May 31, 2017

The Portland Dilemma: How Would I React?

A few days ago two men were stabbed to death and another barely escaped the same fate on a light rail train in Portland. Their crime? Trying to stop a man from verbally harassing two young women with his anti-Muslim ravings. 

The deaths of the two men and the injuries suffered by the third are horrific reminders of the rage and anger that is both too visible and commonplace. Was this racist hate and religious stereotyping always there? Sure. But, now, it seems there is real danger that can instantly erupt with fatal consequences seemingly anywhere. 

For several days after the attacks I struggled with the question: What would I have done? Would I have stepped in or waited for someone else? Would I have dialed 911 or hit the emergency stop button to attract official attention? Would I have assumed that his hate would stay verbal and not escalate into physical danger for the young women? Would I have risked my life?

These questions prompted me to think about personal risk and public involvement. Betty and I occasionally take the light rail train from near our home to downtown Phoenix, so the circumstances were quite relatable. What flashes through one's mind in the few seconds you have to make a decision? Does the instinct to protect kick into gear? Does self preservation dominate?

I can only try to answer for me, but I think family concerns would be among my first thoughts. The effect of my serious injury or death upon my family members would be devastating. My loss in such a random and sudden way would be hard to comprehend by all those I love. Would they respond with hate against the person and the situation that triggered this outcome? Would they fall back on their faith and forgive? Would my split second decision make their future more unsure and unhappy?

Most bullies will bluster and verbally try to intimidate, but usually back down from someone else's presence. A punch to the face, maybe a few kicks, certainly words that try to provoke would occur before that person slinked off to a corner. However, as Portland proves, that is not always true. If the bully has a backstory that includes hate group involvement, criminal behavior, drug use, or mental struggles, the confrontation can quickly spin out of control. Of course, all that would be unknown before confronting the hater.

Would instinct simply kick in..the instinct that human beings seem to have to protect others? The response of strangers after a natural disaster, the stories of those who risked everything to protect others during wars, the rush of bystanders to help someone who has fallen or may be trapped in a car after a crash....all speak to something ingrained in us. Would I try to help because I believe in God, because my religious beliefs encourage such actions? That sounds good, but I am not sure such thoughts would be part of my final decision.

Ultimately, I think my involvement would be a gut reaction to seeing something so wrong and wanting it to stop. All the careful weighing of consequences and outcomes, personal costs and pain, and the effect on family, would not be considered. There is no way of knowing what the three men in Portland were thinking when they stepped up to help. But, I'd like to believe they simply saw evil and were compelled to help.

I'd like to think I would have the strength to do the same, but none of us will really know unless we are faced with such a serious choice. And that is what has made the Portland murders so hard to put behind me.


31 comments:

  1. I was surprised this happened in Portland. I thought this was a socially conscious and more progressive city. I could have seen this happening in the South. Just goes to show that hate and dearrangement can happen anywhere. Where will this all end?

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    1. Portland is one of my favorite cities for just the reasons you mention. But, like most of America, its history is filled with racial divides. Hate is not determined by geography or even the overall tenor of a place. There is no place to hide and pretend such hatred doesn't exist.

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  2. The mentally ill are everywhere. One never knows the time or place. I have walked between a weapon and a child, taken the child and walked away. No words. Just silent, gut reaction. I did know the child. I'm not sure if I could ever do what I did again- especially when I do not know them. 911? I have learned, after years of working with mentally ill children, that arguing often escalates the situation. I do not have to skills to disarm- so my instinct is to get everyone away. I am sorry for the loss of the victims and the lack of mental health facilities that need to be in place for so many of these dangerous people.

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    1. Isn't that the crux of the problem? We cannot know how the perpetrator will react. If there is enough hate and anger to trigger such an outburst, can't we assume that person does not have the normal boundaries? Trying to engage in a conversation will probably not end well.

      Thanks, Janette, for sharing your very personal situation with the child and the weapon.

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  3. I agree with Janette. There are no absolutely liberal places. Heck, our conservative new supreme came from hippy dippy boulder, CO. That said, Bob we had this topic of discussion with aprofessional at my church, and his answer to this is not to confront the assholes but to engage the victim. Walk up to her,ask her a question, walk away with her, pretend to know her, or that kind of thing. The second response is SOME situations such as bullying is to simply ask the agressor :why:. Why exactly are you dipping that child's head in the toilet, for example.

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    1. I have seen several suggestions to handle these situations by sitting next to the person being verbally assaulted, or walking away with her. I may be completely wrong, but my initial reaction to that suggestion is that it has a much better chance of working if the person getting involved is female.

      If a man tried that I think the aggressor would become violent out of a need to show strength before another male and no weakness in front of a female, to be the alpha male. He would shift his attack to the man and would be more likely to escalate the situation. I may be wrong, but that seems to me to be the logical outcome of trying to attach oneself to the victim.

