If you see something, say something. Homeland Security has used this phrase to help combat terrorism, but it has value in other circumstances, too. They were the words going through my head when I saw a man yelling at a woman last week.
I had just left the Martin Luther King Library that is on the San Jose State University campus. As I stepped into the forecourt the loud argument caught my attention right away, but I kept on walking. It wasn’t really an argument so much as it was a man berating a woman. They were both young and wearing backpacks, so were probably students. They also appeared to be of South Asian origin, and the yelling was not in English so I don’t know what was being said. Anyway, I wasn’t sure if I should do something about it or not.
Recently I saw this cartoon message that encourages us to engage with someone who is being harassed or maligned in some way, and I wondered if this was one of those occasions.
I decided to weigh up the situation for a few minutes and so I sat on a bench where I could see the couple. The woman was looking directly at the man, but most of the time not saying anything. The man’s voice continued to be loud and he seemed very angry, gesturing towards the woman with a pen (or something of similar size) and jabbing it at her chest. All around us, though, were people coming and going and sitting on benches and none of them seemed to think this was anything they needed to be concerned about.
Twice I saw the woman start to walk away but she was stopped by the man who, apparently, wasn’t finished yelling yet. By this time, I was afraid of him myself and thought that if I intervened he might turn on me. I didn’t want to make the situation worse than it already was, and I didn’t want to put myself at risk. After the woman had tried and failed to walk away for a third time, I knew I had to do something.
I thought that if I continued walking through the campus to the nearest street I might see a security guard or a police officer. When I got to the street, though, it dawned on me that there were probably security personnel in the library. So, I went back up to the library and explained the situation to the assistant who was at the counter. Before I even finished explaining, she was on her feet and heading to find a security guard.
I gave a brief description of the couple and where they were located, and then I left. I figured I had done all I could. But, as I walked home I was annoyed with myself. I had not intervened personally, and I wished I had. I need to come up with a potential script in case I ever come across a similar situation in the future. I also need to be less afraid of loud angry people, but that will take a lot longer.