I’m sure by now nearly everyone has seen the photo of the man, Ke Suk Han, just before he is killed by an oncoming subway train.  I’m sure too, many have condemned the photographer for taking the photo instead of helping the man.  If you haven’t, I won’t post it here, but google “doomed subway” and you’ll find it.

I don’t really understand the mindset of a news photographer, but his job is to record, not intervene.  I believe the photographer took the photo instinctively.  It’s what he’s trained to do; to photograph news.  As disturbing as that is, think of many iconic photos, Pulitzer Prize winning photos that have been just as horrifying.  I’m not saying this photographer snapped a Pulitzer-worthy shot.  I’m not here to judge.  I’m just saying the photographer is there to record events.  That is what he did.  If you condemn the man, you condemn all news photographers for providing an accurate historic record.  That said, I don’t understand how any person can do that.

LA Times Morgue Photo

It happened during the LA Riots of 1992, camera men just kept recording the beating of Reginald Denny by an angry mob.  I’d never seen anything so brutal, when someone lifted a cinder block, I turned away, certain I just saw the last moments of a man’s life (he lived, but is very impaired by his injuries).  I can remember screaming at my television telling the cameraman to do something.   How could he just watch this?!  I wanted him to be a hero.  I wanted him to get into the faces of the men, show them that he was recording them, knock them over the head with his camera, anything to make them stop beating the poor man.  But he did nothing.  It was up to the police, who while slow in arriving are trained to handle such emergencies.  In the end, we have an historic record of peoples actions, and as in this case, can be used to identify the perpetrators of the beating and send them to prison.

My question isn’t why did R. Umar Abbasi take a photo instead of helping the man.  My question is where was everyone else?  It’s my understanding that subway platforms are swimming with people, yet there is no one near the man in the photo.  There is no one for probably 20 feet in one direction.  From the angle of the photo, it appears the photographer might have been the only one near enough to see what happened, but I’m betting money that he was not alone on the platform.  Why didn’t any0ne attempt to pull the man to safety?  I’ve only heard the photographer defend himself.  I haven’t heard anything from any other bystanders as to why no one else stepped up to aid the poor man.

I guess I’m saying, I think I would have acted differently. ( I’m probably not alone in thinking that.)  I think I would have tried to help Mr. Han.  All 5’2″ of me, trying to pull him up; most likely ending up in the pit with him.

In 1992 I wanted that cameraman to jump into a brawling mob of 5 large angry men.  I wanted him to act the way I think I would have.  There were hundreds of people around the Denny beating.  Though I watched only seconds, I don’t remember anyone stepping up to try and stop it.

We don’t want to see the ugly reality of life in our living rooms or shouted from the front page of newspapers.  At least I don’t, that’s why I do not actively watch TV News, I haven’t held a newspaper in ages.  I don’t want to see another Reginald Denny and watch people behave so like Neanderthals.  I don’t want to know much about that part of life.  Most of us don’t.  I feel helpless and that’s a terrible feeling.  I am just as unable to help Denny in 1992 as I am Ke Suk Han in 2012.  I believe we are all hoping that someone would have at least tried to help us had we been in that position.   We want a hero to step up.

There are very few heroes and the world is a dangerous place.  Live in the moment.

13 thoughts on “Empathy

  1. Before I go off on some bloviated rant … Deep breath, calm mind. 😉
    I’m not going to take the easy stance and point all the blame at the “Citizen Journalist” … I believe the wider argument to be made is that as a society, when our first reaction is to grab a camera/phone to take a picture, is more important than helping a fellow human? We are in a sad place in this world! We have a salacious appetite to feed our “social media” diet, take a moment to nurture yourself and others around you without having to tell the world about it …
    *End of rant*

    Be well this weekend and please take care!

  2. I hadn’t heard about this man ..and the subway…But yes….where was somebody to care about this man’s life…to try to help him I know that footage or pictures of this would probably sell newspapers etc. but I’m sorry I couldn’t think how one could want to take a picture of something so horrible…..Diane

  3. in the denny situation what happens is by being part of a large group with high emotions people start to behave differently. there is an actual psychological term for it. because they are not part of this angry mob they too become angry and feel it is annonymous. the annonymous part is important to this as it allows people to release their own built up anger in a crowd so they don’t feel seen.

    as for the man on subway, if there was anyone else there they may have thought about their own family and felt it was too dangerous or maybe we are so used to thinking someone else will take care of this that we don’t understand we are the someone else. how long would it take to understand what you are seeing and then try to decide if you should do anything and then actually do it?

    we like to think we would be the ones to jump in, as a trained trauma and air-evac nurse i have been taught to respond. once i was getting a soda at a corner store and saw an accident. there was an old truck turned on its side with an even older black male now on the bottom. a crowd began to gather and there were a lot of men. i thought they would do something so i waited a moment and realised they weren’t. not because they didn’t want to just because they needed direction. i climbed (all 5’2″) up on the truck and then hung part in part out of the truck. when instructing these men what to do they all pitched in and in the end helped pull him out of the truck. we were afraid to wait for an em team as we could smell fuel.
    i only mention he was black as we were in the south and i am not sure if that played in to it or not.

    1. I like to imagine myself taking charge, except I’m not a trauma nurse. I was a nurses aide for about a year. I feel if no one else is going to do something, I will. I could end up like the good Samaritans that got electrocuted trying to help someone after their car ran into a power pole. The would-be rescuers didn’t realize the electrical lines lay in the puddle between them and the driver.

      I believe there is a lot to people needing direction in order to help, but the man in the subway seemed pretty straightforward. Maybe if someone had called out for someone to do something things would have ended differently.

    1. I guess when you get down to it, every situation is different, as are people. Not everyone is cut out to be a hero. I’d still like to think I would have tried to help, but maybe I would’ve froze.

  4. The more we connect virtually/electronically the less connected to reality we become. It’s more instinctive to view things through a camera phone these days, even at a concert people will watch most of it through a phone whilst filming it, it’s odd to me.

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