Why Do Bystanders Sometimes Fail to Help When They See Someone in Danger?

Why Do Bystanders Sometimes Fail to Help When They See Someone in Danger?

In “Oceanside Stabbing: After a Brawl, Teenagers Gawked as a Boy Lay Dying,” Sarah Maslin Nir and Arielle Dollinger write about an episode that shocked officials in the Long Island community where it occurred:

A wild after-school brawl erupted on Monday outside a Long Island strip mall, and when it was over, a 16-year-old student was gravely wounded with a stab wound to his chest.

But most of the 50 or so teenagers in Oceanside, N.Y., who either took part in the fight or witnessed it made no attempt to defend him. In fact, some stood by recording the fight and his suffering on their cellphones, the police said.

The victim, Khaseen Morris, died at the hospital.

“Kids stood there and didn’t help Khaseen,” Detective Lt. Stephen Fitzpatrick of the Nassau County Police Department said in a news conference on Tuesday. “They videoed his death instead of helping him.”

The article continues:

The fatal fracas started at about 3:30 p.m. on Monday and was precipitated by a dispute over a girl, and whom she was dating, according to the detective.

The teenagers were all from around the neighborhood, he said, and had gathered at the strip mall on Brower Avenue, a popular hangout where the confrontation was supposed to occur. Khaseen was aware of the dispute, and that other boys were coming to the strip mall, Detective Lt. Fitzpatrick said.

Witnesses at the mall said a car drove up, then a group of boys emerged and rushed Khaseen and his friends. Video footage shows Khaseen collapsing to the ground, as teenagers around him film his fall but do not come to his aid, the police said.

The police arrived at about 4 p.m., after a 911 call. Khaseen was taken to a hospital in critical condition and died of his stabbing wounds overnight, according to information provided by the police. One other boy sustained a fractured arm, and others had minor injuries. The girl was not present at the fight, Detective Lt. Fitzpatrick said.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What is your reaction to the details in the article?

  • Unless you were there, you can’t know the full story. Yet based on what you read in the article, why do you think no one intervened in this case — either during the fight, or before the fight even took place (when at least some teenagers knew in advance that a confrontation was going to occur)?

  • Do you think bystanders have a responsibility to intervene when they witness wrongdoing? Are they at fault if they don’t intervene? Why?

  • Have you ever been a bystander when somebody has gotten hurt, either physically or verbally? What did you do? Why did you make that decision?

  • Did you ever know in advance that something bad or dangerous, like an after-school fight, was going to take place in the near future? What did you do with that knowledge? What responsibility do you think teenagers have to tell teachers or other responsible adults about possible dangerous situations that are likely to happen?

  • How do you know when you should get involved, offer to help or speak out — and when you shouldn’t?

  • There is a term in psychology called the “bystander effect,” which occurs “when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation.” People think to themselves, no one else is intervening, so why should I? In fact, the premise is that the more people there who are watching something bad happen, the less likely that anyone will intervene. Do you think the bystander effect helps to describe the crowd’s behavior during this tragic fight? Do you think there is a way to prevent the bystander effect from occurring during emergencies like this one?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.