Do the Right Thing

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The first scream could have been playful, but the second was unmistakably that of a woman in distress in the street below my apartment. A few seconds of silence, and then another. Loud and long, piercing the night air and the calm of our building.

Alone in my apartment, instantly I recalled the legendary New York incident where dozens of apartment dwellers apparently ignored the screams of a woman being murdered.

In the silence that followed, trepidation and guilt battled within me. I could remain safely in my apartment pretending I hadn't heard a thing, or investigate what could quite possibly be a nasty situation.

I may not be blessed with an excess of bravery, but a middle-class upbringing and a Quaker education have imbued within me a healthy dose of the oppressive western guilt complex.

Predictably guilt won. I put on my shoes and left the safety of my apartment. As I waited for the elevator the couple next door emerged. At least I wouldn't have to face the situation alone, but I could tell his enthusiasm matched my own. By the time we reached the street another resident, armed with a baseball bat and the fearless attitude of a man who has won a few knife fights, had joined us.


We turned the corner to find a woman assaulting a bus - the bus empty, except for the driver sheltering inside, the entry door closed, a window smashed. As we approached she turned her verbal abuse towards us. Clearly, she was in distress, maybe she was off her meds, maybe she was high, who knows, but she was no real physical threat to anyone, and no one was any threat to her. Other neighbors arrived. No one was gonna get hurt in this part of Oakland tonight.

The New York legend it turns out, is just that, a legend. It didn't happen that way. People did in fact attempt to aid the unfortunate Kitty Genovese, they just didn't get there in time.

We acted the same way in Oakland, we were just luckier.

With a Perspective, I'm Luke Pease.

Luke Pease has lived peacefully in Oakland for many years.