What should straphangers do when witnessing violence? T&V readers weigh in

In our last issue, Town & Village asked readers for their thoughts on what sensible actions can be taken by straphangers who witness acts of violence. Our question came on the heels of police releasing portions of a video showing a man threatening a fellow straphanger with a knife after he tried to intervene when seeing the other man hit his toddler. (The suspect, seen on the E train in Greenwich Village, has since been arrested.)

Read on for reader responses:

Eric Juhola said, “I think the best thing we can do is take out our phones and film the situation. On the one hand, it might inspire the perpetrator to behave reminding him or her that they are being watched. On the other hand, you will be providing authorities with evidence that can be used to apprehend the perpetrator and used in court against the person.

“Stepping in and getting involved might be right for some people, but it’s also dangerous. You just don’t know if the perpetrator has a weapon and there are far too many stories of knife slashings on subways for no apparent reason. I will admit, there is also risk in filming as that can be seen as an act of aggression, but I think it’s better than doing nothing and most times we have to take a little risk outside our comfort zones to stand up and do what’s right.”

Another reader agreed, writing on Town & Village Blog, “Yes, this is dangerous. I have to relate a story I read some time ago about a man on a bus going to Philadelphia who called the police to report that a woman riding the same bus was beating her small child. When the bus pulled into one of the stations, the woman’s adult sons stepped on board and shot the man. The woman had called her son to complain that the man turned her in to the police. Taking digital video unobtrusively on a cell phone then getting out of the train or bus to report it over that phone is the most practical strategy. There is a NYS central child-abuse hotline, as well.

“When I’ve interfered by saying something to mothers I saw hitting (slapping the face with an open hand) a child and haranguing a child (loudly, and abusively), each one objected. The first shouted at me (she was at a distance), ‘It’s my child! It’s my child!’ She really had no idea it was not right to do. This was her upbringing, to be sure. She might have been open to counseling if ACS could get to her. The second woman, just last summer in Murray Hill, turned around and snapped at me, when I said that it wasn’t necessary to verbally abuse her daughter, who appeared to be around 7 years old, ‘It’s not your business!’ I came right back with, ‘Yes, it is, you are making it my business, as you’re yelling in my ears, and everyone else’s, in the street!’ She did not say anything further, but she stopped yelling.

“Abusive parents need intervention, but it won’t be acceptable to them from strangers in the moment, particularly those of cross cultures. They need to be referred to social services organizations by being reported.”

Kay Vota said, “That is a tricky one. Without backup, I would be afraid to get involved. Perhaps get off subway at next stop and look for police and make note of subway line and direction in which it is headed. If possible, surreptitiously take a picture with cell to point out person involved, but be very careful not to be seen doing it.”

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