The year was 1999. I was walking with my friend Wilson on my way to go see the movie “Dogma”. It was opening night and we were quite excited because up to this point we’d always enjoyed Kevin Smith movies. “Dogma” would change that.
Wilson and I had enjoyed a pre-movie drink and were walking acriss 14th Street between 4th Avenue and Broadway, very close to the theater. We passed the Virgin Megastore on our left as we went chatted away and then we heard it.
There was suddenly a screech of tires followed not by the crunching, rending of metal, but the solid “thump” that you know has to be either a deer or a person. Not many deer in Union Square.
Everything in Union Square went silent at that moment.
Everyone around us froze.
I looked back and could see a taxi halfway through the light at 4th avenue and 14th stopped in the middle of the intersection.
I reached for my cell phone and froze.
It was then that a thought went through my head that I’ve been ashamed of for the past 8 years.
“If I call 911 will I miss or be late for the movie?” went through my head.
I did a quick scan and saw about 15 people already on their phones and figured my call wouldn’t make EMS come any faster and we continued on our way.
Wilson told me he had seen it happen. A taxi blew a red light and took out a guy crossing the street; he’d seen the guy go under the cab. We laughed in bit in our shame because he’d had a similar reaction to calling 911.
It’s one of those things that I think about to this day and feel horrible about. I know it wouldn’t have hurt if I’d done the right thing and called 911.
It is something called the Bystander Effect. It’s a psychological phenomenon where persons are less likely to intervene in an emergency situation when others are present than when they are alone. It was coined here in NYC after the death of Kitty Genovese in 1964. She was killed by a serial rapist and murderer in the courtyard of her apartment complex over the course of 30 minutes during which at least 38 people who lived in the complex alleged to have seen it occur and failed to help the victim or call the police. No one called because they figured someone else was doing it.
I’m ashamed of the fact that my thought was of the movie and not someone else’s life. That I could be so callous and selfish horrifies me.
Never again will I fail to act and live with feeling that I could have done one tiny thing that could have made a difference in someone's life.
Years later I got to redeem myself in small part. But that is for tomorrow.