Accounting for Nuts
Slavery used to teach Math in NYC Schools

What are our Ethical Responsibilities when Witnessing a Vicious Crime?

Violent Acts threaten our Civil Society

By now you have probably heard about the vicious beating of a 22-year old in Newark, NJ. He did not report it for fear that his three tormenters would come back for more.

Police arrested 22-year old Ahmad Holt, 23 year old Jamaar Gray and 31-year old Raheem Clark. All three are charged with aggravated assault, robbery and possession of a weapon . The belt was used to whip the victim.

After he took a belt from someone else, Holt proceeded to viciously whip the man for 90 seconds while ordering him to yell the phrase "Doggy Dawg" and to tell the camera that it is a "Doggy Dawg" world. DeMaio said "Doggy Dawg" is a street name used by Holt, and said all three suspects have known gang affiliations.

In much of the video, which is too graphic to embed in this blog, police say Holt is the man who was behind the vicious beating, wildly swinging away at the victim. Gray allegedly took the video. Investigators believe Clark supplied the belt that was used in what is described as a dispute over a measly $20.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker called this vicious beating a "human tragedy" and while Newark police made three arrests, the mayor said it was "unacceptable behavior." We do not tolerate this viciousness. We do not tolerate this kind of evil in our community," Booker said.

The evil that Booker refers to spilled out for all to witness in the beating of the young man stripped of his clothes and whipped with a belt. All of it was recorded and put out on the internet, leading to a call to Newark police, and now the arrest of these three men and the discovery of a reluctant victim.

The alleged cameraman, Jamar Gray, and another man named Raheem Clark have also been charged in the crime.

This incident reminds me of the recent NYC subway death where passengers on the subway platform watched while Ki-Suck Han was pushed off a subway platform by Naeem Davis. Mr. Han was hit by the train and died while observers did nothing other than snap a shot on their cellphones all the while Mr. Han sought a way off the tracks before the oncoming train did him in. Davis was arraigned on a second-degree murder charge and held without bail in the death of Mr. Han.

Do we have an ethical responsibility to help others in need when a life may be at stake? If someone is being attacked in the streets should we intervene to help? In a civilized society the answer is “yes” to both questions.

I attribute both of these incidents to the “bystander effect,” that reflects a moral blindness ingrained in our society. Moral blindness in this sense is the inability to see the moral dimensions of a problem. This is an issue whereby our judgment is clouded by failing to see we have responsibilities to others. The universal ethical principle is: How would I want others to act [toward me] in similar situations. We would want on-lookers to help us off the tracks especially when it would have been easy to do so. Mr. Han already had his hands on the platform. The train was still a bit from the station. There appeared to be no danger to others. The attacker had already fled.

Recently in our country we witnessed 20 elementary students at Sandy Hook Elementary randomly and violently gunned down in their classroom by Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old former student at the school. The Sandy Hook killings did surpass the mass murder on April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School outside Littleton, Colorado when two , 18-year-old senior students, Eric Harris and Dyle Klebold, massacred 12 students and one teacher and injured 21 others.

Then there was a lone gunman, 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts, going into an Oregon shopping mall and killing two, seriously wounding another, after getting off at least 60 rounds of ammunition. Finally, Seung-Hui Cho who killed 32 people and wounded 17 others on April 16, 2007 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

In virtually all of these cases the killer or killers took their own lives after the killings. In  other words they seem to have viewed the mass murders as a way to make a statement about how badly they had been treated whether it was losing a job, bullying, or some other perceived wrong-doing, and wanting to go out “with a bang.” It also appears in most, if not all cases, the killers were mentally disturbed. I don’t mean mentally disturbed because they committed such heinous crimes. That goes without saying. They were mentally disturbed with respect to having an anti-social personality disorder perhaps accompanied by depression and social anxiety.  One question is whether such mental problems could have been diagnosed in advance and treated early on.

One disturbing trend about these mass killings is they were done by teenagers and other young people who targeted children and students at our schools. Why is it occurring in our society with such frequency today? Have we gotten to the point as a nation where our goal in life is to video something that gets on You Tube? Have we become so desensitized to violence in our society that we see it as an extension of a video game, violent movie, or even realty TV? What does it mean for us as a “civilized” society down the road. How can we stop the alarming trend of gratuitous violence that has led us down the path of the killing of innocent children? These are questions I raise that need to be discussed in a national dialogue. What we need now are people of good will and leaders in the psychiatric community with the help of mental health experts to somehow begin a national dialogue supported by all aspects of society – civic leaders, business leaders, and the government – before it is too late.  

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage on February 22, 2013