Thursday, February 25, 2010

A witness to violence

About ten years ago, when I lived in London, I witnessed the most appalling street fight. A bus knocked a car door off on Essex Road in Islington, a bloke in a suit getting off the bus then clashed with a gang of teenagers, trying to get on the bus. One of them punched him and bust his nose. Stood on the pavement, his nose bleeding the gang stood laughing as the ringleader goaded him and told him to "This is Islington." He then swung a punch that took the yob clean off his feet and charged at him, as the rest of them stood back, he managed to get the stunned scrote in a headlock. But for the intervention of the general public one of the mob was about to bring a large metal gas bottle down on his head. I felt sick. When the police arrived and the lout who started it (who was still in a headlock), burst into tears and accused the chap in the suit of attacking him for no reason. "Oh, no he didn't," came the reply from us all. But the mood amongst everyone on the pavement was thick with fear and suspicion. People appeared from the nearby estate and it wasn't clear who was friend or foe. The man who stood up to the louts was so shaken he was looking at everyone asking us to help him. I sidled up to him and gave him my name and number and said I'd be a witness but I was absolutely bricking it. I felt terrible that I didn't have the courage to do more, but relieved I didn't get a gas canister over the head or worse. But he never called. He probably just put it down to another bad night in inner London. The police were angry no-one stepped forward boldly to explain what happened. Then frustrated, they just wanted everyone to move away and took the mouthy kid into custody.

Today, something similar happened. The same fear of intervention. The same intimidation by the assailant, the same uncertainty over the police reaction. Instead it was just me watching a man spit in the face of woman while they both held a push chair containing a small child. She then punched him in the face, so he spat again, then stared at me as I shook my head disapproving. Again, I didn't intervene, but I called 999 immediately. The police were quick and someone else had also called them. An arrest has been made. They also followed it up and sent an officer over to take a statement from me. I feel I've done the right thing, but still feel wretched I didn't step in right away. I told the police officer this and he was very reassuring that I'd done exactly the correct thing, adding some details about the circumstances that made me even more certain.

So. I still feel shaken up, but it's not about me. And I'm feeling much better than all the people involved in a particularly nasty episode.


Voices From The Below said...

I completely understand the feeling of futility but you did intervene by calling the police - many wouldn't. I've had close experience of someone intervening in a violent situation and being extremely badly hurt. Trust me, your familly will thank you for weighing up the balance and going with your safest instinct.

David Hepworth said...

I walk up Upper Street every day and have learned to avoid the more feral youth. Every few weeks I catch some incident developing in the corner of my eye. Only a couple of days ago I was nearly knocked over by three lads running giggling out of a supermarket holding cans of drink that they'd obviously just stolen and then getting on their bikes to make their getaway. Nobody came out from the store after them. It can't have seemed worth it. It's only when they're challenged that they're any trouble at all. They're not challenged very often. At some point life must deal out a terrible reckoning for those who've grown up getting their own way so easily.