<blog photo>

The Opinion Shop

Welcome to The Opinion Shop, where members of The N&O’s editorial board offer an eclectic array of their individual opinion products and give you an opportunity to offer your own.

Choose a blog

Man pushed onto the subway tracks. What would you do?

Bookmark and Share

I've seen several opinion pieces in the wake of the man's death on New York City's subway tracks last week discussing the fact that so many people managed to take pictures of the man but no one tried to help him.

Here's an editorial from the Chicago Tribune that I found particularly thought-provoking:

–––

By now you’ve probably seen the photo, whether you wanted to or not.

In the foreground, a Queens man faces an oncoming train as he desperately tries to climb to the safety of a Times Square subway platform.

“DOOMED,” says the headline superimposed on the full-cover shot. “Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die.”

Did you gasp? Did you recoil?

Did you look away?

Ki-Suk Han, 58, tossed onto the tracks by a man he’d been arguing with, was crushed to death in front of a midday crowd on Monday.

The horror was compounded by the New York Post’s graphic cover, which was quickly shared and linked and tweeted all over the globe, stirring a debate as old as ink: Was the photographer wrong to capture that image? Was the Post wrong to publish it?

Here’s another question: What was everyone else on that platform doing?

Freelance photographer R. Umar Abbasi was in a position familiar to any journalist who bears witness to an unfolding tragedy. Should he document the disaster or try to stop it from happening? A professional code of ethics discourages photojournalists from trying to influence events they are covering. Many have been forced to make a split-second decision to intervene, or not. That can lead to a lifetime of regret or second-guessing.

Abbasi insists that wasn’t the case in Times Square Station on Monday. He says he was too far away to reach the man in time, and not strong enough to have pulled him onto the platform if he’d been closer. So he ran toward the train, firing his flash to get the motorman’s attention, and captured that horrific image by chance.

It’s hard to say whether he was trying to be a hero or a photographer or both. But for those who question why he didn’t drop the camera and sprint to the rescue, we’ll ask again: What was everyone else doing?

Watching in horror, that’s what.

“The sad part is, there were people who were close to the victim, who watched and didn’t do anything,” Abbasi wrote in a follow-up story in the Post. “You can see it in the pictures.”

After the train screeched to a stop, too late, a doctor stepped forward and attempted to resuscitate Han.

“Then a crowd came over with camera phones and they were pushing and shoving, trying to look at the man and taking videos,” Abbasi wrote. “I was screaming at them to get back, so the doctor could have room because they were closing in on her.”

Other witnesses told reporters they were “frozen” in shock, or that they feared for their own safety. They also acknowledged that many were documenting the scene after the crash with their smartphones.

Traumatized motorman Terrence Legree told the New York Daily News he was disgusted by the rubberneckers. “People were taking pictures of the poor gentleman,” he said. “They didn’t want to leave.”

Hoping to find the suspect, police released a video of the argument that led to the attack. It was taken by a bystander with a cellphone.

“Anyone who owns a smartphone in the year 2012 is a freelance photographer,” the Poynter Institute’s Roy Peter Clark told a Chicago Tribune reporter this week. It’s true. Sometimes an image will earn the shooter a few bucks or become a viral Internet sensation, or both. More often, it’s just a way of documenting a life event, an I-was-there moment digitally preserved.

The subway tragedy reminds us of Wesley Autrey, the Navy vet who jumped in front of a different train to save the life of a convulsing stranger who’d fallen onto the tracks. He threw the man to the ground, rolled him into a trough between the rails and lay on top of him until the train came to a stop above them. This was January 2007, before camera phones were ubiquitous.

Hailed as the “Subway Superman,” Autrey insisted he’d done only what anyone else would have done – never mind that there were hundreds of other bystanders, and no one else reacted so selflessly. In interview after interview, Autrey protested that he wasn’t a hero. “What would you do?” he said.

Back then, for most people, the answer was that we’d stand and gawk.
Now, apparently, we point and shoot.

Cars View All
Find a Car
Go
Jobs View All
Find a Job
Go
Homes View All
Find a Home
Go

Want to post a comment?

In order to join the conversation, you must be a member of newsobserver.com. Click here to register or to log in.

About the blogger

Burgetta Eplin Wheeler is the associate editor of the Editorial pages, responsible for the Other Opinion page. She occasionally writes editorials. She can be reached at bwheeler@newsobserver.com or 829-4825.
Advertisements