“But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

(Luke 23:49)

Today is Good Friday, the day that Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus. There’s a lot to unpack there but given the recent uptick in violence against Asian Americans, what I’ve been thinking about lately is the crowd. And not the ones that were shouting “crucify him!” But the rest of the crowd – the followers, the ones who knew him. Surely they were there too. Where was their voice? 

So let’s talk about bystanders.

Particularly the people who stand by and watch as unjust violence occurs right in front of them. Like the people that stood by and watched that 65 year-old Asian American woman be beaten and stomped down in broad daylight outside her apartment building in New York. Like how while the woman lay broken and bleeding on the sidewalk, her attacker strolled off like it was no big thing. Like how one particular bystander even closed the door to his shop and turned away himself. 

The nerve! The inhumanity! 

And maybe we are all sitting there on the other side of our screens thinking “I would have done something.” 

But would you have? Would you really? 

Have you ever heard of the bystander effect?

It’s this tendency for people to be less likely to help, the more people there are around to actually offer help. It’s partially an issue of diffusion of responsibility – “won’t SOMEONE do SOMETHING?!?” but that’s certainly not all of it. When an incident occurs in which bystander action is required, five things need to happen on the part of the onlooker:

  1. Notice that something is going on
  2. Interpret the situation as being an emergency
  3. Feel responsibility to act
  4. Know what to do
  5. Do it

So, people can get tripped up at any of these stages, but the one I want to focus on right now is Step 4. Know what to do. When my daughter was in high school, she trained for this program called Green Dot. Now, Green Dot is a bystander intervention program that was originally started to combat campus sexual violence. It turns out that programs that treat people as potential aggressors or potential victims just don’t work. However, when you treat everyone as a potential bystander, and train them on how to step in and address situations that they witness, things change. 

The Green Dot method focuses on three Ds – distract, delegate, and direct. Since then, Hollaback! has added two more Ds – delay and document. 

So if you see someone being harassed, you can for example: 

  1. Distract – like, say trip and fall right in between the harasser and the harassed. Oops. 
  2. Delegate – call for help.
  3. Delay – if it’s unsafe for you to step in, you can at least check in on the person after the harasser is gone.
  4. Direct – confront the attacker (be careful with this one as it could just escalate things).
  5. Document – if someone else is already doing one of these other things, whip out your phone and hit record (but never share the recording without the permission of the person being attacked).

You can learn more about the 5 Ds here.

But I also wanted to bring up Hollaback! because they have partnered with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC to offer specific bystander intervention training that has been adapted to address the recent rise in harassment against Asian Americans. (Though how much of it is an actual increase in violence and how much of it is just that this stuff has been going on for a while and we oblivious White folk have not noticed?) 

Sign up for Hollaback!’s free bystander intervention training here.

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