      I'd love your feedback on this point because i really do not know.

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    2. I agree. I think that a man, in my situation, would more likely escalated it. It may be sexist observation, but men tend to talk loudly and move to the attacker. "Hey, what are you doing?" Women tend to move to the victim in a very quiet way move away.

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  4. I saw videos of the murderer and he was definitely suffering from a mental disorder. Perhaps that can explain his behavior to a certain extent. But how does one justify what that no talent hack Kathy Griffin did this week with her picture holding a bloodied President Trump head? I know there are some of your readers, Bob, that probably found that amusing, but all that does is incite weak people on both sides of the spectrum, like the Portland shooter. And I can imagine their outrage if this occurred towards the White House inhabitant of the last eight years.

    As for what one would do in a similar situation, it depends. Sometimes I am very aware of the surroundings and would move quickly to get involved, while other times I am half asleep and not even paying attention. Regardless, the level of violence happening around the world today, as well as the sheer numbers of sick people committing the violence, calls for people to be equipped to handle such situations. Personally I carry concealed all the time, even though at 6'4" with a black belt in karate I could handle some situations. But I can't stop a bullet, or a knife, or a sword in the hands of a crazed person, so I choose to avail myself of my 2nd Amendment rights. Perhaps others who are strongly against that stance should revisit their convictions; we live in a time of increasing incivility and it does not appear to be getting any better. Lastly, I hope that none of us ever has to pay the ultimate sacrifice like those heroes in Portland did. Their families will never be the same again.

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    1. I don't believe anyone of a sound mind would find the Kathy Griffin stunt acceptable. That was gross and completely uncalled for. It also solved nothing.

      I understand the argument for being armed in such a situation though I disagree. If the other guy had a weapon too wild shots in an enclosed space could have made a horrible situation even worse. But, in that regard we can agree to disagree.

      The three men were heroes, but that doesn't make the loss and hurt any less real, and that is part of my question: does your family's welfare enter into the decision to react? Should it?

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    2. Yes, Chuck, I totally agree. People would have gone absolutely bananas if former president Obama had been treated with the disrespect with which our current president is treated.

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  5. Well first, I am NEVER going to have a gun. Ane while Chuck does not do this, I am offended by those who think that EVERYONE should be armed, just as I am offended when folks who dont drink think that no one else shoud drink and so on. I spend too many years in a country with no guns that was civilized.

    However, I should have also said that except for some extremely rural and depressed areas, no city or suburb is there are few totallt conservative places. The country may be different. But I can promise you that the six years that I lived in the Republic of Texas, I knew just as many progressive, concerrned, involved people as I do here. Unfortunately, when it comes to the extremely rural areas I cannot say the same. Hence the fact that much of Dallas for example, hates Ted Cruz and the current goverrnor. Most people, and most large to moderately populated areas are purple at heart, with a few exceptions like my very expensive hippy suburb to the north, lol. And frankly, Dallas was much more ethnically and religious diverse than Colorado is.

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    1. You and I are of the same mind about guns, Barbara. No study has ever proven to me that more guns in more hands makes anyone safer. In fact, common sense says just the opposite. That is a discussion much like religion: strong opinions and beliefs exist on all sides of the issue. In America we have the ability to choose to be armed or not, and fight politically to support our "side" of the situation.

      One would assume that where you live now (Colorado) is politically more liberal than your former home in Texas. It is those types of assumptions that tend to exaggerate our differences instead of looking for similarities.

      As an interesting (to me) aside, moving from Scottsdale to Chandler was much more than a 30 mile change. Chandler is more ethnically and racially diverse, and I enjoy that difference. It makes things more energetic and interesting. Scottsdale was like living in a smooth Norman Rockwell painting, my new area has colors and corners and edges.

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  6. Barbara I agree with you about no guns. For the occasional merit they might serve a citizen, the bad effects far outweigh the good. Statistics will prove this, but I know Chuck won't agree and that is OK. I'm in Central Fla, which is somewhat rural and poor, and quite religious and the Republican support here is huge. I'm definitely in the minority, although I have two friends who think like me. Sometimes I think of moving, but I'm afraid it would be the same any place. Maybe just the swing of the pendulum at this point in time and will eventually reverse, hopefully.

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    1. Moving to find an area more politically in tune with one's thinking does seem rather risky. While it was quite a while ago, the Republican and Democratic parties used to actually hold beliefs opposite to what they are today. Elections, trends, and demographics change things.

      Arizona is quite conservative. Except for Tucson and Flagstaff, this state is strong GOP territory. With the Hispanic growth in Phoenix that will change over time, but it is what it is today.

      Betty and I don't talk politics except with each other and with a handful of people we know who are more like us in that regard. Importantly, treating others with respect and simply avoiding hot button topics allows us to interact well with anyone. We humans are so much more than political animals.

