An ethical dilemma. Advice please.

If one wanders through the streets of San Francisco (as I do … aimlessly … with some regularity) it is not uncommon to hear people shouting. It is difficult, most times, to be sure of what they are shouting about or at whom the vitriol is directed. Everything and everybody, in most cases, I think. The language, even by my own colourful standards can be very blue. The sorts of words that one might expect to hear from a sailor who has just dropped a brick on his big toe.

But it’s nice that people can feel sufficiently comfortable, I suppose, to express their feelings so openly in an open forum. Heavy drugs and mental health issues probably help.

But it was different the other day. There were two people shouting and they were shouting at each other. They were both on bicycles. They were stopped at a set of lights and there was a black guy shouting at a white woman whose bike was about 6 feet in front of his. She was facing away from him but turning her head such that she could hurl abuse at him with the added benefit of ugly facial expressions.

In terms of a verbal contest I would judge it as having been fairly even. The dude probably had the upper hand with regard to volume and arm waving, but that was balanced out by the superior vocabulary deployment of his opponent.

But then she turned her bike and rode back towards him so that she could get her face about 2 inches from his. She started to prod him with a finger. Then she grabbed him by the shirt. The dude pushed her back but she was clearly gaining ascendency. He looked frightened. Things seemed like they might escalate rapidly.

I don’t know who these people were. They might have been lovers – although they looked like an unlikely couple. I don’t even know what the argument was about (who ever does once an argument really gets going?) and I’m fairly sure that I didn’t care.

What was clear to me though was that, if this thing was to become violent, then the black dude was going to be outclassed. She had a definite weight advantage. She was some years younger than him. He was in for a beating. So should I have intervened?

My intervention skills are limited. Things have gone badly wrong before.

(On one memorable occasion Mrs Richmond had me stick my nose into a domestic dispute. Some lunatic was beating the crap out of his wife. There were punches and tears and ripped clothing and blood all over the place. I managed to hold him still for long enough such that she could make an escape. And then I was king-hit from behind. By the assailant’s mother – a woman of about 60 with a savage right hook. A week later the happy couple were back together, but I was still recovering from a mild concussion.)

Nevertheless, I am no stranger to physical confrontation. And it’s not like one more broken nose is going to make me any less good looking at this stage in life. But should I have intervened? Should I have stepped in to defend the underdog? Can you imagine how it might have looked? When a policeman walked around the corner as I was wrestling a young white woman to the ground as an older black guy looked on screaming obscenities?

By the time the decision process had gone through all its twists and turns I was upon them. They had both stepped off their bikes by now and she was pushing him backwards into a brick wall where, I assume, she would be better positioned to get a decent swing at him.

I did the only sensible thing.

“Good afternoon,” I said to them both.

And then I kept walking.

14 thoughts on “An ethical dilemma. Advice please.

  1. Wow, wild and overwhelming! Great narration of such an odd encounter!

    You can always call the police. That’s what I’ve been trained to do if witnessing a domestic altercation. In my neighborhood, they’ll show up really fast. In San Francisco, I have no idea, but I thought you were in Australia!

    If we’re postulating as to how to intervene in the moment, with the fear the cops might not show up on time… but hold up. You think it’d appear odd to be restraining the woman? I see what you mean, but cops have seen it all. If need be, yes, I’d restrain the woman. (If I had any upper body strength.)

    Gotta run! Very interesting.


    1. I am in Australia. Now. Next month I’ll be back in SanFrancisco. That’s life. I don’t think, to be honest, that the police would have been too interested – they have more important and less common things to worry about.

      And yes. I really did think about grabbing her and pulling her off him. But no. It might have spoiled my day.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I hear ya! Well, I think you handled it well and should be proud of your efforts! It’s horrid that they were acting that way!


  2. You did the right thing. Once things seem like it may get physical, my advice is for people to get help and not intervene. I’ll only step in if I know the people involved. Fights and arguments give me anxiety so I always keep it moving. I might have to add in a subtle greeting like you did next time, though! That was a nice touch.


  3. I usually interrupt with a distraction … “did you hear that siren” and then call more onlookers to try and shame them into civil behaviour !
    I have intervened in more DV than I’d care because I can’t stand violence. One bloke at Burwood station had his partner nearly naked on the ground with boots going in and 16, yes, sixteen railway staff and passengers – all men – watching from behind a rail. He nearly attacked me but eventually I got rid of him and then the onlookers sprang into action to cover her up and offer help … and she thanked them?!?!

    Another couple had broken bottles and going for each other. Fortunately they were so drunk their aim was too wide … and then there were the five policemen raping the 13yo … get the picture


    1. My little peacekeeping missions sound a bit tame and less well considered in comparison to yours. My prudent words of advise are generally more along the lines of, “Hey! Mate! Cut that out or get ready to call a dentist.”
      My successes have been, at best, sporadic. And I really don’t like it when people call my bluff.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I worked with abused kids and delinquents for so long you learn distraction generally works … but next time I would take off my backpack and be ready to run!


  4. How are you in California so often? Are you travelling for work?

    This is a topic rather near and dear to me. I get PASSIONATE discussing all this. I apologize in advance for a rant that is to follow.

    1. We live in a society in which people are more likely to record the altercation than help. It makes me rage. I hope to one day be able to slap that phone out of their hand if such a thing happens when I am the victim.

    2. I’ve been in a couple of public incidents like that myself. The other party is always an obnoxious, selfish, disrespectful human being that does not listen to reason. People look at you like you are contagious. No matter if you’re wrong or right. They just think you’re crazy for standing up to a lunatic. So they just watch and do nothing. I’ve had projectile weapons thrown at me. But our bodies never touched. I don’t want to know what would happen. I’ve also been told to “give it up” and let the other person be. Really? You’re going to encourage negative behavior and punish the good? Better stay out of it, then.

    3. Ah, the famous – you are trying to help yet become the victim thing. I’ve heard similar stories to yours. Absolutely ridiculous. I myself tried to intervene a couple of times, but was told to “stay out of it” or that it wasn’t my “business”. Yes, even by the perceived victim. Were they emotionally abused, too?

    4. I think your greeting was spot on. I would have done something similar if I saw a heated debate. However, if it was that close to becoming a fist fight, I think I would have stopped and asked: “Is everything alright?”. Maybe that would allow them to take a second and rethink the situation.

    5. No, I never call the cops on something “minor” like that. Those people will be gone by the time they arrive. I will have to wait for them to come to give report. They will think I was stupid for sticking my nose into something that wasn’t mine to deal with.


    1. I think if you are walking through downtown San Francisco you really have to accept a certain level of this sort of stuff. Very little of it, to be honest, goes beyond the verbal. Most people are just screaming at the world – something I’ve considered doing more than once myself.
      I don’t think this was a DV incident, really. I think two different yelling people came within each other’s personal yelling space. It may have been a dispute over territory. I certainly didn’t perceive them as a threat to me (or my yelling space)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. First of all, you did the right thing! And the safest thing!

    You actually did handle it in a suble way some people might behave when they see people noticing them.

    And honestly after reading your post experience, I’m glad you didn’t intervene.. can’t fly to visit you in a hospital or something..


    1. Ha ha! How kind of you to even consider visiting my hospitalised remains! I don’t think, in this particular instance, that I was in any real danger. And I’m still fairly quick in retreat over the first 30 yards or so ….


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