For the past several months and even years, DHS has made considerable effort to engage the public with its “See Something, Say Something” campaign. With successful partnerships with police forces, transportation networks, sports teams and now hotels, the campaign is doing everything it can to touch just about every community in America. Keeping your eyes and ears open for those looking to do harm is an exceptional way to involve the public in a fight that takes various forms and leaves no community untouched. We also know that efforts like this work. All you have to do is look at the actions of those in the May 2010 attempted Times Square bombing and other examples to realize many lives have been saved as a result.

People saw something and did something. Their actions made a difference. Looking away and doing nothing would have been catastrophic.

Those are some powerful lessons we can all recognize, but over the past few days, I’ve been emotionally wrestling with the fact that there are some other people who saw and heard some things and did nothing. The results of those actions were in some ways just as catastrophic to lives as an actual act of terror.

In the recent murder case of Jayna Murray, two Apple Store employees heard “screaming and yelling” through the walls that they shared with the Lululemon Store in Bethesda, MD. By listening up close to the wall, they were able to hear Jayna Murray fighting for her life against her attacker, Brittany Norwood. They testified in court that they heard Ms. Murray say, “Talk to me. Don’t do this. Talk to me. What’s going on?” and “God help me. Please help me.”

Jayna Murray was stabbed, punctured and bludgeoned 331 times. And the people right next door, who heard it happening, including her desperate pleas for help… did nothing. They just went back to work.

When asked by reporters after they testified in Norwood’s murder trial why they didn’t respond to Jayna’s pleas for help or even make an effort to call police, the two Apple employees said nothing.

And then there is the horrific case that has forever stained the reputation of the legendary and venerable Penn State football program. The 23-page indictment is more horrific than any horror writer could possible assemble. In truth, I could not finish reading it. I couldn’t stomach it without crying.

The alleged, systemic raping of several young boys by indicted former Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky from 1994-2009 truly ruins the Mt. Rushmore-esque legacy of Penn State’s legendary coach, Joe Paterno.

What we know is this – a graduate assistant witnessed Jerry Sandusky committing a sexual assault on a child in the Penn State locker room, reported it to Coach Paterno who told the Athletic Director about it, who subsequently did nothing to report or address the matter by any morally or legally justifiable means. All that appears to have been done is a warning was issued by the Athletic Director to the Coach Sandusky that he couldn’t bring the kids to Penn State’s gymnasium or athletic facilities.

Based upon the information we have to date, there appears to be no inquiry or effort by Coach Paterno, the Athletic Director or other Penn State officials as to the wellbeing or status of the alleged assault victim (a child) or whether there might be other potential victims. It appears they just went about practicing and playing football and saying nothing. I guess saying something distracts from national titles and bowl bids.

A few weeks ago I couldn’t help but feel that the human condition had hit some pretty low depths. That was a reasonable assumption after seeing the video footage of a Chinese toddler (Xiao Yueyue) that was struck by two cars and laid helpless and unconscious in the middle of the street as pedestrians walked by and other cars just kept going around her. Now I have these two more circumstances to measure my fellow man by. I can’t say I’m inspired. Rather, I’m heartbroken.

I’m trying to rectify in my own mind how those who are the most defenseless amongst us, that need a hand, that make a plea for help or are absolutely powerless to protect themselves from whatever form of threat is upon them, can be ignored. I’m aware of no moral, theological or legal measure where that is deemed even remotely acceptable. Yet, it became the acceptable practice on a busy Chinese street; at a Bethesda, MD shopping center; and, in a university football locker room.

I can offer no acceptable form of explanation to any of the grieving parents or victimized children in the situations I have described other than to say we’ve failed all of them as friends, neighbors and fellow human beings.

That’s an atrociously repugnant metric, but when you say nothing and ignore the opportunity to do something that could make the ultimate difference to a life, it’s a metric that’s more than earned – it’s deserved. It’s one that I hope none of you will ever be measured by.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More
  • Bruce C Monk

    Good article Rich.  There is no acceptable explanation for such behavior.  It is a symptom of the direction we have taken as a society.  Our government and industrial leaders have led us in a path that defines our “goodness” in comparison to others.  Many no longer measure themselves according to an absolute set of moral values. They do not act with forethought as to what they would want done, if the roles were reversed.  The sense of right or wrong comes down to illegal or not and, even if it is not, can I get away with it.  The meaning of ethical behavior, apart from illegal, is fast becoming lost.

    It has become very easy for people to excuse their behavior with thoughts such as, it is the reponsibility of the police, firemen, social workers,…  After alll isn’t this what I pay taxes for?  Individuals, churches, communities,… are lulled into inactivity with thoughts that it is someone elses responsibility!  I don’t need to take action because I am sure someone else will/has.

    Federal, state, and local government agencies cannot (nor should they) be everywhere all the time.  Personal accountability to our neighbors and society as a whole is lost.  It is terrible to think that a diverse society like ours has lost the common denominator that can bring us all togther.  You do not have to be a Bible believer to accept that the “golden rule” (not the version that says he who has gold rules) is the place to start in our behavior towards one another.  Unless the teaching and practice of moral behavior returns to our schools and society as a whole, we will grow further and further detached from responsibility toward each other.

    Teaching good morals has conveniently been equated to “religion” and shuffled off into the realm of a no-no.  It is not!  Even if you are an athiest, the fundamentals of how we shoiuld treat one another are well understood by most.  Judeo-Christian values are not constrained to these believers. 

  • Rich, Too often in today’s frantic search to be “fashionably non-judgemental” we give a pass to horrific events. Jim