Reading about the Kitty Genevese case and the pro-social topics, specifically the effects of crowds, made me think of the Portland stabbing case. It appears to go in the face of all of the studies and psychological terms we have learned this week. While I understand the concepts discussed in the lectures and the book, I keep going back to this one case in Portland. While I am sure you are familiar with the tragic incident as it was covered so much in the news, I will summarize it briefly. There was a man on a light rail train who began to yell, intimidate, and harass two teenage girls on the train with anti-muslim rhetoric. It was at this point that three men intervened and tried to calm the man down and deescalate the situation. When they did this he stabbed them, in the neck, killing two with the third surviving against all odds.
To analyze this and understand why they stepped in I believe it would be best to break it down into the 5 helping steps. The first, noticing what was going on. The news articles said that the aggressor was yelling at the two girls and that they began to cry. Given this there was certainly a ruckus and it was probably difficult to miss. I know when I am on the subway I usually have my headphones in and am trying to get a mini-nap, but even half asleep I would notice people yelling in a closed space. I believe urban overload is more applicable in a street situation and I am less sure the same men would have noticed if they were walking by the exact same situation versus being trapped standing next to it.
The loud and dramatic nature of the confrontation also made it an apparent emergency. I think it would be difficult to see two young teenage girls crying and not interpret the situation as an emergency, but I am constantly surprised by the cases we go over in social psychology. If no one on the train is reacting they could have easily fallen victim to pluralistic ignorance and assume it is possibly a family dispute. That seems like a stretch but I am simply playing devils advocate.
The most difficult step in this process I believe is to assume responsiblity. If there is a crazy man yelling on the train, it takes someone with a lot of courage and empathy to step in. I have seen many screaming fights, sometimes even escalating to physical fights on the subway on New York City trains. Everyone in these situations usually just scoots a little farther away on the bench, but does not intervene. I think there were two major factors for why in this case the “good samaritans” assumed responsibility. The first and less weighty is coming from my own stereotypes of Portland. I have been there once and while there is certainly an issue with homeless people, who might be more likely to be belligerent, there seems to be less animosity in the air than in New York City. I know that is a very flimsy observation, but it does say something about the culture of the city if it is known more for Portlandia and vegan pop-ups than New York City which is in part known for subway fights. The second and I believe more credible reason why they assumed responsibility was because they were two teenage girls being harassed by an older larger man. If it was two crazy old men fighting with each other, I doubt the men who stepped in would have. This still does not address as to why these three stepped up instead of staying back and waiting for someone else to step in.
The next step of deciding how to act I think was less difficult to check off in this situation. While trying to talk him down in hindsight was not the best decision, as it lead to them being stabbed, immediately tackling the man would have added to the chaos of the situation. Given the information they had, I believe they did the best they could in trying to de-escalate the situation.
For the ultimate action of providing the help and acting on the responsibility they assumed in the situation, I like to imagine that social psychology actually helped. When I imagine this awful situation in my head I see the three men looking at this awful man yelling at these two young girls and at first just watching, but then turning to the people around them on the train for some type of reaction. As one of them looks around with a face saying “can you believe this is happening?” “Is anyone else seeing this?” he locks eyes with someone else with the same face. Since it was a group of them who stepped in, not just one, I do not think that this is such a far fetched theory. If any one of them looked around to see an apathetic train maybe they would not have stepped up, but since they saw someone thinking the same thing as them, they intervened together.
While having more witnesses to a crime might lower the chances of someone intervening, a witness on the precipice of intervention might need the approving nod of a fellow witness to take action together.