See Something, Say Something?

See Something, Say Something?

On my way to Saint Mary’s Park at around 7 on Sunday morning, I had a troubling adventure.

As I walked down a block on my usual route to the park, I looked up and saw 6 or 7 men walking toward me. Two or three were on the sidewalk and the others were walking in the street. As I continued toward them, I realized that two more men were entering the street from the playground behind me on my left heading toward the other men.

The men paid me no attention. They were intently focused on each other — one group facing off against the other. A fight was in the making and I was smack in the middle.

Two of the men pulled off their wide leather belts and were curling the leather parts around their fists, leaving the big buckles hanging as weapons.

Caught in the Middle…

Again — just to reassure you — these men were not looking at me. In fact, they were so intent on doing damage to one another that I’m not sure they saw me at all as I walked right between them.

I might have looked away and scurried on, but the idea of people attacking one another with belt buckles and who knows what other weapons was horrifying. So instead, I said in a loud voice:


And then, as if by magic, the group melted into the park to my left from whence two of them had emerged.

I quickened my pace and walked to the corner, where a man I often greet in the mornings was lounging in his regular spot in front of the corner store. He lent me his cell phone and I called 911 to report the brewing battle.

I was about to go on my way, when my cell-phone acquaintance nodded his head in the direction of my usual path. “Don’t go that way”, he said. And there, one block up ahead was the group of men who had been about to fight, milling around on the street corner. They had given up on their fight and had circled around a couple of blocks.

I took a different route to the park and got there without incident.

Did I do the Right Thing?

I suspect that my presence stopped a violent altercation. They probably figured I’d call the police and they simply walked away, putting back on their belts, and putting off their fight — until later, perhaps.

Or, maybe having been up all night, they just got tired and went home to bed, secretly relieved that some old white lady had interrupted their fight.

Now, I’m certainly no hero. And I don’t know if saying something was smart or foolish. But that’s what I did and I’m here writing about it.

Should I have turned around when I saw the group and walked or run the other way? Should I have kept walking with my eyes averted, pretending nothing was awry?

Or was what I did the best response?

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Think About What You Would Have Done

It’s hard to know what you’d do in a difficult situation until you’re in it. But thinking through the alternatives might inform your in-the-minute decisions. What do you think you would do if you were caught in this sort of situation? What do you think you should do? Those two things may be quite different.

Share your ideas in the comments below. Or, head on over to Facebook and share your ideas there.

  • jswagner

    That was a great response! People underestimate how fragile and tentative situations can be that end up deadly; we can do things that night change everything for someone. In the case of violence, especially, we tend to think there’s this powerful river of emotion and intent that can’t be altered, but I had work once where it was clear that that depends tremendously!

    A switch can go off in people’s minds, and they see a different, preferential reality. It’s one of the ways we’re more powerful than we think.

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thanks for your response, Scott. Funny isn’t it that the things that seem so stuck and polarized can shift so quickly. They really are in a balance rather than in stone, so a bit of nudging can make a big difference!