So, uh, as I mentioned on Twitter right before I started teaching class today, I had a singularly unsettling experience in the Athens city parking garage that I feel the need to share with you.
The garage is kind of like most of its type; you spiral around up half-story floors full of spots. The bottom floor of our garage is 2 hour meters that see a lot of traffic, and then every other floor up from that is regular parking. I pulled in around noon for my office hours before I taught at 1pm, got out of my car, and went to the meter to put time on it.
Those meters face down onto the 2 hour meter spots, where I saw an Asian couple (I couldn’t readily identify their specific background) talking next to a car. The garage is very echo-y so I couldn’t really hear, but it seemed reasonably animated. A few other people were milling about, either getting into or out of cars.
Then he hauled off and punched her in the face.
Guys, I have to tell you, that was the most unnerving, distressing thing I’ve ever personally witnessed. What surprised me was that I didn’t yell, but I felt my whole body tense up (and I wanted to yell, trust me) and I sort of had this intense feeling of uncertainty and paralysis. Thankfully, there was a couple down there who reacted pretty much immediately; a young man who basically leapt on the attacker, gripping his arms and pinning him to the ground in what seemed like record time, and his compansion, a young woman who pulled the victim aside, reassured her, and got someone else nearby with a cell phone to call the police. All of which happened super, super fast, let me tell you.
Like an idiot, I stood there putting money in the meter, not sure of what I should do. The only access for me physically would have been to jump the half story down, or turn and run down the sort of nearby ramp. In the end I decided not to get involved when it was clear the 3-4 people on the scene had things, if not under control, then at least approaching it. I convinced myself that my meddling would only make things worse, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been feeling pangs of guilt about not getting involved pretty much all day.
After class I sat down with Jenny Nelson, a friend (and member of my dissertation committee) to tell her the story, and the ensuing discussion was quite interesting. She recounted a time when she saw (not heard, saw) a car literally flip upside down over her own car, on the highway, and her mental process as she pulled over and tried to decide what to do. The discussion from there went to real-life video shows of the sort you see all the time: Real Stories of the Highway Patrol and that nonsense.
I observed that when I see those, on a TV, my reaction is: “What [eff!]ing douchebag just sat there and didn’t say anything or run to help or whatever, and just kept on filming?!” Well today, ladies and gentlemen, I was that douchebag and so I have a small amount more sympathy for that position. Not a lot, but some.
What Jenny and I both expressed, though, was this bizarre feeling of paralysis that comes over you in these situations, combined with a very lasting sense of guilt if you don’t get involved and help, even when doing so might not be the best idea. There’s also the very real and disturbing ability of a CRT or LCD screen to distance us from the reality of these things. There’s no doubt this was more unsettling because I’ve seen its like in the mass media before, but never right in front of me.
And to be honest, since that SocImages post on the “Classy Asian dating site” and their totally creepy hard sell on submissive-yet-independent Asian women, I admit the ethnocultural angle was playing through my head, too. What struck me about the situation, in considerable hindsight, was that this sort of situation is practically a trope when it comes to “the ethnic episode” of police procedurals and hour-long dramas… something the writers often trot out in an exploitative way to comment on the treatment of women in foreign cultures (particularly Asian cultures and Islam). In the TV cases, the idea is that we don’t do that sort of thing in America and an American steps in to stop Evil Ethnic Patriarchy Guy from slugging/harming Meek Oppressed Ethnic Woman.
And then it happened, right in front of me. The just… unjustness and strangeness of it all is too bizarre.
But the end result is: a young woman was hurt, and probably has been hurt before, but hopefully in at least this one instance she is somewhere safe, and something is being done to help her. I doubt she’ll ever read this, but: I’m sorry that happened right in front of me and I don’t appear to have done much, and I’m glad there were people there who were able to come to your defense. I hope, wherever you are at the moment, things are improving.