When Good People Do Nothing

It’s no wonder so many of us are fascinated with superheroes. They embody the fearless qualities most of us wish we possessed — strength, will, conviction. But however well-intentioned we may be, most of us lack the courage to intervene in a bad situation and stop a wrong when we see it.

I spent my afternoon with friends downtown at the Asheville Comic Expo, which is a celebration of superheroes, among many other geeky endeavors. There were, of course, people cosplaying as their favorite comic book, video game, cartoon, anime and manga characters. But they were, of course, just normal people in costume.

After finishing our visit and disbanding our party, David and I set off down the street to get a slice of pizza. As you might know, it’s been raining all day; just like it’s been raining almost nonstop the entire summer. We weren’t two blocks from the civic center when a homeless man approached us for change. I’d already spent what little cash I had at the expo, so I didn’t have any tangible money to offer the man, nor did David. He didn’t complain; he just continued to walk in the opposite direction.

As we were standing at the corner of the sidewalk, waiting for the crosswalk to clear, we heard someone yelling. We looked over and saw a guy on a mo-ped screaming obscenities at the homeless man. But he wasn’t yelling back or even responding to the guy on the mo-ped; he was simply minding his own business.

But apparently that was enough to anger the mo-ped guy, because he flew into a rage. He drove up onto the sidewalk, got right up in the homeless man’s face, and started throwing punches at the him. He fell to the ground and curled up in a ball, clinging to the mo-ped guy’s leg, which prompted the prick to start kicking him.

So, David and I were both in a state of shock. This dude was going berserk on the homeless man who hadn’t done anything to him. We ran back to where this was happening, along with other people who were on the sidewalk, but we didn’t know what to do. Of course we all wanted to stop this piece of garbage from inflicting any more damage upon the homeless man, but we didn’t have the courage to actually step in and stop it, for fear of being injured ourselves.

There were people screaming at him from their cars, and the guy next to me was already on the phone with the police. But when that happened, the guy hopped back on his mo-ped (which he’s probably forced to use because of a DWI) and sped off down the street. Two guys that were just coming to the scene chased after him, I assume in an attempt to get his license plate number.

The poor guy was all bloodied up and using dirty water from a puddle on the street to clean himself up. The guy who’d called the police stayed, but after a few moments of not really knowing what to do, David and I turned and continued up the street. We kept looking back, and about the time we’d gone another block, the police had already arrived and were helping the man get to his feet.

I don’t know what happened from there, but I wish I’d had the courage to actually do something to help the guy, rather than stand there with my mouth open. You don’t expect something like that to happen. You don’t expect people to hold such malice and vitriol in their hearts that they take out their frustrations on the weakest person they can find. Like this man doesn’t already have enough troubles, being without money and without a home. He appeared to be a little off, mentally, and he walked with a limp. This guy doesn’t need — much less deserve — to have the crap beaten out of him.

There are some people who wouldn’t have given it a second thought, to rush to this man’s aid. There are people who would have stepped in and stopped it, and they don’t wear a mask or a cape; they wear plain clothes — jeans and a t-shirt. But unfortunately they weren’t there. Meanwhile, all of us who meant well couldn’t do anything but stand there and watch, for fear of ending up the same way as the man on the ground.

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