Friday, November 30, 2007

What would you do...

I just finished reading this story. Angela Leet was making a purchase at a gas station and passed a note to the clerk when she signed the receipt that said "If I need help, be a witness." Eight minutes later she was brutally murdered by her husband, who shot her in the driveway of their home.

Now, the clerk said that sie could tell that something was wrong, and asked her if she need help. Leet seems to have indicated that something was wrong, and showed the clerk her black eye, but signed the receipt and got back in the car and drove away.

I'm not sure what the clerk did after that.

I hope that the clerk called the police, but the article doesn't mention that. If I were still working retail and a customer did those things, I think I'd do my best to try to stall them in the store, while I called 911. She was clearly in some kind of trouble, and, from the clerk's description, afraid of getting back in the car. At the very least, I'd think you'd call 911 and say "Hey, this woman was just in here, and I think she's being assaulted or kidnapped, here's the note she left on the receipt."

I assume that most of us have never been in a situation quite like this, but what about you? Have you ever stepped in to prevent some kind of spousal/partner abuse? Have you ever called the police when you suspected something violent was happening? Have you ever failed to intervene and wished you had?

There was a situation in a building I lived in where a woman and her boyfriend were living together, and had a really messy breakup. The entire time I lived there, they fought constantly. Most of the time it was just annoying and loud and I wished they'd shut up or break up, but after they broke up, he came into the building and was pounding on her door and they were fighting. They eventually got back together, and, as far as I know, he never assaulted her, but, to this day, I feel guilty for not calling the police.

He didn't belong there, and he was pounding on her door and making a scene. I should have called, and I didn't. I can only imagine how I'd feel if he had done something. At the time, I was terrified that if I did something, it would come back to me, and he'd retaliate. I was afraid to go into the hallway and make sure everything was okay, because he was there, and he was bigger than me. I was afraid to call the police because... well... I'm not exactly sure why. I guess part of it was that I was afraid I'd call the police and he'd already be gone, or he'd know it was me that called or they'd say that nothing was wrong, and the police would be upset with me.

All of which I realize are ridiculous.

Anyway, if I had it to do over again, I'd call the police. Whatever weird hangups I'm having are nothing compared to the actual threat to someone, and the risk that that person could be physically harmed. My weird emotional/mental hangups about calling the police aren't worth risking another person's safety over. I'm glad nothing happened in that case, but my lack of action and the potential for much worse outcomes still bothers me and disappoints me to this day. And stories like this just reinforce to me how important taking action is.


baby221 said...

I've only ever called for help on behalf of someone else's "not quite right" situation twice.

The first time was at work, when this totally skeezy creepy lookin' dude started moseying around watching the kids playing in the play area. He appeared to be alone, no one came in with him, and he was freaking out a number of mothers, not to mention my fellow female employees. I called my boss, who called her husband, who came down to the store -- at which point we both discovered that his girlfriend and her daughter were in the dance class we offered. I'm still convinced I did the right thing (in fact, I'm totally not convinced that just because he's the boyfriend means it's all okay, but you can't jail someone for being creepy), but I got my ass chewed out by my boss's husband for calling him to the store "unnecessarily." Thanks buddy.

The second time was just this weekend, when we were driving home from LA and noticed a massive accident sprawled across the highway. There were at least four cars, but we couldn't see any people, and there wasn't a way for us to turn around for another twenty minutes. I called 911, who had apparently not yet been notified of any collision on that part of the highway, but I still don't know how that turned out. I hope the emergency crews got there in time ... I don't like to think about the minutes we wasted debating whether to call, and the time we could've spent helping if we'd just pulled over when we saw them instead of continuing to drive.

Sovawanea said...

I'm not sure I would have necessarily called 911 if I was the clerk in that situation. I probably would have told her I would help her get help and she could come in anytime if she decided she wanted to get away from her situation. And if she declined help right then and there, I would have tried to get plates and probably called the non-emergency number for the number of the police and made a report, including her full name if she paid with a credit card or check.

I have called the non-emergency line a few times in other situations- seeing kids playing chicken with cars in the street, seeing a parent slap a toddler in the face. I have it programmed into my phone and unless I see a fire or someone being attacked or there's been a terrible injury, I probably would not call 911. A few years ago in an apartment complex I lived in, a neighbor was choked by her partner. The noise was loud enough that it woke me up. I threw on the closest pair of pants and shoes, grabbed my phone and ran outside...where 3 other neighbors had done the exact same thing. One of them called the police, I offered to call anyone else the girl wanted to talk to, but she declined.

I think it can be hard sometimes to judge in a situation when it's a true emergency and how much you can help without risking your own personal safety.