The Impassive Bystander

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A woman sits alone on a gray chair in a psychiatric ward in a Brooklyn hospital. When we first see her, we do not know how long she has been sitting there. Suddenly, the woman collapses on her face onto the dirty floor.

We watch through a surveillance camera as she lies there, her blue gown above her knees, her legs convulsing. We watch as a guard comes into the room, puts his hand on his hip, looks at the woman, then looks up at the television hanging from the ceiling. Then the guard walks away.

We watch as two other patients sit across the room as the woman lies there. We watch them watch her.

The video, released recently on the Internet, documents the minutes the woman twists on the floor. She stops moving at 6:07 a.m. At 6:35 a.m. a hospital staff member comes in, nudges the patient with her foot. We hope the staffer will do something. But she walks away.

In the time that passes between action and indifference, between life and death, we wait before someone finally rolls in a blue gurney and oxygen tank, puts the woman on the gurney and rolls her away. Later we learn that Esmin Elizabeth Green, 49, an immigrant from Jamaica who moved to New York to make money to send to her children back home, is dead.

The camera goes black, leaving its viewers with the question: What might you have done?

* * *

Last month, the Hartford, Conn., police released a chilling video of a 78-year-old man trying to cross a street with a carton of milk. He steps off the curb just as two cars that appear to be racing swerve on the wrong side of the street. The first car swerves around the man. The second car hits him and throws him into the air like a doll, then speeds away.

What follows is even more chilling: People walk by. Nine vehicles pass him lying in the street. Some drivers slow down to look but drive away.

Again, we watch people watching him.

The man, Angel Arce Torres, lies in the street for more than a minute before a police car arrives. He remains in critical condition.

"This is a clear indication of what we have become when you see a man laying in the street, hit by a car, and people drive around him and walk by him," Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts will tell a news conference. "At the end of the day, we have to look at ourselves and understand that our moral values have now changed. We have no regard for each other."

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