By: Dan Proft
What would you have done early on that February morning had you come upon an unconscious Marques Gaines lying facedown on State Street at a busy Chicago intersection?
Would you have come to Gaines’ aid? Be honest.
Research suggests that only 1 in 55 of us would have.
No one assisted the 32-year-old man after he was punched unconscious and left prone on the street. Surveillance video released in mid-April showed more than a dozen people nearby failing to come to his aid. At least one person, reportedly an employee of the 7-Eleven on the corner, called 911. But no one outside even bothered to shield Gaines from traffic, though two predators swooped in to pick the injured man’s pockets. Eventually Gaines was accidentally run over by a taxi, and he died after finally being taken to a hospital.
Cornell University sociologists recently released a study that found only 1 in 39 Americans would respond to assist their fellow man in a health emergency. But add race as a factor (Gaines was black) and the research is even more alarming. The likely response rate to help a black person with a health emergency was 1 in 55, compared with 1 in 24 for a white person in dire straits.
Much has been written about the so-called “bystander effect” in the wake of the release of the video detailing Gaines’ unnecessary death.
We rationalize our own behavior. We want to absolve ourselves and blame the proprietor of the 7-Eleven.
We are good people, we think to ourselves. If not for some group psychosis, of course we would render aid to a man in need.
In our therapeutic culture, there is always a ready-made psychological explanation for man’s inhumanity to man so any consideration of our moral depredation may be avoided.
The two scavengers who scurried to rob Gaines while he was out cold are not vile, we tell ourselves. They are victims of economic injustice that pushed them into a life of picking at the bones of their brethren. We must not assign opprobrium, we must enact a $15 minimum wage.
And the post-moral rationalizations similarly abound for those who blithely meandered past Gaines finding nothing out of the ordinary with a young man lying facedown in the middle of State Street.
I could get attacked, too, we think. I don’t want to expose myself to any legal liability by helping.
I am not a medical professional. I didn’t want to do more harm than good, we assert, ignoring that it doesn’t take a medical professional to call 911 or to stand by until first responders arrive, or to enlist others to rally assistance.
I pay taxes so that other people will respond to such situations. I gave at the office. The list goes on.
In America today, we are much more content to be our brother’s sugar daddy than we are his keeper.
Gaines was punched. He was robbed. He was run over. There were three opportunities to prevent his death and many onlookers present to seize them.
This is not a new phenomenon. Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in New York in 1964 while residents who heard her cries for help did nothing. They didn’t want to get involved either.
In our atomized society, we are encouraged to live autonomous lives in which the only responsibility we owe anyone is to live “my truth.”
Your truth says you help someone in distress, my truth says I don’t.
When we conclude those views are morally equivalent, social mores disappear, the bonds that hold civil society together fray, good Samaritans vanish and Marques Gaines is roadkill.
Dan Proft is a co-founder of the Illinois Opportunity Project and morning drive talk show host on WIND-AM 560.