Tonight, I am ashamed to look in the mirror. I am not the kind of person that I thought I was.
Everybody, I'm sure, likes to see themselves as the kind of person who will always to the right thing, no matter the cost. For me, doubly so.
But I learned otherwise tonight.
I was leaving one of my favourite downtown Toronto sushi places, where I'd met up with an old high school friend to catch up with one another. On the way out, there was obviously some serious shit going down between several people on the sidewalk along Bloor.
At first, it looked like a fight. This was past Spadina and Bloor, and clubgoers have been known to take it outside every now and again. One guy was yelling and swearing, while another guy was advancing, yelling back, and threatening an ass-kicking.
The first guy was around my age (early 20's) and kind of emo-ish. He was wearing wrist-slitter attire - skinny red jeans and all - but he was decently built, and it looked like he could handle your average fistfight.
The guy moving in on him was pure white trash. You know the type; wannabe gansta-rapper of a caveman, trying to prove something to his trogdolyte posse. Some shrill girl cut in with "Yo, kick his ass!"
And what did I do?
So as the guy in the skinny red jeans vascillates between hurling insults and backing away, the caveman keeps advancing, taunting the guy to "Yo, fight me like a man." It soon became clear that "fight me like a man" really meant "me and my two friends are going to wail on you."
This wasn't some deserted alleyway. This happened on Toronto's Bloor St West, on a strip of several popular Toronto clubs and pubs. This spectacle must have been happening in front of 20 people at least.
What did they do?
And what did I do?
Not a whole lot more. I dialed the police.
When the three guys caught up with skinny-jeans, they made good on their threats. They grabbed him, hit him, threw him down, and hit him some more. Meanwhile, I was heroically speaking on the phone with the dispatcher suggesting that someone get over here right away.
Just a primer on myself: I'm not the type to be afraid to get into a fight. I've covered the back of a friend or two when things have gotten rough. I'm in the Army Reserves. I'm in decent shape. I've got martial arts experience. I can handle a fight. So why was I standing there on the phone while someone else was getting pummeled?
For the same reason that everyone else just stood there and looked on. It wasn't their problem - it wasn't their friend - it wasn't their fight.
When they let up on him, the guy runs across the street to where I am, then continues to shout insults at the three guys. This is fucking ridiculous. Someone else's problem is coming my way, and quickly becoming mine. So I did what every single other person on that street did. I stepped aside, and watched as they came after the guy again.
When I yelled that the police were on their way, the cave-men seemed to keep their distance. Response time would be lightning-fast in this area, and they obviously didn't want the police to arrive to the scene of them kicking the crap out of some guy.
But the victim wasn't going to let things go that easily. He charges at his assailants, and gets beaten down again. Are you fucking kidding me? It was around this time that the police car came into view. The cave-dwellers and their woman run off along Bloor Street, while the emo guy sits against the door of a closed storefront and tried to collect himself. His friend is there making sure he's alright. The same friend that, like myself and everyone else in the crowd, never once came to his defense.
I crouch down in front of him to see if he is concussed. I can see that the police, pushing their way through the dense Bloor-street traffic, are still a good 45-60 seconds away. He can count my fingers, and he knows what day it is. His name is Caleb. Good. He's feeling dizzy, and a little nauseous. Not so good. It'll take a little while to know whether that's from concussion, adrenaline, or alcohol.
The police are completely useless. Even though the assailants couldn't be more than a block away, they do nothing to pursue them. Once they are sure that Caleb doesn't have concussion, they suggest that since he's not injured, and he doesn't want to go to the hospital, he should go home immediately. I offer him and his friend a ride.
Turns out, they were literally just walking down the street when one of the three guys decided that he didn't like the way Caleb looked, or didn't like the way he looked at them. All he heard was, "Yo! Wanna fucking fight," before getting hit in the face. He took a swing back, and connected with the lead caveman's face. Then the other two cave-dwellers jumped in. Somehow, they disengaged, and Caleb decided that it was wise to make use of the distance he'd managed to place between him and the posse by calling them white trash, and calling the girl their white trash whore. His friend, the entire time, was trying to shut him up. At that point, he was provoking further confrontation, and that was when I stepped out of the restaurant.
While it wasn't immediately clear who was attacking whom, it didn't take long to figure out. Yet the most I ever did was to pick up my phone.
There were over 20 people there, so why didn't a single person intervene?
In retrospect, the answer is simple: nobody helped because there were over 20 people there. Every single person in the crowd was sure that someone would do something, so no one did.
And I feel ashamed to be one of them.
Sure, I called the police. I gave the guy a ride home after. But I did nothing - nothing! - while he was getting his ass kicked. I alone wouldn't have changed the odds much by joining the fight, but by acting, I might have encouraged others to intervene. But when the time for action had come and gone, I was left with words, and a cell phone.
So now I'm forced to question what kind of person I really am. If you had asked me, "would you step in to help a guy who is being attacked," I would have certainly said yes. So would 9 out of 10 guys. So would you.
Yet out of over 20 people standing on Bloor Street watching this man get attacked, not a single one acted.
And it makes me sick.