Jeremy Vine tells a story about watching someone get beaten up on a tube train:
I chose to sit there and watch. And I’ve replayed it many many times. I’m very unhappy that I did that, and I now have sort of resolved that if I see a similar kind of situation where I see someone being attacked like that, I will intervene with unmitigated ferocity.
A few months ago I experience a “lite” version of the incident Vine described. Two young whippersnappers were refusing to pay for their journey, or get off the train, causing a rather loud argument with the ticket inspector. It was initially just a verbal affair, until the guard threatened to call the police. They made a quick exit, and shoved him as they disembarked (the cowards). I never thought about getting involved physically, or indeed joining the argument, but I do remember being irritated that my mobile phone had run out of batteries. Rather than resolving to respond with “unmitigated ferocity”, I instead resolved to be quick to film any further incidents I might happen upon.
In late June, Edinburgh’s Pilrig Park hosted the Pride Scotia event. Marquees were erected on the field a few days before. Walking through the park one evening, I spotted a group of hooligans in a pitched battle with some security guards. Remembering my earlier vow, I whipped out my Nokia and began filming the incident for the police and posterity. We can’t be having that sort of homophobia in Edinburgh, not on my patch, no way.
The responses of the young tear-aways was varied and noteworthy. Some of them immediately realised the implications of being caught doing naughtiness on low-resolution video. They covered their faces and made a prompt exit, as illustrated below:
Ah, digital technology! The citizen’s non-intrusive weapon against Anti-Social Behaviour…
Meanwhile, one fool became rather irritated with my brazen filming. His anger became directed at me, throwing a bottle and a punch in my direction (as illustrated below).
The fact that he stayed behind to throw stuff at me proved his undoing of course, because the police arrived shortly after.
“They’re making it all up!” said the kid, when asked to account for the multiple assaults of which he stood accused.
“Well, we do actually have you on film, assaulting people…” replied the officer. The accused kept quiet after that.
Meanwhile, I was getting an earful from my girlfriend, who had not appreciated me provoking the scallywag to further violence with my rampant phone-filming. I could have been seriously hurt. She also accused me of only capturing the footage only so that I could put it into some kind of blog post afterwards. I assured her that this was not my intention, and that I could hardly stand by while bullies made threats. She pointed out that I had, effectively, filmed my own Happy-Slapping, and there was nothing brave or noble about that.
At the time, I was perfectly sure of my actions, but now the correct course is much less clear. I think the problem lies in the act of making a ‘resolution’ to act, in advance of an incident actually occurring. I pulled out my camera-phone without thinking, and my proximity to the action made things worse. Perhaps I should have found a safe vantage point, and got ready to run away if someone approached me. Jeremy Vine resolves to respond with “unmitigated ferocity”, but that might not be the most appropriate action during the next tube-based assault he witnesses. He may end up making a fight worse, and end up beign assaulted himself. Worse, he may end up doing so much damage to the assailant, that he himself becomes culpable, and others have to intervene to stop him.
Each call to violence should be judged on its own merits, at the time. No two conflicts are alike, and intervention in one instance should not endorse similar actions at some other time. If you resolve in advance to go to war, or to get into a fight on a train, then the best outcome is unlikely to emerge.