The video-recording era

It used to be the case that when people observed someone behaving bizarrely, or even dangerously, in a public place, they would be in somewhat of a quandary. Should they intervene and try to calm the person down? Should they call the authorities? Should they ignore and go on their way?

Nowadays people seem to know exactly what to do: take out their phone cameras, record the incident, and upload it to the web.

Here is a case where a woman on a busy New York City street is either seriously disturbed or on drugs or hallucinating or uncontrollably angry about something and behaving in a way where she could get run over by cars or cause accidents that hurt others. As far as one can see, no one seemed to know what to do other than record her behavior.

Frankly, if I had been on the scene I am not sure what I would have done either and it would be good to use this incident to reflect on what one should do in such situations, since bystanders often become paralyzed by indecision. Trying to calm her down by talking to her directly seems a bit daunting. Calling 911 seems like the only reasonable option. Though it does seem extreme, I think police have some training in talking people down, though I worry that they might Tase her.

(Via Neetzan Zimmerman)


  1. Sunny says

    So much of what appears on Youtube is staged that I no longer know what to believe.

    Talking about people’s obsession with recording everything reminds of a PBS documentary I watched on plane crashes. Apparently, survivors of a plane crash in Toronto – instead of running away from the aircraft – hung around to capture the incident on their camera phones. Highly risky considering that the aircraft could have exploded.

  2. maudell says

    Yeah, police action can be daunting with people with mental issues. I was working in a cafe a few years back and a man who was clearly disturbed was running around and doing weird, slightly threatening, things. Unable to get him out, I called the police thinking they were trained for this sort of things. They grabbed him, he panicked (he was in a paranoid state), and they immediately took out their batons and kicked the crap out of him. I mean, really beat him up. An ambulance picked him up, he was unconscious and seriously bleeding. I felt incredibly guilty about calling them. I still don’t know what the right thing to do is. Luckily I’m in Canada, so they didn’t charge him for health care.

  3. Woody Tanaka says

    Let them Tase her. If someone’s gonna get hurt, better her than an innocent persons, I say.

  4. Henry Gale says

    In addition to calling 911 I would have tried to get a few other people to form a human chain going across the street to block traffic until a mental health professional arrived.

  5. stonyground says

    Coincidentally, I have just returned from a 21st birthday party for my nephew who is autistic. One of the guests was one of his friends from his special school. Even though I am 54 and would like to think that I have an experienced worldview, I still found this guy intimidating, just because he couldn’t talk and made strange noises instead. I try to think of myself as a rational person, but the truth is that I am a primate, with primate instincts that need a real effort to overcome.

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