everyone being so mean today?

    • fka Shawess

      For someone so concerned about people taking offense to things online, you seem awfully offended by “victim blaming,” Justin. Just sayin’.

      • In case it wasn’t glaringly obvious, I’m being facetious.

        • fka Shawess

          Oh, it’s clear. This comment isn’t just about the sarcastic comment above, though.

          • I’m not sure where you’re going then, because the idiocy that is constantly shouting “victim blaming!” falls perfectly in-line with my distaste for people being routinely offended by what amounts to nothing.

          • fka Shawess

            … yes, but you’re adding to the constant shouting by constantly responding to it or, in this case, bringing it up yourself. Even here, when it’s only tangentially relevant.

          • If pointing out how ridiculous the acts in the circus are makes me part of the circus, then so be it. I don’t take offense to it though, I just find it hilariously predictable, regardless of the circumstance, especially when it’s so frequently directed at me.

          • fka Shawess

            Fair enough. But I do think that part of the reason you perceive it to be “directed at you” is because you so often jump in to point it out. Even when it’s not really germane to the issue at hand, like in the case here. You’re sort of making it hilariously predictable, to be honest.
            Clearly I’m sick and grumpy. I’ll quit it now.

          • What I’m trying to say is that people constantly jump on my posts as “victim blaming” 1) because they just don’t like me, 2) because they tend not to be the trite “I’m so sorry that happened” and actually try to plug for relevant details. I realize #2 makes me come across as less than sensitive, but I can handle that. My post here in this thread was mainly mocking the outcries, I don’t think anyone here is really engaging in “victim blaming”, but then I rarely believe anyone on this site is, other than the handful of comments which PoP probably deletes right away.

  • Woulda, coulda, shoulda…. since none of us were there or know the OP personally – to pile on and point fingers seems extremely critical and bully-ish. They did what they could at the time, what they felt safe doing & called 911.

    Right or wrong, enough or not enough – they were concerned and cared enough to call for help.

  • kittycatbob

    There are a lot of assholes in this area. I was on the Orange line headed into the District one morning and a guy passed out cold on a packed train. Only two of us did anything — one guy pulled the emergency handle and I ran to the emergency call box to let the station manager know that there was a very sick passenger on my car. Everyone else just bitched about how they would be late for work.

    Sometimes the behavior of people in this areas makes me lose all hope for humanity. You couldn’t just stop and ask if she was OK? Maybe find out what was wrong so the 911 operator could communicate that to the emergency responders? You spent more time posting the details on this blog to people you don’t know, than actually helping this woman in obvious distress. Has everyone become that disconnected from each other?

  • cam

    Sigh. I encountered an older gentleman who appeared to be experiencing some kind of medical distress on my way home from work several months ago. He was leaning precariously into the side of a building and looked like he was about to fall over. He happened to be of a different race than me, but so what. He was clothed, but I couldn’t say whether he was homeless or employed, and that doesn’t matter. He was a human in need of help! I asked him if he was ok, but he seemed out of it and wasn’t very coherent, so I called 911 and waited with him for an ambulance. I held his hand, asked his name, gave him a handkerchief from my purse to wipe his sweaty forehead, tried to comfort him, and assured him help was on the way. Not one of the dozens of people who walked past us on a busy downtown sidewalk stopped or offered to help, but I did grab someone passing by and begged her to keep talking to him when I got on the phone to call 911. She was reluctant, but cooperated and seemed baffled that I was sticking around. I’m not judging the OP. It’s great that the OP called 911. But I certainly didn’t regret staying with this man until the ambulance arrived. If it were me in distress, I’d want someone to stick around and hold my hand, so that’s what I chose to do.

  • Sultan of Shaw

    I don’t mean to detract from public ridiculing of the OP (who, based on these comments, must be a composite reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, Genghis Khan, Jack the Ripper, Megatron, and Andrew Jackson), but DOES anyone know what happened to this woman in distress?

    • She was a ghost the whole time.

      • FridayGirl

        And props to the one person on this hugely long post who actually said they wanted to know how the woman was doing (aside from the OP). This post was out of control.

  • dc587

    Just throwing it out there that if OP would have stopped and helped and turned into another innocent victim of a stabbing or shooting I’m sure the comments would be very different. Sure they could have done more, a situation can always be handled differently, but in the end they wrote to PoPville asking about the well being of the woman. Let’s either focus on the safety of that woman or move on with life.

    • Lue

      yes, the comments would be different because that would be an entirely different scenario

  • travis

    It was right in front of the library. Libraries have staff that know how to handle these types of situations. Why wouldn’t you just walk into the library and make sure the situation was under control before going about your life?

    • crates

      that might be an ok idea between the hours of 1 and 9 pm when the library is open, but this was at 8 a.m.

    • anon

      Maybe because Shaw Library wouldn’t open for another 5 hours after this happened?

  • V

    Did you ask her? Maybe a shake and a “Hey Lady, you OK?” While I totally understand not wanting to get involved in something that might be crime related (I was reluctantly led out of my house to show cops I’d called where a potential break in was occurring and DID NOT want to be seen for fear of retaliation) however, this sounds like she needed medical assistance. It might have been nice to wait for the police or the EMT… Kudos for calling the police, but perhaps not so shy next time?

  • Erin

    Totally agree- OP could have at least asked the woman if she was okay. I’m sickened by this city lately, especially after my own incident in CoHi where people saw me running away from a man who continued to pursue and scream at me and did NOTHING. It’s like everyone has a survival of the fittest mentality and it’s completely disturbing.

  • Nica

    In response to those who have said they too would keep walking because they don’t have medical training – you don’t need medical training to help. Yes, you are not going to be able a medical procedure while waiting for an ambulance to come, but you can be a great source of information for the professionals when they do get there if you are able to witness and report some of the symptoms or types of distress the person is in (seizures, etc.). If the person is conscious I imagine it would also give them some comfort that someone is there and able to communicate with and let them know help is on the way.

  • Ed

    I know what I would have done because I’ve done it before, assist someone in distress I didn’t know and wait until ambulance arrived.

    However I’m loathe to condemn someone for not doing the same. A cop was recently killed for helping a man in a disabled vehicle. Same thing happened out in MT a month ago. There was a case in TX where a young man rushed to help a man that had been in a as accident. His daughter was in the back seat & when the Good Samaritan tried to help the man shot & killed him.

    Folks are crazy.

  • UStreeter

    “I saw someone who needed help. But didn’t bother to stick around. Anyone know how that worked out?” Preaching to the choir, I realize from comments. But WTF dude. Either care or don’t. Don’t type some half &@$ed email on your walk home, hoping for a drama update.

  • JGK

    Way late to the party, but I hope the OP reads this: shame on you. What a cowardly, despicable excuse for a human being you are. When someone is in this situation, you don’t leave, you attempt to help, regardless of your worries about “gang activity.” To give 2 examples: if she had been having a seizure while choking on her tongue or bleeding out from a wound, you could have prevented a loss of life in either case. Instead you chose to scurry away. Do you ever worry that one of us will do that when you’re in need? You should.


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