I just came home to my loft, suite-style building across from DePaul's campus, located on busy Fullerton Street, and was confronted by the scene desribed in the headline.
Sure, 1 a.m. near a college campus there are bound to be drunk people fighting. But, what do you do when you think it might be serious?
As my friend and I neared the guy and girl, I heard her yell "Why would you do this to me?" and grab his shirt and push him.
He tried to pull away and said "I'm calling the police. I'm going to call the police."
She seemed drunk and he seemed sober.
What do you do?
I keep repeating that because I honestly don't know.
Maybe they were a couple and had just had a trivial fight. Maybe she was taking things way out of line. Maybe he was going to call the cops and it would all be fine. But how do I know?
As we walked by, I turned and said to them "Are you guys alright? Do you need help?"
The guy responded with something along the lines of "She's drunk. She won't let go of me…We're okay."
I can't remember what he said, but it sounded like he was dismissing me.
So I left.
When I entered my lobby, next door, I told the security guards that a guy and girl were yelling at each other on the sidewalk, in front of the restaurant next door.
The security guard's response?
"If it's past the black pillar, it's not our problem."
By this, he meant the square of sidewalk directly in front of the lobby, cordoned off by two pillars supporting the awning. Never mind that my suite is above the restaurant, my building management doesn't consider that their responsibility.
I was taken aback, but can also understand why he wouldn't want to break that up. So I asked "What should I do then?"
And he said something along the lines of "It's not our job."
What do you do?
So I looked at him with disappointment and went upstairs with my friend.
As soon as I got to my room I realized that I could still hear them yelling downstairs, since I live directly above where they were standing.
I called my mom and asked her for advice.
She said I should call the police if it keeps going on and if I'm worried.
This scared me though. Involving the police makes it serious. I've never called the police before so I wouldn't know: Will they ask for my name? Will they dismiss my call because I don't know enough about the situation? Let's say I call them and the guy and girl have already left?
These questions, plus the idea that I could get these people in trouble for being drunk on the street, when really all they were doing was having an argument, stopped me from calling.
I've had similar experiences with friends on Brandeis' campus, especially with the debate over whether or not to call BemCo (Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps) for a drunk friend. Will my friend be grateful I called for help, or will she hate me the next morning when she finds the ambulance and hospital room bills, along with a confession she has to make to her parents? If someone says they don't need help, who am I to think I know what's best for her?
So, I waited it out, and after about 10 minutes, I stopped hearing yelling. From my window I couldn't see if they'd left or not, but I could see other people walking by, so I assured myself that if it really had escalated, someone would have intervened. (Bystander effect)
I fell back on old stereotypes, like: If the guy were the one doing the pushing, I would step in, but what harm could she really do to him?
Another odd habit that's been hard to break is not to refer to them as a couple. Throughout this post I kept finding myself writing "the couple seemed…" But the truth is, just because a guy and a girl are together does not make them a couple.
The real danger lies in assuming that because they were a couple, they were at less risk (from each other). Couples fight like that, so I don't need to intervene. That's just their relationship. It's their business.
Phrases like these are what allow domestic violence to take place. And no, domestic violence doesn't just take place in married couples, in homes, in private. It can happen right in front of your eyes. Because as long as you don't do anything to stop it, the abuser knows s/he has the power, and s/he can keep doing it.
What I wanted to tell the security guard was "If that girl gets raped tonight, YOU are the one who is responsible."
Not that the situation would necessarily lead there. In fact, SHE looked like the aggressor in the situation. But saying THAT might have made him do something about it. And that's all I wanted.
And, really, all of us are responsible. Not just him. Me too. And the other people that walked by and didn't say anything.
I know there are people out there who will read this and say I'm overreacting to just a little fight. And maybe that's all it was: an argument. But the fact of the matter is we don't know.
And if something about that situation bothered me enough to:
- Ask if they were okay
- Tell the security guard
- Call my mom
then I think that I should have stepped up. And pursued it. And have a right not to be told that my concerns are over-blown, or none of my business.
I will have to accept that I didn't intervene. And I'll hope for the best. But maybe next time I'll do more than just hope. And I wonder, what would you do?
Now for a wonderful video from Breakthrough's "bell bajao (ring the bell)" campaign galvanizing people to stand up against domestic violence.