Are You a Hero or Just Part of the Herd?

Nietzsche and Kierkegaard described herd mentality as people acting at the same time in the same way with no thought of consequences or a sense of responsibility for their actions.
01/15/2011 01:43pm ET | Updated November 17, 2011

Last Sunday at 7 PM, Allen Haywood was standing in front of a column reading a book at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington, DC waiting for his train like he has done every week for 25 years when a group of ten to 12 teens came up behind him and began beating on him. Some of the teens hit with their fists in rapid succession while others of the group looked on and recorded it on their cell phones. The incident lasted less than five minutes, according to Mr. Haywood. Mr. Haywood was bruised and cut. There are a few significant and disturbing observations to be made.

One such observation is that these teens were out on a Sunday night, at a Metro station at 7 p.m., and clearly their parents or guardians had no idea what they were doing or where they were. Teenagers who are out on a Sunday night and have premeditated ill intentions and no external or internal limits spell trouble. A detective from the Metro Transit Police said, "We have the most trouble with this age group at our Metro stations and you never really know who you're dealing with."

Mr. Haywood pleaded and yelled at them to "Stop! Leave me alone! I did nothing to you." Mr. Haywood's pleading to the group fell on deaf ears and they continued to go after him and repeatedly beat him. One teen retorted, "Nobody cares about you!" These teens were clearly swept up in a herd mentality. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard described herd mentality as people acting at the same time in the same way with no thought of consequences or a sense of responsibility for their actions. The people in the herd feel an obligation to each other because of their individual sense of inadequacy and insecurity to stand on their own. The herd gives their lives meaning. There is no room for individual thought or a sense of humanity towards a victim that the group chooses to attack. This group didn't feel empathy, compassion or guilt about their behavior towards Mr. Haywood because in a herd mentality the group gets invigorated by seeing others suffer who are "different" from them and their own personal norm or experience. No matter how Mr. Haywood pleaded he was still thought of by the group as "bad and the enemy." Nothing was stolen; they just wanted to steal Mr. Haywood's dignity and to feel "something" by inflicting pain on him. Are these teenagers sociopaths in the making? Sadly for all of us, they did have remorseless pleasure seeking through the pain and suffering of the victim. But this isn't the only disturbing part of Mr. Haywood's story.

Mr. Haywood said, "The platform was full of people coming and going and some even recording the attack. But not one person helped. Not one person yelled anything to the attackers, called 911, walked to the Metro kiosk less than 100 feet away to get the Metro staff and police to stop this and no one went to the Call Box to call for help that was close by." Mr. Haywood was all alone, but in public. Bystanders just walked away or watched him get pummeled. To add salt to Mr. Haywood's wounds, many people came up to Mr. Haywood after the attack and told him they'd be glad to sell him their recordings but when the Metro Transit police tried to find witnesses to identify the attackers, no one came forward. Schadenfreude is the delight derived by the misfortunes of others. Is this what our society has become? Are we so numb from the constant exposure to violence in our society and the media that we don't act when others are being victimized and attacked? Emerson said it best, "There can be no high civility without a deep morality."

If this happened to a 47-year-old, 6-feet-tall, 180-pound man, who else is vulnerable to these vicious, attacks? Unfortunately... anyone. Mr. Haywood wasn't really looking for someone to be a super hero and rescue him; he just wanted someone to show him some simple acts of compassion and kindness by doing something as basic as calling 911, yelling at the attackers or going to a Call Box to let the authorities know what was going on.

Ron Holzer of Public Relations for the Metro Transit Police gave these words of advice:
  • Always Be Cautious and Aware of your Surroundings
  • Follow your Instincts if something doesn't Feel Right Move or Leave the Area
  • Try not to Stand Anywhere Alone; Surround Yourself with People
  • Travel with Friends or Colleagues
  • Ride in Cars with People; Try not to be on a Car by yourself
  • Take a Self-defense class
And if Attacked Mr. Holzer Advised:
  • Run and Get Away as Fast as Possible
  • Cry, Scream, Yell for Help as loudly and as often as possible
  • Defend yourself but do not retaliate. You never know what the attackers are carrying with them. In this type of attack, victims are taken by surprise, shocked and most do not know effective self-defense techniques. Retaliation can make a violent situation a tragic one.
  • Report the attack as soon as possible and have witnesses report it also

Mr. Haywood has been very courageous in getting the word out about this attack because he wants to prevent it from happening to anyone else. He wants the public to be alert and aware that if this happened to him it can happen to anyone. The hope is through articles like this that witnesses will come forward and identify the perpetrators of this crime. The Metro Transit Police are hoping someone will be a "Hero" and step forward and call (202) 962-2121.

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