A Duty to Act

This is an Auto-Post made on December 12, 2010, posted automatically as I prearranged this on January 4th, 2011. You are still welcomed to post comments.

Below, is a re-edited page from my personal journal back in the early 1990’s, one of the most scariest times I encountered while living up in Prince Rupert. I read this again back on September 2010 when I was going through my old journals, so that I could dig some material up for a paper I was writing in class. I needed some ideas of personal accounts for one particular writing exercise. I came across this little gem.

Below is a true story of  when I was living on my own in a townhouse complex. I kept a lot of the details out of it, for obvious reasons, but for the sense of it, the remaining details are very close to the real experience and state of mind at that time.

My purpose of writing this is based on that ethical dilemma of acting versus non-acting when someone is in pain and needs help; when should one intervene or exercise apathy. Far to often we read stories of how victims are ignored while they cry for help. This is a cry to those people who were left for dead as passer-by carried on their daily activities because they did not wish to get involved whether out of fear or selfishness.

I should also point out that there is a huge difference between coming to one’s aid, to rescue them, and reporting the incident to the authorities. The basic rule is, if your life is in jeopardy, keep away, but report it to the police as soon as you can. There is no law that says you must sacrifice, or risk, your life to help another in Canada.

On the other side, people seem to think that if it is in someone elses home, across the street, than it is none of your business. Sadly, ethics can be diminished when you hide behind your curtains of your living-rooms.

In this story I took the initiative and made that phone call. The result was a criminal conviction. The woman did go to the hospital with several abrasions to her head and right arm, but she did recover. Shockingly, she did go back to the home, and sadly, another incident did occur after I had moved away. She did move again, and as far as I know, she has not been seen since.

November 13 1990: I heard a dull loud sound that seemed to have occurred right by my bedroom window. It woke me, so I sat up and turned on my light by the bed and wondered what the could have been. I peaked out through the window blinds to see if I could spot anything unusual, but nothing looked out of place in the darkness. I shrugged it off, turned off my light, and wrapped myself up with my covers.

A few seconds had passed before I heard the loud voices of two people yelling. It was clear that there there was one male and one female voice, and that there were engaged in a very heated argument. I sat up in bed, and rethought about what was going on. Hesitantly I put on my slippers and went into the living room where I sat on my recliner and looked out through the window, to see which neighbour it was making all the noise. It was my next door neighbour right beside me. They were clearly having a fight, and the topic of the fight, I could hear very clearly, was about money.

Several seconds went by, while I sat there starring blankly into space, when the sound of a door slammed opened. Then the voices become vividly clearer as they moved out onto the lawn right by my window. As they yelled back and forth, I turned on my lights inside, hoping that that would scare them back inside where they could make less noise. The tactic did not work. She was half dressed and he was still in his work clothes. Then the sound of a fist hitting flesh, with a distinct howl of pain, and the ruffling sounds of feet dragging across the gravel driveway, could be heard, clear as day.

Her blood curdling sound of pain I am sure must have woke the entire neighbourhood up, but it did not. No one was up? I could see not one light on from the other homes on the street.

She screamed back at him and ran back inside, but not before he grabbed door and forced himself back inside after her.

Now I witnessed an assault.

The screaming kept up for another few minutes. In that time I grabbed my phone and dialled 9-1-1. I explained to the operator what I had seen, and that the women could be still in danger she and her spouse went back inside the house. They were still fighting when the police arrived.

Two officers came up to the house. One officer knocked on the door while another waited by the rear of the house. No one answered the door. Then a second set of knocks, but this time it was followed with, “this is the police, there has been a complaint, I need to talk to you.” No Reply.

Then I heard some screams from the woman, then a loud crashing sound—the door getting kicked in, then silence.

About fifteen minutes later another police car arrived, and I heard the man being escorted away from the house.

In the end, it is easy to say that what I did was the right thing to do. At the time, I was young and lacked the experience and knowledge that I have today. However, the basic instinct of watching someone in pain, crying for help, is a very real emotion, and one that we should always act upon. Personal danger is perhaps the great determinator as we also have to balance whether or not we should get involved.

Would our personal safety be an issue when dealing with an domestic dispute with our neighbour? This is the question when dealing with violence of whether to get involved or not. However, there is a duty of care with our neighbour, as a neighbour, to honour them when issues of criminality come to play. This means that when you witness a criminal act, you must act, and proceed accordingly by reporting it to the Crown, i.e., the police. Personal safety must come first, but justice must prevail. Let the police do their job, and you can keep your anonymity.

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