Call the police


POSTED: Thursday, October 22, 2009

Three hotel workers' failure to notify police while watching a man pummeling a woman on a Waikiki beach was appalling, but bad Samaritanism is neither illegal nor subject to civil lawsuits in Hawaii and most other states. The government has no business forcing altruism — but should urge people to notify police of crimes being committed.

Court documents include no record of calls to police during the assault in the early morning of Oct. 2. Three hours passed before police finally were called when the nude body of Bryanna Antone of New Mexico was found nearby in the ocean. Police later charged Aaron Susa with second-degree murder.

A Royal Hawaiian Hotel cook later told police that he had watched a man choking or shoving a woman 30 times for 10 minutes as the woman was kicking. Two other hotel workers watched with the cook.

The incident contrasts with witnesses quickly calling police after seeing an execution-style murder of a man in the middle of Kaneohe Bay Drive in May 2007. Jerrico D. Lindsey was convicted of murder this week after a trial in which the witnesses testified for the prosecution. Those witnesses are heroes.

Witnesses should call 911 when they believe a crime may be committed, even if they are uncertain about the circumstances. The call puts police on the scene, perhaps preventing other crimes by the perpetrator.

At least eight states have criminal laws against doing nothing while a violent crime is being committed. Some statutes were enacted following heinous crimes witnessed by bystanders.

Most notable was the gang rape of a woman in a New Bedford, Mass., bar while numerous people watched over a period of 75 minutes. Jodie Foster portrayed the victim in the fictionalized movie, “;The Accused.”;

Washington's 1998 law was triggered by the death of a young man following his beating by two men. Over a period of 15 hours, the man drowned in a ditch while three others came back to watch him. That law makes failure to summon assistance a crime if a person has “;suffered substantial bodily harm”; and a witness could call police “;without danger to himself or herself.”;

Nevertheless, “;People tend to be frozen or fearful”; while witnessing a violent crime, University of Hawaii women's studies professor and criminologist Meda Chesney-Lind told the Star-Bulletin's Leila Fujimori. Those who see a sexual assault in progress may wrongly assume a dating couple is in a dispute, and they don't want to get involved.

Reprehensible as they might be, incidents of failure to notify police during violent crimes are rare; a national average of 1.6 nonrescues a year.

Americans prove time and again that they are up to the role of rescuing or notifying police about those in peril.

The angry should pause before concluding, “;There ought to be a law.”;