There's a very disturbing and violent video on YouTube depicting an actual assault in a pizza parlor. Embedding is disabled, so I can't put it up on my blog, but you can view it here.
I'd like to ask readers to view it, then answer this question:
If you were a bystander in that shop, and this went down in front of you, what would you do?
I'll post my own answer later. I'll be interested to see your comments.
Having given everyone a chance to respond, here's my take on the matter. I'll do it in point form.
There's a culture among the criminal underclass in America (in which category I'd unquestionably place the 'lady' and her 'friend'). They demand to be treated with what they consider as 'respect' - even though they deserve nothing of the kind. The man on the cellphone 'disrespected' the woman by commenting about her, audibly. She reacted to that, and when he disrespected her further by turning his back on her, she called her friend to deal with the situation. The man on the cellphone further 'disrespected' him by ignoring his approach, trying to treat him as if he didn't matter, etc. From that point on, the result was inevitable.
Now, you and I may see clearly the fallacies in this approach: but the gutter trash in our society don't see things from our perspective. They insist on, demand, the 'respect' to which they believe (erroneously) that they're entitled. If they don't get it, things can turn nasty, very quickly. We need to take that into account in our interactions with them.
That doesn't mean we need to be afraid of them. Rather, it means that we should treat them with the same politeness and courtesy that we expect from others. 'Do unto others as we would have them do unto us'. The man on the cellphone didn't speak directly to the woman about her behavior: he commented (audibly) to the person he was talking to, then compounded his error by turning his back on the woman when she approached him. By doing that, he precipitated what would follow.
If you start something, you'd better be ready to take it all the way to its conclusion - and you may not foresee the conclusion! The man on the cellphone could have chosen to either ignore the woman's actions, or complain to the person behind the counter if she cut in front of him. By doing the latter, he would have passed the initiative for action to the 'authority figure' in the store. However, he chose to make a rude remark, then ignore the woman when she tried to approach him. That started the cycle that led to violence.
We need to be aware that there are many in our society whose instinctive response to what they consider 'disrespect', or anything that appears to demean them, is violence. This isn't a new development. Consider the reactions of 'gentlemen' in previous centuries, where a perceived slight might lead to pistols at dawn! This is simply the latest incarnation of 'macho' behavior to afflict our society. We need to remember that our actions and/or words may lead to such violence, whether we intended that response or not.
3. Communal support.
Many respondents commented on the lack of action by the onlookers. Friends, why are you surprised? There are far more sheep out there than shepherds or sheep-dogs. I'm sure that the reaction of the onlookers was a blend of fear of present pain, fear of future consequences (as in, "What will the cops do to me if I get into a fight?" or "What will this guy's gang-banger buddies do to me if I help his victim?"), and the 'herd' reaction of 'it's not my problem'.
We need to take this into account. If we ourselves intervene in such a situation, the odds are very good that we won't receive much (if any) assistance from those around us. They don't have the mentality that is prepared to act in our own defense, or the defense of innocent life.
4. Level of response.
A number of respondents mentioned the use of a firearm to stop the attacker. People, you're treading on very, very thin ice, legally speaking! The use of force in any encounter is usually required to be proportional to the opposing force. If there's disparity of force (e.g. the attacker is much bigger/stronger/faster than you, or you're disabled, or something like that) that's a different story: but in this situation, where no attack has been directed at you, and the victim isn't a member of your immediate family, you stand a good chance of getting into serious legal trouble if you draw a firearm and intervene (even if you don't fire a shot). There are some jurisdictions (such as my own) where your conduct will likely earn you a pat on the back from the police, and you'll have no further trouble. However, do the same thing in Chicago, or New York, or New Orleans, or dozens of other jurisdictions, and you're likely to be facing charges yourself.
This is something we have to take into account. I agree, my instinct would be to intervene: and in my own jurisdiction, I'd do so in a heartbeat, because I know I'd be given judicial support. However, outside my jurisdiction, I might be in a world of hurt if I did so.
5. Use of deadly force.
If you pull a gun and try to stop the attacker, consider this. You've injected a weapon of lethal force into a situation where previously no such weapon existed. (Oh, sure, I understand that a trained fighter can legitimately call his fists 'weapons of lethal force' - but you have no prior knowledge that the attacker is such a person! In law, you don't have a leg to stand on.) If you tell him to stop, and he doesn't, what are you going to do? Shoot an unarmed man? What if he turns on you and moves towards you, and you shoot him? If he survives, he can (and if he doesn't, his girlfriend and/or his family can) claim that he was trying to defend himself against the unwarranted, illegal and unjustifiable threat of lethal force. How will you respond?
To sum up, I'd have to say that in this situation, there are no easy answers and no easy solutions. The lessons to be learned are fairly simple.
- Don't behave in such a way as to draw retaliation from others, whether justified or not.
- Don't behave in such a way that the criminal underclass might interpret it as 'disrespect' - because they only know one way to respond.
- Keep out of places where such incidents are likely to happen. They may occur anyway, but you'll have a lot less of them to deal with if you stay in more salubrious environs.
- Don't be too willing to intervene unless there's a direct, immediate and otherwise unavoidable threat to your own safety or that of your loved ones. If you try to play the hero, you'll likely end up in a whole lot more trouble than would otherwise be the case.
- If you decide to play the hero anyway, understand very clearly the implications of your actions, and be prepared to take the consequences. They may not be pretty.
- Remember that you'll likely be on your own. The odds of others backing you up are relatively small. You'd better be strong enough to cope on your own - or else!
I'll close with something said to a class by Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch, one of the great teachers of armed self-defense. Speaking to us about the reality of using a gun for defensive purposes, he pointed out that even if we fired in full compliance with the law, and our actions were fully justified, and the prosecuting authorities agreed - we'd still spend the price of a new Chevy Surburban that we'd never drive. That's what lawyers, lawsuits from the person we'd shot and/or his/her survivors, and their lawyers' fees, and so on, would cost us.
It might be worth considering that fact before deciding to take action. I'm not saying that I wouldn't act under the circumstances: but it's something I'd better have thought through ahead of time, and counted the cost, and decided that the cost was both worth paying, and within my means. Furthermore, what I could do in my present location is not what I could necessarily do in any other location - so I'd better keep that firmly in mind when I travel!
Food for thought, no?