Monthly Archives: December 2016

Don’t Expect People To Help When You Deny Them The Tools To Do It


UPDATE (12/14/16): The incident in question appears to have been a hoax and the woman who made the claim has been arrested. 

It’s a scene not unfamiliar to riders of the New York City Subway, or any other form of mass transit in metropolitan areas, a loud, obnoxious, and possible drunk passenger making a scene. Most of the time the simple and easiest reaction is just to turn up the volume on your headphones, ignore the jerk and hope they calm down and shut up. A few days ago things went a little further as three men reportedly harassed a young woman coming home a long day at college. The louts are said to have hurled insults at the woman for being a Muslim and even went a step further in physically touching her in an attempt to remove her hajib head covering.

While there has been a rash of reported anit-Muslim incidents recently, several have turned out to have been unfounded or hoaxes. At this point though, there seems to be no reason to doubt Yasmin Seweid account.

The young woman and her father are understandably upset about the reported incident.

“It made me really sad after when I thought about it,” she said. “People were looking at me and looking at what was happening and no one said a thing. They just looked away.”

Her father, Sayeed Seweid, 55, of New Hyde Park, L.I., said he was also angry that no one else stepped in to defend his daughter.

“Nobody even offered to help an 18-year-old girl,” he said. “That means something. Her phone was dying. You offer help — it doesn’t matter the race, religion, or the country.”

Mr. Sewid is right, there is no reason people should use race, religion, or perceived national origin to fail to help someone, especially a young woman facing three aggressive men, in such a circumstance. There are however other reasons people may fail to intervene in a case like this and they are not ones the majority of people living in liberal leaning large cities are likely to be willing to consider.

New York state and city have some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. It’s almost impossible for an average citizen living in the City of New York to legally own and carry a firearm. Now, I’m not arguing that the solution to a mostly verbal confrontation is to pull out a pistol to get the men to back down. That’s simply an overreaction that would not be warranted. But the reaction that would be warranted, standing up to the men and making clear they need to leave this woman, or anyone else, alone is not a risk-free endeavor.

Intervening invites 3 belligerent men to focus their aggressive attentions on the good Samaritan who is now outnumbered. Should the encounter escalate, how many of us have the self-defense skills necessary to ward off three attackers? What if one or more of them is armed with a weapon of their own?

Imagine being on that train and you are the sole financial provider for your family. Are you willing to risk injury or even possible death to defend this young woman from a mostly verbal attack? Some may feel such a sense of duty and that is to be commended but it’s not as clear as it may seem and the reluctance to become involved may well be more rationale than simply assuming Ms. Seweid’s fellow passengers were unwilling to aid her because they at some level passively held the same bigotry as her alleged attackers.

Opponents of Second Amendment rights argue against gun rights in very dangerous ways. The very notion of “good guys with guns” stopping crimes and protecting others, while well documented, is repeatedly mocked as a myth perpetuated by “the gun lobby”. The preferred method of dealing with an active threat is to “shelter in place”, even if group action might prevent others from being injured and killed. They claim there’s no need for individuals be armed for self-protection because they can always call the police. police officers almost are always among the first to run toward danger to save others, that’s not always the case on New York City’s subways.

However attractive those anti-self-defense ideas are to the purveyors of “gun-free zones”, none of those options were available to Ms. Seweid or her potential protectors on that late night subway ride. She could not run and hide and when seconds may have counted, the police were minutes away. Thanks to her city and state’s draconian and irrational gun regulations, she was possibly denied the assistance she clearly wanted and needed, from fellow passengers who were in no better shape to defend her or themselves than she was.

When laws demand that individuals be forbidden from possessing the tools to defend themselves and require that responsibility be entrusted to the state, no one should be surprised when those same people are uninterested in,or unwilling to, defend others.