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  7. Hello Bob. Your points are well made and considerations regarding the proper course of action are valid. My 20+ years in the military taught me that none of us really know what we are capable of in any given high-stress situation until we are right there, neck deep in it. I AM a bit offended though that several folks seem to feel that occurrences such as these should be less likely to occur in progressive/liberal political environments. Progressive liberalism doesn't change human nature or bring about utopia but this really isn't a political issue, and progressive liberalism isn't a panacea for all that is wrong in the world. I myself am a moderate independent. What we had on that subway train was a sad, sad example of a nut job acting out in a violent manner and 3 heroic individuals who did what they thought was right to resolve a bad situation. Different political affiliations wouldn't have changed what happened. Unfortunately, there have always been unbalanced people in the world and always will be.

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    1. Excellent point, Bob. Politics doesn't affect situations that involve mental illness or hate. Nor should it affect our response.

      I agree that none of us knows what we might do until we are confronted with a situation that calls for an instant response and may put us at risk of injury or worse. I went through the exercise of self-analysis for purposes of this post; I am a very logical and analytical person. But, if it ever happens, that thought process probably is out the window.

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  8. Situations like these are disturbing and unfortunately becoming far too common. While I can't be sure what I would do in such a situation, I hope I would react with a combination of common sense and compassion. I know I would not be able to physically do much about the situation but I would hope that I would first call 911 or other authorities and second reach out to the person(s) being harassed. I would want to ask them to sit or stand with me or I would sit with them simply letting them know they were not alone.

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    1. These situations are part of our every day life, unfortunately. How we would react is the big unknown.

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  9. I know I would have backed away terrified but, my husband would have done what those brave guys did without giving it a thought. He has great reflexes and when someone is in trouble he jumps in and thinks about what could have happened later. I'm not saying I like that but, it's hard to judge someone else's reactions in that type of situation.
    As for someone's comment about how Obama was never treated as badly as drumpf...puhleez! Do some research!
    b

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    1. I've never met Dave in person, but his comments on Facebook and his can-do attitude lead me to believe you are correct. Let's hope he never has to prove we are correct.

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  10. I was on a bus, in Phoenix, about 15 years ago. I would have been about 20 years old, a white woman. A group of young black men got on the bus, behaving in pretty negative ways. I don't know if they were a proper 'gang' or not. As they progressed towards the back of the bus the one in front tripped over the extended feet of an older man who had been mostly napping. They turned to yell at him, accusing him of trying to trip him. The oldster apologized profusely, clearly very nervous. The leader said "I saw you put your legs out!" and I said "No, you didn't. The poor man was asleep. Leave him alone." and the leader insisted he DID see him. I pointed out "If you HAD seen him, but still tripped over his legs, you would be an idiot for tripping over things you saw were there." The group quieted down and it wasn't until about 15 minutes later as I was walking away from the bus that I broke into a cold sweat. Here's the thing: If we, as individuals, keep to the right course, then we as a society will improve. If we do not, then we will degrade. There's an old saw about that...

    And I wanted to point out that Portland, now my home, is proved to be amazing by this story. Three people, of any political or social leaning, were willing to give up their lives on a bus for strangers. Crazy people can be anywhere, but people who will stand by their convictions are not.

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    1. You were lucky, Morgan. Calling an aggressive person an idiot is like waving a red flag in their face. It turned out well for the older man, the gang, and you. You performed a brave act and escaped unharmed....the best outcome.

      I'd offer one alteration to your story. The reality is the young men were black, but behavior like you described can come from anyone. "A group of young men got on the bus" would make the point without adding a racial aspect to it. As you note, crazy people can be anywhere. To that I would add, they can look like your next door neighbor.

      Interesting that you now live in Portland and can relate so well to the deeper meaning behind the attack and senseless deaths.

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    2. I'm not sure if it would have been the same story or not if I hadn't mentioned that they were black but it's an interesting way to think of it. If I hadn't mentioned I was a woman, would it have been that the courageous behavior could have come from anyone? If I had said the man napping was merely an individual? It would have portrayed the position of the elderly gentleman differently with his own fear and standing up to a group of white girls, my social peers, would have been a lot less scary.

      I could have said "I was on transportation once when negative behavior was expressed towards another person. I intervened successfully but was concerned after the fact." The truth though, is in these details. I was quite young, and brash. I was concerned because they appeared to be a gang, a group with which I had little in common. I worried for the man because he was elderly, and they seemed to single him out. In attempting to avoid descriptive words such as black, young, elderly, man, woman we lose the story and it's context. It's interesting that people have a negative connotation to them being black but not a negative one to myself being white, or the old man who was paying no attention as white. No one says "You really shouldn't describe the man as elderly, anyone can sleep on the bus." or "No need to describe yourself as young, age wasn't relevant in this situation."

