The right thing to do isn’t entirely clear in the recent NYC subway harassment video.

I’m as keen to lament the deterioration of our broader community as anybody else, but reactions to a recent cell phone video taken in the New York City subway seem to me to overstate the inaction of the bystanders.

In summary, a guy who is obviously disturbed walks through the subway car shouting.  He sits down next to a woman, and when she stands to move away, he puts his hand on her shoulder and makes her sit.  She looks around pleading for help.  Then, the man shouts for her to stand up, which she does, and he walks her a few steps while grabbing her hair, ultimately pushing her away and walking in the other direction.

The whole thing happens in a matter of seconds, so the question for those faulting the bystanders is how quickly they think one should react.  Intervening too quickly and confrontationally could escalate things.  When a situation is in the open and somewhat controlled, sometimes it’s better to wait.

Observe the man in the blue shirt, for example.  He was behind the passenger with the camera, and when we first see him, it’s clear he was keeping an eye on the situation.  Quite likely, when the crazy guy made the woman stand up, the man in blue began to move in their direction.  When we get another glimpse of him; he’s standing near the woman.  Now, it’s possible he was just moving away from the crazy guy as just about everybody else did, but perhaps he had positioned himself to intervene if the crazy guy’s attention turned back toward the woman.

That seems to me to be the correct approach, in this case.

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