A few years back a then New Haven School eighth grader sent an email to me questioning a point I made in a column.
It was about an incident where students at a high school somewhere in the Midwest suddenly found a schoolmate being savagely beaten. Instead of interceding or calling authorities they whipped out their cell phones and started making a video of the one-sided melee. By the time the last bloody blow was delivered it had already been uploaded to the Internet.
The New Haven eighth grader — a girl — took me to task and suggested what they were doing was a public service since it was important to make sure the bad guys were brought to justice and that it wasn’t their place to help people. I rarely respond to people after they say their piece about a point I make in a column. I figure I had my say and they had their say.
In this case, I felt I should respond. In a short email she said their class had discussed it and basically agreed I was wrong that they should not intercede when someone is essentially being brutalized given it wasn’t their problem per se and that by getting video for the authorities they were being good citizens.
This might sound like a crazy connection but that response to that column came to mind late last week when a video of an ag instructor at Weston Ranch High being more than a little rough with a lamb he was trying to put through the paces needed for competitive showing.
In no way am I faulting the person who shot the phone video and instead of reporting it to authorities took to social media to “expose” such behavior. We all make choices.
But I am disappointed to think someone who sees what they believe —and appears — to be clear signs of abuse simply videos it and doesn’t try to stop it.
We are all fallible. Long before portable phones weighed less than 15 pounds and had a battery life of no more than 15 minutes, I came across a kid — perhaps 8 years old — who was being threatened by a man who I later found out was his father. It was in a park in Lincoln and the man was menacingly holding a bat while yelling at the kid. There were people standing around just staring. I’d like to say I was the one that saved the day but that wasn’t exactly the case, I was the one, though, who first opened his mouth questioning the man as to what he thought he was doing. The guy could easily have beaten me to a pulp but even then I had a better chance than the 8 year-old kid. As he turned toward me telling me I was a piece of manure and to mind my own business someone with more courage than I had stepped up, grabbed the bat, and proceeded to calm the guy down. I have no idea to this day whether the guy was on drugs, was having an extremely bad day which is no excuse, had anger issues or was — how do I put this — a poor excuse for a human being.
What I do know is the man who interceded not only defused the situation but then followed it up with a call to the police.
Fast forward to about six weeks ago; I was headed into work. Strike that, I was headed into work but was first going to stop at the 7-Eleven at Yosemite and Powers avenues for a “Brookie” fix. It’s a decadent brownie but that’s another story.
I was waiting to make a left turn from Powers onto Yosemite when what appeared to be a “crazy” person walked across the street and started pounding on the passenger windows and the hood of a vehicle waiting on a red light to turn onto northbound Powers. The light changed. I ended up parking in front of the 7-Eleven and the driver of the car — a gentleman who looked more than capable of taking care of himself — had pulled to the side of Powers Avenue next to Dollar General. The “crazy” person was yelling at him and threatening him from about three feet away. I figured someone had called 911. But as I looked around there were four or five people with their smartphones out making a video. I then called 911 as I walked toward where the car was parked and the two were still arguing.
As the dispatcher came on I was within five or so feet of the pair. As I explained what was going on to the dispatcher the gentleman heard me and asked me “please not to call the police” as things were just fine. I doubted they were. After repeating his request two more times as I continued to explain what was going on to the dispatcher, he told me it was a family matter, this wasn’t the first time it had happened and he was OK. I then handed my phone to him to have him talk to the dispatcher. After a few minutes the call ended, he handed me the phone, thanked me and walked across the street to try and talk to the “crazy” guy.
I do not know the backstory. It could be a drug issue, a mental health issue, or something else that was prompting such behavior. What I do know is I’m not too sure if I hadn’t done what limited action I did how I could call myself a member of the human race.
Nothing beyond a public display of perhaps the angst of a family struggling with an ongoing problem ended up taking place. But if something had happened to the gentleman — a complete stranger — because I went on my merry way or simply chose to shoot and upload a video to get as many hits I could get I don’t know how I could have lived with myself.
If you see someone abusing a fellow human being or an animal and your response is just to video it and not immediately alert authorities if you opt not to intercede what does that say about you?
I highly doubt the teacher involved with the lamb if he had been confronted by the person who saw what they believed to be animal abuse would have taken it to whatever next level that makes one think their life might be in danger because they stand up for the vulnerable.
I’m not implying what the parent saw shouldn’t be addressed by the Manteca Unified School District. After officials were made aware of the video a number of days later. They immediately took steps to remove the teacher from competitive livestock instruction, conducted an investigation and took disciplinary action.
Three different people I showed the video to with a background in showing sheep all agreed it was way too rough but only one went as far as calling it outright abuse. I’m not too sure abuse is in eye of the beholder but I can say it looked like it was a bit too aggressive. And while there may be “mitigating” factors that should be no excuse. But to also elevate it beyond what it is unless it is not an isolated incident is not right either. Although I’m obviously not sure whether it warranted being on the nightly news or being circulated on social platforms, the initial response raises other serious questions that we aren’t answering as a society.
Abuse should not be tolerated. That’s a given. But is it wise that we have become so disconnected that we are now mere voyeurs to life especially when the vulnerable — whether they are little lambs or someone being beaten to a pulp — are under attack and the best answer we can come up with is shooting a video and uploading it instantaneously to Facebook or circulating it on social media instead of stepping up to the plate to intercede or at the very least alert those immediately that can get a handle on the situation?
Maybe the real lamb being led to the slaughter is the investment we all must be willing to make to have a civilized society.