Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Watching the hit and run

At the weekend in a narrow street in China a two-year-old girl was run over by a van. She lay bleeding and motionless in plain view in the road. The van driver drove away without pausing. A second van going in the opposite direction drove over the girl's already broken body. He, too, continued on his way. One after another 18 people walked by her. They carried on their way. The 19th person was a garbage collector. She moved the girl out of the way of the traffic and called the ambulance. The girl was still alive. She was rushed to hospital and operated on. The doctors could not save her.

This is not a Chinese phenomenon. Not so long ago in Boston a 78 year old man tried to cross a busy main road. His first name was Angel. He was hit head on by a car sending his body high in the air to land on the road where he lay bleeding. The driver did not stop. The scene was recorded by a nearby traffic surveillance camera on the highway. The old man's body was in the way of traffic. Nine cars slowed down and drove around him. They did not stop. A man on a scooter circled around the man before driving off. Some passers-by stepped off the pavement to get a better look. No one went to his aid or tried to stop the traffic. Quite by chance, a police car drove by, stopped and called the ambulance.

I recently read a long article by an academic arguing how peaceful the world is now compared to the distant past. The article presented statistics and graphs showing the decline in bloodshed. To be honest, I could not read the article. There was an obvious tone of self-congratulation, not for the author personally but for us as.. as... as what? As a civilisation? As people who are now so much more civilised than our forefathers back in the middle ages when a public execution was certain to gather a large crowd? How much more civilised are we if we can see people suffering and just stand and stare and do nothing?

I recall footage of a scene in the states after a passenger plane had just crashed into a river only metres from a highway bridge. The bridge was low. It was lined with a large crowd who had gathered. A helicopter was hovering overhead, dangling a line for a woman who was in the water. It was winter. The water was freezing. The woman tried to hold onto the line. She couldn't. It seemed clear that her arms were too injured and she was too overcome by the crash and the cold to hold on. She was going to drown. What was shocking was that it took an absolute age for one man on the bridge to run down to the river and dive in to save her. Only one man made the effort. Everyone else stood and watched.

And tonight we will turn on the news (if we can bear it any longer), and we will see more images of suffering and avoidable distress, and we will sit and watch and wonder if it might be a nice idea to have another slice of pizza before we go to bed.

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