      It makes me proud to know that people are standing up for those around them. :D Foolishness at it's best.

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    3. My point is the color of their skin had nothing to do with their boorish behavior. I am suggesting the by mentioning they were black you added an element to the story that was not essential to the sitiation or your reaction. Would you have said something different to them if they were white, or brown or red-skinned? If not, then by the additional fact?

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    4. Bob, I also might have not said something to them if I was not young, or a woman, or the man old, or afraid, or they were speaking a different language, or had thick accents. My point is that by singling out race as the one thing not acceptable to mention, in any light, we create a world where we pretend these things don't influence behavior and reaction.

      I could appear racist in the story for mentioning they were black, or ageist for mentioning the man was old, or sexist for mentioning they were male. Someone who is sensitive to race issues may say 'why would you mention the men were black as it implies it has something to do with their behavior' and someone who is sensitive to age issues might say 'why would you mention the man was old as it implies it has something to do with his behavior' and someone sensitive to gender issues might say 'why would you mention they were male as it implies that it has something to do with their behavior'?

      None of those pieces of information could be considered essential, or all could. Those who see race as an issue focus in on it. An advocate for the elderly may have focused in on the concept of an elderly person needing protection by a younger person. Someone transgender may have focused in on the fact that the sex of the groups was irrelevant to the story. Someone interested in social group dynamics may have noted that many 'gangs' are perfectly harmless.


      In the end, you read my story and thought the glaring thing that didn't need to be stated was race but you didn't feel any need to call out my being a young female as a useless piece of information... perhaps because it is socially acceptable to expect certain behavior from women, or the young. You didn't note that there was no need to describe the man as elderly because that element was not essential to the story, and wanted me to rethink what I said because of it, perhaps because the idea of the elderly as nodding off on the bus is quite sad but socially acceptable. You note the story is about young vs old... but I wonder if the boys or the man would have felt comfortable with that interpretation? It could easily have been male vs female. Or single vs group.

      Finally, as a side note, their race may not have been influencing their behavior but could have been influencing mine, or the mans, or the other passengers on the bus who chose not to speak up such as appears to have occurred in Portland. Things like race are obviously sensitive subjects that we all think about, evidenced by the fact you felt it was an awkward part of the information I presented, and people react accordingly.

      Regardless, good column as always.

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    5. Again, Morgan...excellent points and insight. You have an excellent mind!

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  11. Excellent points Morgan!...too much concern for PC sometimes when a story is simply being told with ALL the facts and no hidden agendas

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    1. Sorry, Mary, but I disagree. Adding the color of their skin is a "fact" that has nothing to do with the story and adds something that contributes to sterotyping. A young group of people behaving badly to an older person and a bystander's reaction is the story.

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  12. Saying this hit close to home is no exaggeration--this horrible tragedy happened walking distance from my house. I or other family members could have easily been on that train.

    I read all the comments and responses. Interesting what people focus on--mental illness, guns, gender, race. (By the way, why does everyone assume that this guy was mentally ill? Maybe I missed something in the news that said he was. There are plenty of hateful people out there who are not mentally ill and are fully responsible for their actions.)

    I've asked myself the same thing. What would I do? One person standing up to this guy, even three people, were not enough to prevent tragedy. But what if everyone had quietly encircled the girls without directly engaging this guy? Maybe the same result. He was clearly looking for trouble and armed for it. And if no one else did anything, would I? I like to think I would.

    As to your question about thinking about your family--well, the one man was married and a father of four. The other two were young with their whole lives ahead of them. (One of those young men survived, but will be forever changed.) Perhaps when my kids were young and I was a single mom, I would have been more likely to hesitate to put myself in harm's way. I was all my kids had. But my kids are grown now, and while I would like to think they'd miss me, I'd also like to think that they would be proud of a mom who stood up for what is right, as I hope this man's four children will one day appreciate that they are the children of a hero.

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    1. PS--I'm guessing that there are a lot of people who were in that train car who looked away and are now wondering if they should have done something different.

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    2. The whole situation is heartbreaking and calls into question our basic humanity and whether "we are our brother's keeper" still applies in today's society.

      I thought the Hollywood station sounded familiar. Betty and I have been on that trip and through that stop. Of course, that this happened where and when it did is not a reflection on Portland or public transportation or any other search for simplistic answers. Hate towards others and the violence that occurs is pretty much universal. Heavens, last weekend close to 50 people where shot in Chicago, and city leaders were happy because that total was lower than in 2016.

      To your last point, I agree. I am sure some people who were there are carrying some guilt, while others are thanking their lucky stars that they escaped harm. None of us can judge. We simply don't know what we would do. And, the responsibility for the well being of others is a consideration.

      This has been a productive post because it has generated some important exchanges. For the few thousand who have read it, I hope it has helped each one think through their reaction.

      Thanks, Galen, for adding to that process.

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