If you see something, say something.

I posted this comment following John Scalzi’s thunderous post regarding Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno’s culpability in the continued rape of pre-adolescent boys by Jerry Sandusky, a member of the Penn State football coaching staff. In the thread that followed, someone asked how Mike McQueary, the graduate student that observed the rape-in-progress and reported it to Paterno, should have interrupted it. After all, mightn’t Sandusky have retaliated, and hurt the child further?

Personally, I find that prospect doubtful. According to McQueary, Sandusky was naked. He was also in his sixties, facing down a former quarterback in his mid-twenties. McQueary could have done something. Should have done something. Is an unimaginable bastard for not doing something.

In my last post, I talked about a time when I didn’t speak up for myself. This was a time when I did.

Once upon a time, I was standing on a New York City subway platform, watching five teenagers beat up their friend. I didn’t know it was a beatdown, at first. I mean, they were all laughing. They were all smiling. Except the guy in the middle. He kept falling down. Almost like they were tickling him. My fellow subway riders seemed similarly confused. Was it friendly? Were they rough-housing? They would look at the fray for a minute, then turn away, shaking their heads, shrugging.

Then the middle kid’s face came up, streaming blood.

It was the blood that did it, for me. I reached into my pocket. Where were all those cops that had been here for the RNC? Those guys carried AKs and moved in clusters. Why couldn’t they have stayed just a little longer? Why didn’t the MTA have support staff on the platforms? Where was the emergency call button? I pulled out my phone.

“I’m calling the cops,” I said. No shouting, no swearing. Just projection. From the diaphragm, like you read Shakespeare or 1 Corinthians. “I have a phone, and I’m calling the cops.”

Now, there were several feet of concrete and steel re-bar between my little Samsung and the powers that be. I knew this. They knew this. Everyone around us knew this. This did not stop me from flipping the thing open, turning it on, and saying, louder this time: “I’M CALLING THE COPS. RIGHT NOW.”

They paused. Blinked. Stopped edging ever closer to the tracks. My phone scrabbled for signal like a dog trapped behind a basement door. Useless. But now everyone else was looking, too. Everyone else had their eyes on the problem. Grown men were stepping forward.


And then I left. I told MTA. I told security. They shrugged their shoulders. Said they’d do something. I went back down to the platform and the kids were all gone. To do what, I don’t know. Maybe they just re-scheduled the beatdown. But for that moment it was over. In that moment, the kid with the bloody nose and the torn shirt had time to get away, or at least re-consider if these people were really his friends. At least, that’s how I comforted myself.

That’s how you stop it. If you see something, say something. The subway cars were full of signs with that slogan, that year. They meant pieces of luggage, or plastic bags, or people who “didn’t look right.” But anti-terror rhetoric aside, the wisdom remains true. If you see something, say something. Say it loudly. Say it so everyone hears you. Say it so it can’t be ignored. Eventually, it won’t be.

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