Last week Friday, a senior citizen in Hartford, Connecticut was struck in a hit-and run while crossing the street by two cars travelling in the wrong lane. Worse, although it was late afternoon and there were several pedestrians and other motorists around, the unfortunate man lay there in the middle of the road while people just stood there! Supposedly, several 911 calls were placed. But what the video clip shows is close to a full minute of people passing by like there’s nothing odd about a man lying in the middle of the road, others curious enough to go close and see, but no-one touching him!
Yet the callousness didn’t entirely shock me. Just a few weeks ago in my apartment building, a woman was killed and neighbours who thought they heard gunshots hours before the body was found failed to call the police. In that case, I postulated that perhaps it was the lack of community here that made people feel indifferent. But, apparently, the man left to die in the middle of the road like roadkill in Hartford in broad daylight, was close to home and well known in his neighbourhood. So what then, is the explanation for what we see on the surveillance video?
One theory of course is that with all the violence we see and hear about on TV, we have become desensitized to death and the value of life is lost to us. Another is that we are all so busy thinking of ourselves and don’t want be inconvenienced. I’m certainly guilty of that. It’s all about me, me, me, and if I don’t get a reward or get something back for my efforts, why bother? What happened to simple compassion?
Both incidents remind me of another that affected me when I was about eight years old. We were living in Germany at the time. We lived on the 4th floor of an 18th storey flat. One spring day, you know one of those that you are totally bored yet not allowed to go out and play, I was just brooding looking out the window. All of a sudden the peace and quiet of my thoughts were disturbed by something falling down from above…something that I caught in the periphery of my vision. This was followed in seconds by a huge thud! or maybe a splat! and I looked down to see a young woman sprawled out with her brains and intestines by her side. She was dead for sure.
I remember calling out to my mother who was in the next room sewing clothes. She angrily called me away from the window as if I had caused the unfortunate event. She was angry because she didn’t want me to be seen and didn’t want to have to talk to the police. I suspect it was because we were African, that we were foreigners, and perhaps we would have been mistrusted. At least I felt that was what she perceived. So no, we did not call the police. I got banished to do a chore but couldn’t help think about the poor woman just lying there. My mom, returned to whatever it was that she was doing and we’ve never talked about it since.
Back then I was comforted by the fact that as the woman came flying down, there were 3 foreign looking men (maybe Turkish or Persian or from elsewhere in the Middle East) coming down a flight of stairs who also saw what I saw. I know they did the right thing despite being foreign and all.
I later found out through my sisters, that the woman was in fact a 16 year old girl who attended the same school as they did. She had committed suicide. I forget the speculation about the reason why…probably something about a relationship gone bad or a pregnancy or something of the sort. I remember, she had an older sister who I would often run into in the years after the incident.
I don’t think I was scarred by the incident, obviously it is a very traumatic thing for a child to see. I do remember that it took a really long time for me to be able to exit the building through the back doors and use the playground there because that’s where she landed.