Last night, it was reported that riders on a Philadelphia SEPTA commuter train looked on as a woman was raped by a stranger in a westbound passenger car. Not one person in the same car moved to help the victim when the attack began, and not one rider called 911. The assault came to the attention of the police when the train arrived at the next station. Authorities called a medical emergency team and took the woman to the hospital. Upper Darby Police Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt told reporters he was deeply disturbed by what he saw. “I am shocked. I have no words for it…It speaks to where we are in society; I mean, who would allow something like this to take place? It’s so troubling.”
Harrowing accounts are also being reported of different kinds of aggression, which Americans are directing at their fellow citizens. Stories abound regarding verbal abuse at school board meetings, assaults on flight attendants and targeted attacks on pedestrians, as bikers and people on scooters aim to run others off the sidewalk. (Several people have told me of their own multiple experiences of this.) This is not to mention the mass shootings that occur regularly across the country.
In some cases, this violence against others is a biproduct of the political splintering in this country. Too many commentators and political activists demonize their opponents, calling them “evil” or “traitors.” Stripping others of their humanity is one of the first, and most terrifying, steps towards a darker future. It starts with indifference, but often ends with bloodshed.
A friend of mine recently told me a story of a homeless woman she talked to who was asking for money. She was an older woman, without front teeth, and she was filthy from living on the streets. My friend asked her what she could do to help, aside from giving her something to eat. The homeless woman replied, “Don’t look away.”
If it seems sometimes that the nation is having a collective nervous breakdown, we may be, in some measure, responding to our fears. Fear is an emotion that each person needs to manage. Instead of letting it overcome us, we must show our support to those who are trying to serve our country and our communities during this difficult time. Reinforcing our communities is also within our individual powers. Communities are built and can only be sustained by looking, listening, and acting when the right thing must be done.
Wishing you the best,