This horrifying post and the accompanying fascinating comments on possible societal explanations for the bystanders' responses reminded me of an experience I had at the 2007 MilBlog Conference. One of the other attendees (a veteran) and I had been sitting on a bench in the middle of the large courtyard/park behind the conference hotel. It was after 11 o'clock on a Saturday night in Arlington, VA and the courtyard was relatively unpopulated--not the worst place to be by any means, but not a place in which it would wise for me to be alone.
In a moment of overwhelming negative emotion I suddenly jumped up and left my companion behind, needing physical distance to compose myself and so agitated that I forgot my surroundings. I had gone maybe 100 feet when I came to my senses and realized I shouldn't be wandering alone. I suddenly felt a little apprehensive and whirled around to get my bearings... and almost knocked into him, freaking myself out a bit until I realized who it was.
I don't know if he'd made a conscious decision to act, but he'd been silently tailing me and had been within a step or two nearly the entire time. I should've known better, for that was classic Sheepdog behavior--guarding little ol' me. Had he been onsite when Mr. Sims was attacked, he would've been calling 911, rallying bystanders and (knowing him) finding an unconventional/sneaky way to thwart the attackers.
In recalling this I'm reminded of how grateful I am to have so many Sheepdogs in my life, and that while I'm definitely not a Sheepdog myself, I will follow their examples when I can assist. So I'm led to wonder if another one of the disadvantages to the military's decreasing size and general society's increasing distance from it is that fewer and fewer people not only don't get Sheepdog training, but don't even have significant association with Sheepdogs to set the example and inspire them to become informal Sheepdogs ourselves.
Perhaps that was a part of why the bystanders were disturbed enough to turn their faces away, but not courageous enough to do anything about it... they'd never had the proper role models in their lives. As the commenters in the original post said, the message has been drummed into us to "leave it to the professionals," as illustrated by a comment on the news article:
I am dumbfounded when reading these comments [from people saying they should've intervened.] ...I am taught that interaction in a dangerous situation should be left to the professionals (police.) I am taught the best thing bystanders can do is exactly what these people did, watch, observe, and take careful notes for the police on the suspect description, behavior, getaway method, and anything else that would be helpful in apprehension. DON'T BE A HERO. DON'T BE A VIGILANTE! [People] seem to be implying that bystanders should put themselves in a dangerous situation...even if you don't know whether the suspect has a knife, or a gun...or worse...and teaching this is plain wrong.
I'll only note that the attackers were punching the man (21 times), which wouldn't make sense if they had a gun. Instead of a Sheepdog example, it seems the bystanders were inspired by models of victimhood and dependency...